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my life as a night elf priest

What constitutes a work of art?

Within this entire book on WoW I am repeatedly drawn the question: what is art?  Clearly, Nardi is not undertaking this question but comes close to it on many occasions, as did Bogost.  Nardi says of Second Life, a game in which users design the content, “the pursuant disorder and disunity, made its public spaces less works of art for common life and more environments that provoked the ‘lamentations’ of its own designers that it was not more beautiful” (Nardi 79).  She then goes on to say that she sees “the design encapsulated in the rules of World of Warcraft as a work of art – one that gives rise to participatory aesthetic experience, to the remaking of experience and community” (Nardi 79).  So, on the one hand we have a game which gives players nearly all the control in creating their virtual surroundings and on the other hand we have a game which gives players just enough participation for it be an ‘aesthetic experience’.  Nardi recounts Dewey’s boredom with traditional fine arts because they do not encourage viewer participation.  These three notions (Second Life vs. WoW vs. activity theory) complicate even more the question of what art is.

Even more perplexing, Nardi directly quotes Dewey: “Works of art that are not remote from common life …. are …. marvelous aids in the creation of such a life” (Nardi 151).  What seems to make WoW are work of art and Second Life to be less than art for Nardi are the rules.  She says, “its rules ensure that overall artistic excellence is not compromised”, or the art has not been tampered with, and then that “the capacity to alter rules in controlled ways is designed into the system”, or that a player’s participatory modifications are limited to the specs of the already existing work of art – the player cannot create new art, but only tinker with the old.

This participation in WoW is definitely different than the encased paintings of prestigious museums, but it brings to mind the blurry distinction between real life and art.  I am not trying to solve this (basically) millenia old problem, but rather addressing that it still exists.  Nardi specifically points to the rules as the deciding factor between the art of WoW and the mediocrity of Second Life.  Why should a game which is created by real people rather than designers not be considered art?  WoW and Blizzard still maintain a boundary between player and designer, similar to the rope and security guards which surround the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  Everyday, reprints and edits of her face are created, but limited to the regulations of representation.  WoW players do a similar editing, but are allowed slightly closer to the original product.  However, in a way their modifications are already created and expected as the rules allow for their creation.  Second Life allows for the pure creativity and yet, nobody is really sure if this is a work of art.

To me, it seems that such mass, free creativity can only be art.  It is an outpouring of humanity, and while it may disappoint in its scandalous and consumptive nature, its the work of millions of people – kind of like the 80,000+ WoW wiki we’ve read so much praise for.



2 thoughts on “What constitutes a work of art?

  1. I think part of the problem with a lot of these books we are reading is that they are a few years old. In video games even three years is a millennia. I think a true equation would be saying WoW is like a more traditional museum and SecondLife is more similar to street art. I whole heartedly disagree with Nardi’s assumption that art requires rules since some of the most influential art from the 20th century came because the artists decided to ignore the rules, which is something Bogost touched on in his book. Another thing to consider is in the time since Nardi wrote her book, MineCraft has become a very popular game. MineCraft is very similar to SecondLife in the fact that it is almost solely user created but it isn’t on as large of a scale and instead of more realistic graphics is uses large blocks. Some of the things I have seen people create in MineCraft would definitely be considered art the way that drawing on paper can be considered art. For me, that is the biggest struggle people have with what makes art different from the everyday. But its an issue that even reaches into traditional mediums. It isn’t something held only to virtual mediums, but also physical ones like paper and canvas. I agree wholeheartedly with your final conclusion in this post.

    Posted by Ben Tarhan | June 7, 2013, 7:56 pm
    • I think the analogy you made with street art and museum art is very true! From the sheer amount of work and talent that goes into street art, I cannot not consider it art but many people still only view it as a ‘hoodlum’ activity that ruins public/private property. Street art often makes graphic people’s problems with society and the government while forcibly taking ownership over something they could never purchase. I find it odd that graffiti on public property is criminalized when public property is for everyone to ‘own’. Only certain practices are accepted, thereby denying a large population the right to use public property. Painting in parks is accepted only when condoned by officials creating an atmosphere not of PUBLIC use, but of PRIVATE. Individuals with something to say, often negative about some norm of society, must resort to stealthy actions in the night. I am really glad you made this analogy, I think it will help with my games research actually!

      Posted by emmajani | June 11, 2013, 11:13 am

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