The Advantages of Not Respecting Art

In my last post, I went ahead and referred to video games as “art.” As this is only my third post on game-related issues, let me take a moment to address the deathless “games as art” debate. I promise to be fairly quick about it.

Are games art? I don’t really know, nor do I particularly care. People get caught up in the discussion of what is and is not “art” primarily because they feel that they have to respect “art.” If Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is art, the reasoning seems to go, then we all have to respect–or at the very least, acknowledge–Piss Christ. But you don’t have to respect art. Art can definitely be, and lots of art has definitely been, incredibly stupid. To say that something is dumb art or boring art or art that fails at what it is trying to do is hardly a contradiction in terms.

As it happens, I think that Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard’s The Happy Accidents of the Swing and Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture are both awful, awful pieces of art. The former represents everything wrong with so much 18th century French art (vapidity, unsexy licentiousness, fussy overdecoration), and the latter represents everything wrong with so much 21st century American art (opacity, aimless snark, dark humor that is neither successfully dark nor successfully humorous).

But that certainly does not mean that these works are not art, nor does it change the fact that each of them has a great deal to tell us about the individual and the society that produced it. So if great art (or at least celebrated art) can still be bad, and if bad art can still be interesting, then let’s just study what’s interesting. The rest is a matter of taste, for which there is no accounting anyway. If we don’t need to worry about issues of canon–in other words, if we don’t need to agree upon a list of things that all educated people should know, and that all people of good taste should like–then we don’t need to quibble about what is and is not art.

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