aesthete

So Roger Ebert recently stepped in a hornet's nest. He attempted to back his claim that no video game has ever been, or will ever be art. Do not worry, this not going to be a post trying to defend video games as art. Hopefully it will not end up being all that much about video games.

Ebert has made a profession at being a critiquer of movies, most would argue a form of art. In today's world it is perhaps the most impactful form of art. It would seem he should know something about art. And he throws out some loose ideas in his initial post, mostly in a contrary form, to say why it is video games do not function as art, but he does not fall on a definition. He then makes a later post trying to back himself out of the argument entirely stating that he had no business jumping into this debate without 1) having played a video game and 2) having a working definition of art.

Now this seems almost scary that a man who is the biggest name in the profession of judging the artistry of our country's and most of the world's most widespread and perhaps powerful artistic medium would not having a functional definition of art. To me it is almost comforting. I have been working at what is art for a long time and I know it is a journey I will never complete this side of mortality (and quite possibly will still be a journey after death as well... I kinda hope it is).

A definition of art is a funny thing. I know a lot of people have never given it overly much thought. I remember a discussion in college with a guy who's major at the time was film wherein I introduced the idea to him that art was not just drawing/sculpting/painting/etc. The thought of a movie being art was completely foreign to him (and again, he was a film student). He had never even considered it. He though art was just what you did when you were in an "art" class (and he had a very limited idea of an art class as well, obviously). I do not know how common this is. Part of me fears it is widespread (and another part of me feels prideful and arrogant that it might be widespread and therefore make me more intelligent than all of these masses (within the confines of my opinion of what could be art, I suppose) but that is a bad part of me) and a part of me suspects that this extreme is perhaps uncommon although lesser versions probably abound.

What is more, to many people the word "art" is actually derogatory. Which I think to a large degree is a counter attack of their pride against something that would act superior. If someone does not 'get' art, they would rather not feel inferior so they would then attack art in order to build themselves up. On the flipside, many who embrace a world of art do so to build up their own pride as well. It elevates them above the philistines and barbarians. To not be accepted is the very best of circumstances for these. Ah, pride... you are a powerful little beastie.

So to the person who loves their popcorn flicks, or their feel good movies, or their shallow comedies, but could not care a whit for anything the Oscar's would promote as the best representation of art in the medium, are these people less in tune with what true art is? Is there truly this ratio between the descent of accessibility to larger audiences and the rise of artistic form? (I realize that few would argue that accessibility is the cause of art I am just seeing it as an effect from the attributes of what gets more commonly called a higher form of art.) I am actually growing more and more inclined towards what many would term as artsy fair (though there is much 'artsier' out there, but I think I would still be on the further end of the spectrum than average) (at this point my reader looks down at my most recent posts about my TV viewings and scoffs at my silly claims). So it would be easy for me to try and diminish those who would never be caught dead seeing an Oscar nominated movie (and the Oscars aren't actually a very good judge of the 'artsy' either, but I am just using this as a simple tool that I think is easily understandable) or would read a fluff novel over anything Dickens.

Yet, I wonder if that distinction is truly so. I came up with the puzzle in college, that if someone accidentally dropped a load of paint on a canvas and it accidentally formed the Mona Lisa, would this be art? Part of me wants to argue no, because there was no intentionality in the artist, but is art actually found in the viewer? If it moves them in whatever means you feel is the movement of art, is this accident or art? But what if a creator puts all he can into a work but his audience does not in anyway comprehend it. To the audience it is not art in any form, but to this creator it is his highest work of art he could ever produce. Is this still art? You could argue that he is himself an audience, but I feel this is a bit contrived. So basically my questions focus on what is the function of the creator and the audience in making something art.

