“Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences. In modern usage after the 17th century, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, the fine arts are separated and distinguished from acquired skills in general, such as the decorative or applied arts. Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” (Wikipedia)
Words have always several meanings and interpretations depending on contexts they are used. In its general meaning Art is everywhere, in every human artifact, skill, expression, thought, creation, etc. According to such general meaning every Video Game is a piece of Art. We are interested in a narrower meaning of Art, usually called Expressive Art.
It associates forms of universally recognized Art such as Literature, Painting, Sculpture, Music, Cinema, Drama, Photography, etc.. E.g. we call artworks The Divine Comedy by Dante, Orson Welles Citizen Kane, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, Starry Night by Van Gogh, Donatello’s David, Shakespeare’s Othello, photos by Henry Cartier-Bresson, etc. We are interested in Video Games to be universally recognized as a form of Expressive Art as those mentioned above. We are searching for Video Games with the same expressive skills as the universally acclaimed artworks mentioned above. You know, not every movie is meant to be an expressive artwork, nevertheless we universally recognize Cinema as a form of Expressive Art, a medium suited for Expressive Art; that’s thanks to directors like Fellini, Kubrick, Bunuel, Welles, etc. and their universally acclaimed masterpieces like 81/2, 2001 Space Odyssey, Viridiana, Citizen Kane, etc. When you study Cinema History, you discover that even Cinema found it difficult to be universally acclaimed as a form of Expressive Art!
Until today, Video Games are not widely recognized as a medium suited for Expressive Art; at most they are considered a medium where you can also find some artistic elements. Many critics, producers, developers or gamers usually think that Video Games have not to be considered an expressive medium, they are just aimed at easy entertainment.
We state that Video Games are evolving and they can be acclaimed more and more as a form of contemporary Expressive Art, precisely a form of “total” and interactive Art; total stays for mixing a lot of previous forms of Art. Not every game can be considered a piece of Art, but some games could be masterpieces of Expressive Art.
Well, this topic is really challenging, it requests a lot of considerations we cannot take into account here. Until today, are there empirical evidences that VG can be expressive artworks ? Yes, a lot of evidences, times are changing, more and more developers think of themselves as artists and try to create games as expressive artworks! Are there precise reasons why VG are not always used and recognized as a form of Expressive Art still today? Oh, yes, for example because of interactivity and lack of peculiar techniques for storytelling. And so on. We cannot talk about such topics here.
Here we can talk about what Expressive Art is.
In such narrow meaning, Art is closely related to the ability of transmitting deep contents and messages. In its most sublime sense, art is the expression of human interiority’s aesthetics. It reflects the artist’s opinions in the social, moral, cultural, ethical and religious fields of his historical period. But it’s not enough. Art is a holistic experience synonymous with deep contents, intriguing narration, fine aesthetics, creativity, originality, innovation, complexity, high level of expression and intellectual and emotional involvement. Making and enjoying Art needs advanced cultural skills, documentation, researches and studies.Hence art becomes an intellectual and social commitment that ennobles people consciousness; artists and people loving their works, both lead a complex and challenging research, with huge existential, cultural and social consequences; Art is useful to diffuse values, thoughts, ideas and deep feelings, essential for individual and social construction and survival and for historical evolution. But it is not enough.
To make Art we need a medium with unique and distinctive characteristics that must ensure authorial expression, complex and stratified contents; it is important that authors could develop a peculiar language , effective for the transmission of ideas and values through a sort of “narration” or “storytelling” that can also be abstract, implicit and symbolic. It is also essential that this medium could offer the possibility of doing experiments and testing innovative aesthetics. To do that, the artists have to master peculiar techniques, personal, advanced, innovative, original, uncommon, resulting from many years of studies and research. Techniques have to be only targeted to artistic expression and to audience involvement, and not necessary to other skills in other fields of human experience.
The critical discussion about this subject is always alive. To learn more, I refer you to the recommended bibliography and websites list.