Not Really Art
Earlier today I was gently admonished by a moderator at an SL Art Group that they felt that my latest notice was “not really art” and if I could please only post “Art”.
I politely disagreed and said that it very much was an art project to me. I acknowledged that many SL artists have more narrow definitions of art than I do.
I chose to leave the group. I hope not in a huff, but just to acknowledge that our visions of Art in Virtual Worlds appear to be divergent.
This is the 3rd time in 11 years that I’ve left an SL Art group for this reason. My thinking is twofold:
- I’m not here to piss anyone off. If you don’t think my work is “Art”, I don’t want to annoy your group. I’ll limit my posts to art groups whose perception of art is wide enough to include the range of my practice.
- I’m also not here to self-censor. I don’t want to have to stop and ask, “Can I post this to Group X, or is this project outside the scope of what they’re willing to accept as “Art”?
So, I quietly left. Or, I suppose now that I’m blogging about it, slightly less quietly.
It’s only 3 groups in 11 years, so not something to be too concerned about. Still, it begs the question, why does this keep happening to me? Am I just delusional that everything I blow out my ass is “Art”?
Aaron & Brianna
Let’s think about my RL cousin Aaron, and my RL friend Brianna. Aaron makes fine woodwork pieces. Brianna is a highly trained ceramicist.
Wood & Football
Aaron’s day job is as a civil engineer. He’s an engineer, a husband, a father, a football (soccer) coach. And to relieve some stress, he turned his garage into a wood shop. On weekend days, if there’s not a football game or practice, he’s probably in the garage making gifts for people. I’m one of the lucky family members who’ve received a number of his projects as Christmas presents.
Ceramics & Juice
Although Brianna is a master ceramicist and has traveled the world setting up ceramics workshops, that hasn’t been her primary art practice for a long time now. Her personal work mainly focuses on Juicing. At an art opening, her own or someone else’s, she’ll set up a huge table of fruits, vegetables, and juicing machines. You tell her what you’d like, and wind up having a long, sometimes silly, sometimes deeply sublime, conversation with her as she juices for you.
Where’s the Art?
If I showed you two photos: one of Aaron with all his wood pieces, and one of Brianna juicing, and asked you who was the “Artist”, I imagine you might say that Aaron was the “Artist” and that Brianna was maybe an employee at a smoothie shop like Jamba Juice.
For me, it’s the exact opposite.
I don’t mean this in an elitist way when I say that for me, Aaron is not an artist. Yes, his “craft” is gorgeous. But he’s an engineer-father-football coach, whose life is textured and defined by those identities. And yes, he’s also a woodworker of notable craft.
Brianna, by contrast, is one of the most compelling artists I know. Is a smoothie art? For Warhol or Duchamp, the smoothie might be art. For me, the smoothie itself isn’t Brianna’s art. With Brianna, the art is in every fiber of her being. She can’t not make art, because art is the process by which she understands and exists in this world.
Brianna might look like a Jamba Juice employee. Her smoothies might look like ordinary consumer commodities. In my judgement, this is an entirely surface read of her work. I believe her work is a thousand times more sublime than that.
I don’t think that having a official artworld label for your work is required for it to be art. It doesn’t have to be “Painting” or “Video Installation” or “Performance Art” or “Abstract Expressionism” or “Social Realism”. But if labels help anyone, I would call Brianna’s work Relational Aesthetics or Social Practice. I’ve taken to simply referring to my own work as Virtual Public Art.
Even without the “Virtual”, the definition of RL “Public Art” can be contentious. Here’s what Mark Tribe had to say in an interview in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Public Art Review:
Baby Earth Blog
The specific notice I sent that caused the SL Group Moderator to warn me was a notice that my SL animesh baby, Baby Earth, had launched a new blog chronicling her life in the virtual world and her striving to exceed her programming.
I can’t tell you where Baby Earth’s work is going, because I don’t know. I can tell you that it’s already taken many unexpected turns in the 5 months of her SL life. Enough turns for her to call me a retconner (twice).
At book talks I have often heard an author say,
I’d planned for Character X to do Thing Y on page 120. But when I got to page 120, Character X simply refused to do it!
This is a remarkable insight into how a fictional character can take on a life of its own. Even if all the characters emanate from the 3-pound-universe of a single human brain. What is amazing about avatars weaving an unfolding narrative in a world like SL is that we have the same forces those book authors experience, but exponentiated by the complexity of multiple 3-pound-universes weaving the quilt, even as we wrap ourselves in it.
Baby Earth’s blog is, at core, a meditation on the nature of being in a virtual world. Or a “real” one. Since reality is a social agreement.
If a meditation on the nature of being isn’t “Art”, what is?