“The Path” Travelled

As I approached the end of Fall 2009 semester, I was tasked to put together a 12 minute presentation (I opted to do a video) for my Art and Technology class.  It went poorly – I was lucky to escape from class with a grade of C on the basis of having done good work prior to my final. In retrospect, I think I may have sabotaged myself.

Nevermind my senioritus had pushed my procrastination into chronic levels, the problem in this case is that my chosen topic had a subconscious ulterior motive.  I thought I was trying to indicate that, within the purely digital realm of computer game creation, there was an unbridled basis for the imagination to create.   What I was actually subconsciously doing was telling Modern Art that, even if I understood well enough to write some good reflections on it, I disagreed with much of it, I thought many examples were being overly vague and pretentious, and was demonstrating that far superior work could be found even in popular video games.

Unless the class is being taught by Andy Rooney, you can expect that to go over very poorly in a Fine Arts class.

You might say that it’s not entirely fair, and it’s a matter of taste, and perhaps you’re right. But then, what if you’re not? To accept bad taste as a new taste would imply that there’s no such thing as good taste – something a modern artist is quick to deny, but can they prove it?

What I do know for certain is, as far as personal taste is concerned, I prefer a bit more reason to my rhymes. I prefer masterpieces, like an opera, not some stoned guy recording himself talk on camera. To be deliberately illogical and vague in order for people to make up their own interpretations and buy it strikes me as dishonest.

Much like my final presentation, when you never knew what you were attempting to communicate, you’re only mumbling, and have no right to earn acclaim for what people think they heard. Perhaps the dividing line is there, as how else can they rate your ability to present a message than to compare what was received with what you were trying to send?

Today, I discovered a game that blurred the lines even for someone who would so clearly (if callously) define them such as myself.   This is The Path, developed by Belgian Tale of Tales

It is generally served up as “a short horror game.”  Indeed, it is capable of generating some pretty nerve-wracking moments, as it does everything in its power to unchain the player’s’ imaginations before hinting them towards macabre thoughts.  However, it does not seek to simply frighten, it is really more along the lines of modern interactive fiction.

The Path spins the tale of Red Riding Hood from the perspective of six sisters, chosen to embark through the forest to their grandmother’s house one sister at a time.  To heed your instructions and follow that path directly to Grandma’s house produces a boring-but-safe-result, and is branded a failure.  For a Red to succeed in The Path, she must leave the path and find the Wolf.

As far as being a game is concerned, The Path would seem relatively weak. Though it is beautiful both in terms of environment and the interface and has dynamic music accompaniment, it seems boggled down with pacing issues and you can get stuck on invisible walls. Controls often feel sluggish and, given the surreal backdrop of the forest, it is sometimes difficult to see.

However, much of this is planned, because The Path deliberately confuses, obstructs, disorients, and mystifies. Though it may resemble an adventure game, items collected are never used, but rather shed light on each Red’s personality, which is both the backbone of the game and completely optional. Even the scoring screen generated at the end of each chapter is done tongue-in-cheek.

Like Modern Art, The Path defies interpretation. I would interpret the 6 Reds as being the past selves of the grandmother (who is apparently on her death bed) remembering her life, dreaming of one last adventure, while making peace with the past. Another person would interpret the 6 Reds as being real individuals with everything else being a metaphorical symbol of their coming of age and/or enduring personal tragedies. These are only two of many possible interpretations.

Would that I had only found The Path prior to giving my presentation!  Here is a game that bears much of the earmarks of Fine Art while simultaneously being so well done that I could not accuse it of being pretentious trash. I probably could have focused completely on it for my 12 minute presentation and have met the mutual satisfaction of myself and the Fine Arts class.   Oh well, that’s retrospect for you.

11 Responses

  1. What works or artists do you find “overly vague and pretentious”? Modern Art is a pretty broad subject and a vague description in itself. Curious to hear what you were being exposed to in the class that made you disregard someones method of expression by showing clips of a video game poop monster 😉

  2. The video game poop monster was a mistake of not having really prepared my message well enough. I might have been able to do that if I had framed it right, but I waited until the last minute and wasn’t able to do that.

    I mean, it’s an interactive, 3D rendered, giant singing poo, with a great deal of attention went into its environment as well, and now it’s operating in sync with an actually fairly well done orchestral number.

    That’s, like 4 or 5 solid layers of awesome, where the average piece of “art” I was shown in that class was 1 and a half layer that was open to reinterpretation.