I have actually come a long ways since asking myself these questions, and they can seem a bit silly now, but they were an important stepping stone for me. There is a part of me that wants art to be this universal characteristic of an object/thing/product. The concept of art being in any way relative to an individual of course bites against the Evangelical Christian indoctrination against the idea of anything being relative (Which is a blindly reactionary position. The concept of relativity has some truth which is why people accept it. How much truth and where that truth lies is the problem. It is like the Greek problem of whether the world is water/fluid/ever-changing or solid/permanent/unchanging, to which Plato just said, "you're both right." (always the easiest way to answer an argument)). "If God says it is art it is art." I want to stand on that. However what if what God says something like art is that movement (for lack of a better word) in us?

Then you have to figure out what that movement is. Or if movement is even the right word. I have heard what I am terming movement defined as many different things. Some feel art needs to inform you intellectually. Some feel art should be an entirely emotional experience. My guess is both view points have very much to do with what kind of people are stating these beliefs. Again, informing our beliefs on what we want to believe rather than truth, which is entertaining when it becomes argument time. I would say both sides are wrong, that's my argument.

Please don't read this as any sort of cemented idea of what art is. This is still me just playing around with things. My purpose here (in this paragraph at least), however, is to try and say perhaps those who's ideal movie is what many would claim is not art, is perhaps what stirs the artness in them. How then do you measure art? Umm, is it by the reaction of the viewer? That sounds really scary. I want some quantifiable form of art, but what I am perhaps beginning to state is so subjective that any discussion just turns into how this thing affected me. But perhaps that is the purpose of art.

I would also say there is another relationship between a creator and his/her art. Many creators are just filling out a formula. To them they have completely 'sold out' and there is no artistry in what they do. To them their product is not art (whoops, objective claim about what is or is not art) even if they say otherwise. And yet an audience could both have the reaction I state above, or even perhaps get the art community in an uproar about the unequaled quality of their artistic voice. I want to say something is seriously wrong here. But how do I? Do we always have to know the intention of the creator in order to know if something is art? That severely limits us to probably never knowing if something is truly art. But I still would prefer this art gets some kind of demerit for coming from an entirely undeserving soul.

To better clarify, I bet many creators would say some of their best work has often started with an accident or a mistake. I know in my doodling, sometimes the coolest looking doodles were intended to be something else entirely. I am not saying that every part of art must be intentional to a creator. Likewise, many creators do not wish to share the meaning behind their work specifically so that their audience can grow it and find what they will in it, completely separate from their original intention. Is this wrong? Sometimes it is just an artist not wanting to stand on something or because it really is shallow and they don't want to explain it. But there is a place for the audience to actively interpret art. That is certainly part of the process. So again, is intentionality completely independent of somethings artfulness?

So where does all this unknowing leave us?

Well, if you've read enough of this, you can probably guess I am not going to answer that question. I would pose another idea though. I would probably broaden art beyond many other peoples descriptions. Many people see art as reflections on nature (it could be the common concept of nature, or human nature, or the nature of dreams, etc). Whereas I would see art in nature itself. This comes from a large degree because I see a Creator behind this. I do certainly feel that a creator is a requirement for art, and I do think a creator should be meaning to instruct and move its audience. Seeing art in a sunset is easy because it easily fits with one of our most common ideas of art (even if it can be harder to describe why it is art). Seeing art in the orderings of our life, all the happenings, all the natural laws to which we are subject, that is perhaps where people would never see art, but it is perhaps the greatest work. Our lesser art seems to just be a play at that which the greater Artist would have us experience. Perhaps, art is not dependent on learning the intention of its subcreator, but in actually learning about its true Creator.

(I keep saying learning and instructing but have also claimed to disqualify the necessity for art to be rationally instructive. This is a bit of failure at English on my part. I think God does great works in us through nonrational means as well, and I think art plays on this. I am just simplifying my language poorly. (I find it funny that I just said simplifying my language considering all of my distracting paranthetical references that I do so love. (Yes, I use paranthetical references abundantly. It is somewhat jokingly. I used to feel a strong impulse to actually make my writing more readable and do away with these evil things, but they are just too much fun. So now I use them somewhat intentionally over much.)))

And so right as I get to the important stuff, I sign off. So long.

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