Arthouse Games
What is Art?
by jcr13Tuesday, May 29, 2007 [7:40 am]

This page collects answers to this fundamental question from various people in the artgame world.

In the case of the interview responses, the respondents were asked the following question: "Can you give us a one-sentence definition of art? In other words, how do you differentiate works of entertainment from works of art?"

Nick Montfort (Arthouse Games Interview):

"For a one sentence definition, I like Scott McCloud's---any activity that isn't based on survival or reproduction. There is a difference between art that exists mainly to pass the time or to amuse and that which is transformative, which helps us to understand new things about the ways we see, or about the language we use to communicate, or about the nature of the world and our relationship to it. But there's no simple test for telling one from another. By itself, being a blockbuster doesn't make a movie just entertainment, and being in an art gallery doesn't make something profound or beautiful. You can't even find out whether something is art (in the transformative sense) by interrogating the artist. You have to see if it transforms you."

Danny Ledonne (Arthouse Games Interview):

"I would be able to give you a more confident definition BEFORE my liberal arts education challenged everything I knew! I would say that "entertainment" is a subcategory of art. I'm not an elitist snob; even Jurassic Park or Con Air fulfill the minimum functions of "art." I just think that not all art has to be entertaining---certainly not videogames. Art can make us feel uncomfortable, guilty, sympathetic, or completely depressed. When was the last time a videogame made you feel like crying? Why couldn't it?

"So here's your definition: art is any form of expression that can be shared with an audience.

"I feel like if I were to be more specific I'd end up leaving out something I really like so I'll stop there."

Jonathan Blow (Arthouse Games Interview):

"There are a lot of things that we call art right now, and if I provide a one-sentence definition it will exclude some things that we consider art. Some people use definitions like "anything that is not necessary for survival," and if you like that, that's great, but for me it seems too broad to be useful. For the purposes of what I'm doing, it's: the expression of something the artist feels important or interesting, with the hope that the expression resonates with an audience in a deep way."

Rod Humble (Arthouse Games Interview):

"Entertainment is giving enjoyment to the maximum number of people you can. Art is that which can make at least one person a better human being. Long may they both prosper."

Raph Koster (A Theory of Fun for Game Design):

"So what is art? My take on it is simple. Media provide information. Entertainment provides comforting, simplistic information. And art provides challenging information, stuff that you have to think about in order to absorb. That's it. Art uses a particular medium to communicate within the constraints of that medium, and often what is communicated is thoughts about the medium itself (in other words, a formalist approach to arts---much modern art falls into this category)." (page 146)

"We often discuss the desire for games to be art---for them to be puzzles with more than one right answer, puzzles that lend themselves to interpretation. That may be the best definition of when something ceases to be craft and turns into art---the point at which it becomes subject to interpretation." (page 147-151)

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