    However, it’s not that I think all Modern Art sucks. I revised my blog post a bit to clarify this. There’s just a lot of select examples I was shown during that class that seemed like elaborate cons for how much notoriety was achieved for much the same reasons Andy Rooney was talking about.

    I mentioned the guy who was stoned and speaking into the camera, for example. He wasn’t doing anything particularly artistic, he was just like, “oh, hey man, look I’m going to sing a little stoned guy song.” He’s considered an early video artists because he was doing it when cameras were relatively new and he had art school connections – that’s all it took.

    Some of Bruce Nauman’s work I could see some merit in, he does some awesome installations, but a lot of it (particularly his earlier work) is pretty whacked and I don’t agree with it at all:

    And lets not forget Mr. “Art is whatever you think you can get away withhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaf6zF-FJBk
    There’s some interesting YouTube responses on that.

  3. I won’t go about starting a thread defining “what is art?”, as I know we both agree it is subjective, but as a professional and published artist myself, I believe, by your description, the singer video taping himself would constitute his work as an artistic expression and it is my duty to point it out as such. He was creating something in a medium that was new and untested. Those early adopters are heralded as explorers. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view (and excusing his state of mind, as I suspect your disdain for drugs probably further taints your view of his “work”) our culture welcomes people making things that have never been done before. Now, the real question is: is it good art? Everything is artistic, and art IS whatever you think you can get away with. Whether it’s good or not is the real challenge.

  4. Indeed, whether it’s good or bad is the challenge.

    If ingesting mind altering substances is necessary to appreciate a work of art, we’ve tread upon genuinely religious-philosophy-level differences that are just as likely to be resolved.

    To me, it seems obvious that the work must suck if it takes drugs to appreciate it, as there’s a great deal of suspension of judgment that comes about with nearly any recreational drug. To someone else, they may be unable to imagine life without the perspective of being altered by drugs, and therefore will always have a view contrary to mine.

    On a cosmic level, bearing in mind individual mortal limitations, I cannot truly assert that any one perspective is that of universal truth. See? Just like religious differences.

    However, I did write one thing in my blog entry which I thought might apply to the question:

    “Much like my final presentation, when you never knew what you were attempting to communicate, you’re only mumbling, and have no right to earn acclaim for what people think they heard. Perhaps the dividing line is there, as how else can they rate your ability to present a message than to compare what was received with what you were trying to send?”

    That’s where I’ll draw the line, at the ability of the artist to both find a worthwhile message (where a message could be any worthwhile experience) and have the ability to communicate it.

  5. I was taking issue with your labeling of the individual as “wasn’t doing anything particularly artistic.” Who said anything about taking drugs to appreciate art? That’s a whole subject entirely, one in which I’m not interested in discussing as I know you have no equal frame of reference, only opinion and assumption. Going back to this stoner video guy: I don’t believe he earned acclaim for what you were told or believe. It’s not always about the message (it may be for you, and that’s fine) but for others, simply the act of creation and method used can constitute the piece as legitimate. This is particularly true if there are no other works that compare in style and form.

  6. Who said anything about taking drugs to appreciate art? That’s a whole subject entirely, one in which I’m not interested in discussing as I know you have no equal frame of reference, only opinion and assumption.

    Yes, you did, how else could this be interpreted?

    Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view (and excusing his state of mind, as I suspect your disdain for drugs probably further taints your view of his “work”)

    But that’s not really something that’s not up for debate. Where you consider drugs a gateway into higher levels of consciousness, I consider drugs to be a gateway into lower levels of self-delusion, and that’s how it’s going to stay. It’s a difference of opinion based on chosen life philosophy, and consequently on the same level of religion.

    I will, at least, agree with you on there being a certain level of wrong in insisting something cannot be art. Much like Andy Rooney’s rant comes off as a bit shortsighted (especially with that pointless shot at democrats) the bottom line is much as I already elaborated in the middle of my entry here:

    You might say that it’s not entirely fair, and it’s a matter of taste, and perhaps you’re right. But then, what if you’re not? To accept bad taste as a new taste would imply that there’s no such thing as good taste – something a modern artist is quick to deny, but can they prove it?

    • I’ve never said anything about taking drugs to appreciate art. Never. I realize that’s such a hot topic of debate for you, so I made a point to dismiss it entirely (see my second post).

      The only point I was trying to make was that the act of creation itself, in a new medium or form, no matter if its low or high brow, good or bad taste, can be considered art if it is new and fresh (in our western culture). I was attempting to educate you on an experienced form of understanding: what constitutes art from the perspective of someone who works in the field with other professional artists. Again, I was never discussing the effects of drugs or justifying taking them (or not taking them). I was merely correcting you on your stance that the person who made the videos was a legitimate artist, regardless if they had a message or method that you agreed with or not.

