Monday, November 1, 2010

Art, Intent, and Form

This semester as part of our MFA in Emergent Media, I am "hosting" the course entitled The Emergent Landscape Series. Amazingly, though this is a new program and away from a major metropolis, some major thought leaders have shared their thoughts with our students, in fact three of the speakers are TED speakers! Essentially this is a speaker series but in reality so much deeper. It is set in the meeting room at the EMC. Seating is flexible and informal. Before each class, students are required to do a lot of reading/media consumption about both the speaker and the ideas that the speaker brings forward. The result is that each class is more of a presentation/discussion. Each session has lasted more than 2 hours in length!

I'm posting here because the last few speakers: Frank Lantz and Randy Smith have brought home the question of culture and art in regards to games. Randy's talk tonight brought up the point that "every art form has qualities that make it distinct". He then gave an excellent example of the progression of film from pure documentary film (look a train!) to theater (staged actors with a one point camera) to finding its own uniqueness determined in part because of the tools and form: time, editing, special effects, camera angle, etc. This played out with Hitchcock's recognizing that the camera affords the ability for the audience to "know" things in the story that the characters did not yet know and vice versa!

(Side note: our art is tightly tied to the technology that defines the era it was born in: technology—craft—expression—art. Which comes first the art or the tech?)

But Randy used film to illustrate where games are: as a method to pinpoint the unique quality of games, what has been achieved, and the possibilities for future game design. He examined interactivity and the concept of emergent gameplayabdication of authorship and the existence of the possibility space as unique characteristics that define the artisitc expressive power of games.
Interactivity is key but so is the uniquely personal aspect of experience—or I would say the "story" that the player leaves with. To an individual playing a game, a game feels as if it has occurred in their lives—achievements belong to the player and not to an abstract or separate character or even its artist/creator. The amount of energy a player puts into extracting a game's essence is more involved than viewing sculpture, painting, theater, film, etc. In a game experience, unlike the media above or even literature (which demands the ability to read) the audience's end-state is not pre-determined. In a game, one cannot take in the whole at once as in a painting or jump to/read the last few pages first as in a score, script, or book.

This left me wondering what uniquely defines other areas of art. So now I am thinking aloud about form with no real conclusion—any feedback is appreciated.
Art is a forcing factor that brings us out of the mundane and into contemplation and examination of ideas. General forms can include storytelling, reproduction, symbolism, cultural commentary, or pure form for form's sake. Painting and other two dimensional forms seem uniquely about elemental visual power and suspension of time—almost a mantra moment. Sculpture's strength seems to come from mass and physicality. Music is the power of sound and voice. Literature brings forward voice, character, and time. Film deconstructs time and reframes the relationship of audience to character. Games offer wider space exploration and give the audience power in relationship to end events, game objects, and even characters.

I think what Randy offered about art in regards to games is true for any art form. He suggest that there is always a person, an artist or designer behind the form...and with that form, the artist delivers a message. Speaking of the possibility space of games, he stated, "interacting reveals the space. No matter what you do in that space—there is always a message."

Frank Lantz has spoken of art having intent. And I have written of this as well. Today's talk delineated to me further the responsibility of the artist to direct the art's intention, but also to identify, respect, and build upon the form's unique powers to express.

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