Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ebert: Keep the Kids off your Lawn

A while ago, Roger Ebert stated that Video games can never be art. Upon posting this article, Ebert became the focus of a torrent of scorn and criticism from "video gamers", a group the definition of which is quite lax. Despite the fact that none of these people cared about Ebert to begin with (except for when he wrote reviews about things which matter) they were all suddenly personally invested in his thoughts on video games.

Because, well, they had nothing better to do.

The primary focus of the original article is that a video game can never be art due to, in part, the definition of art:

Plato, via Aristotle, believed art should be defined as the imitation of nature. Seneca and Cicero essentially agreed. Wikipedia believes "Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas...Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction."

But we could play all day with definitions, and find exceptions to every one... .

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

Unfortunately, Ebert never provides a clear definition of art. Rather, he sort of discusses the difference between, say, video games and novels, movies, and paintings. Video games seem to contain key features which make them distinctly not art, but rather something else. So, given Ebert's understanding of what constitutes art it cannot be the case that video games are art. He ends the article with something of a rhetorical question:
Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?

If he thought that question would put the issue to rest, he was sorely mistaken. The bitching continued, the nonsense continued, and video gamers everywhere continued to post and rant and debate over what some film critic thought about games.

As a result, on July 1, 2010 Ebert posted a new article entitled "Okay, Kids, play on my lawn" in which he kind of retracts his position:

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn't seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

He goes on to write that one day video games may become art, and so his claim that they can "never be" art is revoked. But he maintains his fundamental position that video games, right now, are not art.

Alright, that's all summary. Now I get to write shit. And the shit I want to write is focused upon this thesis: Roger Ebert, keep those kids off your god damned lawn!

There is no reason, at all, to argue that video games are art. For that matter, there is no reason to care whether or not anyone thinks anything is art. The reason for this is that "art" is a fuckass stupid, nonsensical, meaninglessly arbitrary word which does not mean one god damned thing. The only sensible definition of art comes to us from Ad Reinhardt who wrote:
The one thing to say about art is that it is one thing. Art is art-as-art and everything else is everything else. Art as art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.

The merit of this definition, the virtue of this definition, is that it perfectly articulates the fundamental absurdity of the word "art." The word does not fucking mean anything; it is an honorary posited onto "shit someone likes" which is taken to be indicative of some super-special quality. What is that quality? No one knows. How does a thing come to have that quality? No one knows. But, fuck, we sure care about that honorary fucking term!

Here is a challenge: Tell seven people to each obtain one item to which they think the predicate "art" applies. Then, gather these seven items together and discern what quality they each possess which constitutes the quintessential feature of "art." Remember that this quality must not only be something they all share, but also must be ONE QUALITY which exists in everything, ever, which is "art". Once you have accomplished this task, you are free to ride off into the sunset upon your unicorn.

Here is a spoiler: You are not going to find a quintessential feature by which the predicate "art" can be known to be instantiated in a thing. The reason for this? Well, there is no such feature; "art" does not exist or occur independent of persons positing it onto entities. "Art" is a socially-constructed nonsense term.

That is the fundamental absurdity of this whole argument to which both sides need to provide an answer: WHY THE FUCK DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE WORD "ART"? If you think video games are art? Why do you care? If you think video games are not art? Why do you care? Stop applying the word "art" to video games and movies. What changes? Alright, now start applying the word "art" to video games and movies. What changes? Nothing? Ok, well then shut the god damned fuck up about it already.

That is not even a pragmatic move on my part. My concern is not for practical consequences but, rather, for the metaphysical status of the thing. If the predicate "chocolate" applies to a thing then this is meaningful, as it indicates that the thing contains "chocolateness" and, so, is delicious. But what the fuck does the predicate "art" do? What the fuck does "art" indicate? What the fuck is "artness"?

The question is not how people treat a thing which is called "art". The question is not how people act towards a thing which is called "art". The question is one of the thing-in-itself. Suppose I have an egg sitting on my desk. At time-point-one it is "70 degrees celcius". At time-point-two it is "not 70 degrees celcius". What changed? Now, say I have a calculator sitting on my desk. At time-point-one it is "art". At time-point-two it is "not-art". What changed? With regard to the egg, a fundamental metaphysical feature of the thing must have changed given what "70 degrees celcius" and "not 70 degrees celcius" mean. But the calculator, with regard to "art"? What the shit could have possibly, actually, changed?

The only way anyone gets "art" to be meaningful is if they equivocate "art" with another term which is actually meaningful. If we take "art" to mean "creative" or "important" or "worthwhile" then the term starts to be meaningful, but it only has meaning in its being an equivocation of those terms; "art" still means nothing unto itself. So, why the shit do we need "art"? Why not just call something "creative" or "important" or "worthwhile"? We do not need the word "art" to serve as a god damned middle man between "Avatar" and "creative". Just fucking say that Avatar is creative; the only reason for which one would need to invoke the word "art" is if they forgot how to spell "creative", in which case we don't really need to care about their opinions, anyway.

I tend to agree with Roger Ebert: video games are not art. However, I disagree with Ebert's position that movies are art. Why? Well, because nothing is art since art is nothing. There is no reason for Ebert to state that games may be art just as there is no reason for Ebert to state that games are not art. Both sides of the whole fucking argument are stupid. Movies are movies. Video games are Video games. Art is art-as-art.

And everything else? Well, that's everything else.

If you think I am wrong? If you think I have missed something? Alright, cool. But I'm only going to fucking listen to you after you provide a coherent, sensible, workable definition of art which is not simply
1) Equivocation between "art" and "other words".
2) Arbitrary, socially-constructed nonsense.
3) Stupid.

Good luck with that.


Andrew said...

I enjoyed reading this.
I plan to have much fun with my student when they try to argue that work "X" is not art.

_J_ said...

Man, you know what would be awesome? Teaching a class on art the purpose of which was to define the term. Spend a semester assessing different works of art, having students bring in and talk about what they think art is. And then the final paper is just "Define 'Art'."

That would be so great. Because they would all fucking fail.

Roscoe said...

Would they all fail? Or would you get that one jackass who half-caught on, and turns in a final paper that just says Art- "I Know It When I See It."

I mean, he'd get a D, but it'd be a brazen D, and pass.

Andrew said...

I would totally fail that answer.