  7. I’ve never said anything about taking drugs to appreciate art. Never. I realize that’s such a hot topic of debate for you, so I made a point to dismiss it entirely (see my second post).

    I see what’s going on. Simple English language misunderstanding.

    It sounded to me that when you said “I suspect your disdain for drugs probably further taints your view of his ‘work'” that you meant “if you had ever used drugs you’d be able to enjoy his work” but the interpretation you meant was “you just hate his work because you hate drugs.” Very subtle difference, if you didn’t use the word “taints” I might not have assumed this, because it makes it sound like my perspective is lacking rather than simply holding a contrary opinion. (Probably because you really do believe this, which we can confirm because you later said “you have no equal frame of reference, only opinion and assumption” but you didn’t intend to argue it.)

    Misunderstanding cleared up, I disagree. I don’t specifically hold people’s habits against them. I consider the means to produce the art to be irrelevant, I only care about the produced artifact itself. Thus, I didn’t dislike the piece with the stoner talking into the camera because he was a stoner. I disliked the piece with the stoner talking into the camera because it was so boring and uninspired.

    It was like Andy Worhol Eating A Cheeseburger, but has even less preparation put into it. At least Andy got dressed up, found a nice surface, and procured an ideal example of a Big Mac. All this guy did was lay down in his apartment while smoking a joint (which he was taking hits from while on camera – there was no question this guy was stoner as he was actively stoning himself) hit the record button, and started fucking around.

    What bothered me about that? Who am i to judge that this isn’t art? Well, that’s the problem: if this passes, what standards do we really have?

    There was no message being transmitted and the means it was transmitted was the pinnacle of lazy. The whole point of the piece might have been, “this is the least possible effort I can put into creating art, and you’re going to accept it as art because that’s where we are right now.” You could say, “oh! but that’s quite profound! well done, you found out what the piece actually meant, and hey, it agreed with you!” I disagree, I’d say that’s just a slippery slope that could be used to justify anything, and this makes it worthless.

    Of course, that one random unemployed SOB out there in the mass of hundreds of millions might disagree is going to do about to diddly and squat. I don’t enforce standards – the people who actually pay artists to produce this crap are setting the standard. If I judge this to be an intellectual abortion, tough nuts to me. Artists are no different than any other living creature in that they run on stimulis -> response. Get paid to produce crap, continue to produce crap.

  8. I don’t find that description of the game inconsistent with your concept that an artist with nothing to say is not producing art. In my view art is a communicative medium; it may not have a message as such but it is at the very least meant to convey something, even if it’s only “I find this beautiful”, but even then something as simple as a landscape painting should have a sense of framing, color, depth of field, and subject, something that says it couldn’t be replaced by a simple photograph shot at random. A brilliant artist can convey much with subtlety in their design, modern art or not, but if they’re just throwing stuff together at random it’s meaningless. I’ve never cared for Jackson Pollock for much this same reason.

    I haven’t played The Path, but it sounds like the game definitely qualifies as art. It has an obvious message: Failure to explore the story results in a failure to see it at all. And it is telling a story, more through questions than answers, which I find artistically quite sound. Art isn’t just to convey, but also to inspire; if a sculptor sets out to capture the essence of flight in an abstract, and it evokes in an onlooker (without having to strain at it) a feeling of flight, then the artist has succeeded. The feeling that is evoked will vary from person to person.

    So I think you were fair in where you drew the line. Modern art (the kind we think of colloquially anyway) sets itself up as trying to force the beholder to draw meaning from chaos, which is about as useful as staring at TV static. But drawing the viewer in and asking them to complete the meaning is inherent to all art. It seems to me the game is only playing with vagueness so as to bring the player into the story.

  9. Thanks for granting another in-depth assessment on this. I think that, to a great extent, what you expressed here is a good core feeling of where art belongs in our lives. This is important because, to a large part, we’ve forgotten – in a desire to find something new/fresh, we’ve transgressed over these boundaries, and this has caused a loss of meaning.

    But drawing the viewer in and asking them to complete the meaning is inherent to all art. It seems to me the game is only playing with vagueness so as to bring the player into the story.

    I like you how you put this – it helps me to set up another standard with which to judge. There’s a difference between employing vagueness as a means to communicate the message versus employing vagueness as a means to try to generate significance for a weak or nonexistent message.

  10. “they’re just throwing stuff together at random it’s meaningless. I’ve never cared for Jackson Pollock for much this same reason.”

    It wasn’t random.

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