Sunday, August 12, 2007

SL Art exists... least according to the majority of 20+ people who turned out to watch the debate between my friend An Eun and myself. I won the debate, but was quite exhausted by the effort. The sim was very laggy, An crashed for most of my opening speech, and a good time was had by all.

Here are my arguments, for any interested in reading them.

Motion: There is no such thing as Second Life art.

/me smiles and clears his throat. "Thank you, Sati. Greetings, everyone."

Before I begin, I would like to clarify the motion. The question is NOT whether or not art exists in Second Life. My colleague agrees with me that art in Second Life abounds. For the sake of clarity, I feel we can legitimately rephrase the motion as, “There is no genre within the art world called ‘Second Life art’ that can be supported as a valid separate art form.”

As my opponent iterated, this issue undoubtedly centers around semantics. Semantics are always a problem when applied to art. Placing a “label” on certain art forms is like trying to spray paint a soap bubble.

Nevertheless, I feel that “Second Life art” is a very clearly a viable label, and one that can unmistakably be provided to describe much of the art found in Second Life, and perhaps a label that can be applied to most all of that which virtually exists in Second Life, itself.

And the existence of SL Art says nothing about the "quality" of SL art. Just as in real life, there are wildly differing skill levels. Second Life is still new, and any art here is still in it's infancy.

The simplest way to answer the question of whether Second Life art exists is merely by asking if Second Life is a “place.” If you say, as I do, that there is a “place” called Second Life, then SL art exists in exactly the same manner as “American” or “African” or “Japanese” art exists. Just as art created in Australia can be called Australian art, art created in the place called Second Life, can therefore be called Second Life art.

But there are frequent arguments that Second Life isn’t a “place” so much as it is a “game.” Calling what we are doing here at this moment--this debate--a “game” stretches the limits of credibility, at least so it seems to me. But it is a somewhat complex issue, and I’ll avoiding voicing my views on this point because I don’t want to stand here and pontificate for the next several weeks.

And I also think that answering the issue in this way misses the central issue. We want to defend SL art as a unique stylistic form, not only by circumstance of location. And to me, the real difference between that distinguishes Real Life art forms from the art in Second life is partly the medium, and partly in the way the art experienced.

First of all, the medium. Anyone who owns or deals with land in Second Life knows that the true gods of our world are not the Lindens, but the blessed, cursed, All-Mighty *Prims*.

The Prim is unique to Second Life, and it is this multi-formed, infinitely textured, irreducible SL “atom” that is the building block of virtually all that we see. The prim is not infinitely flexible. It must respond to the rules of this reality just as clay must respond to the rules of that other reality. Therefore, the art created with prims have their own unique characteristics and limitations. Fortunately, these characteristics and limitations are FAR different from those experienced by the building blocks of Real Life.

When we look at the sculptures created by the masters of the prim: Starax, or Golam Amadeus, or Cheen Pitney, we can not help but acknowledge that the skill used to create this work is equal to the skill used to create art in RL.

And objects created with prims are unique to the meta-world called Second Life because the ONLY place to experience objects created with prims is in the meta-world we call Second Life. And thus, again, we can say that Second Life art exists.

And this is where the “experiential” element comes in. The question becomes one of the relationships between we, the avatar, and the meat people who animate us. Recent studies suggest that, neurologically, our brains do not distinguish between the social relationships in formed in fantasy worlds and those formed in Real Life. And I think few would question that people do form an emotional response, a relationship, to the art that we see and create.
But the experience we have with SL art is completely different then the experience we have with RL art. We can fly around SL art, sit on it, click on it to see the prims of which it is composed. We can crash into it, in some cases even fly it.

SL art defies the laws Reality. Gravity has no meaning, but prim counts do. The complexities of the scripts that make the art interactive are limited by lag. And the interactive aspects in themselves are utterly unique. There is art that begins to disintegrate as more and more people approach it, living paintings that we can walk through.

And that part of our souls that we pour into our avatars experience this art, filtered through the sound of the television in the background, the dust on our monitors, the empty food wrappers on our desks.

So, does Second Life art exist? Perhaps it can be put under a broader category of “meta-verse” art. But, even as other meta-verses are created and mature, SL art will likely still share characteristics that stand unique only to Second Life. I think that there can be little doubt that Second Life art does exist, and is utterly and completely unique than any other art form that has ever existed before.

/me smiles. "Thank you."


The following were prepared statements I had standing by in case I needed them. I didn't.

A griefer, who puts out an object that sends a continuous torrent of bouncing penises, is in a way creating an art form unique to Second Life. The object can be defined as art as it is making a statement of some type, juvenile though that statement may be, and it usually produces an emotional reaction in the observer. However, if I’m wrong and someone in real life has also had to endure an object that produces a torrent of bouncing penises, I can say with all sincerity that I REALLY don’t want to know about it.

The plant and flower designs of Dolly and Lilith Hart, for example, are composed of hand drawn textures, exclusively designed for Second Life. Can’t we then define these digital paintings as Second Life paintings?

Similarly, skins, tattoos, and other textures are frequently hand drawn and digitally scanned. They exist as RL art, but the art comes to full fruition only in Second Life.

What is to distinguish objects made with prims from other computer-generated art? Can what we call Second Life art better be better described as computer art, or perhaps simply art created through computer generated, 3D modeling? The answer to either of these questions can be said to be yes. There is certainly nothing unique about Second Life that could not be recreated with any good, 3D modeling software.

The difference here lies in the experience and in that avatar. I would guess that very few 3D modelers hold an emotional attachment to their cursors. In SL, we avatars ARE the cursors. And we avatars fall in love, and ... um ... do other things ... which carry a connection out to our meat selves far more than a cursor, or a paint brush, ever could.


Anonymous said...

You didn't have a track of the counter-arguments or refutations? It would have made interesting reading, after seeing your eminently reasonable discussion, the arguments _against_ "SL Art".

(just off the top of my head, "it's sterile", "it has no uniqueness", "it's too ephemeral", "it's a game" ;-).

Jean Philippe said...

As a friend of An; I was there and enjoyed the debate even if the format/technical problems made it difficult. I am still "debating" with her and she is a very clever person as you are. Keep up the good work in SL. See you in world, Philippe Chaplin, photographer

Princess Ivory said...

The full text transcript is available at There is No Such Thing as SL Art
It's a little rough and will be replaced with a cleaner version when available, but in the meantime, here is the entire debate event.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that link Princess - I really wish I could have been there. People were talking about the nature of reality more than the nature of Art I think, and I would have fit right in... ;)