Dead Fresco Doubleclick Blues

The corn-fed onlooker says of the the art students: well, your installation “sad ness with under pants (part viiiii)” is very interesting, certainly different. But it’s not exactly Michaelangelo, is it. Is it?

The niece who they are visiting at art school restrains her nerves by restraining a scoff: no, it’s not Michaelangelo. Michaelangelo’s already been done. or That work reflected his timeandplace, my timeandplace is different. or I don’t express myself well through figurative representations, abstraction is a deeper layer of my Self. or Those works were the propaganda of theocratic fascism; lofting them in our modern opinion simply continues the work of oppression. or In 500 years, whose to say what will survive? or The value of  such ancien work is based on the scarcity of great art from that period – its value is relative, not absolute, and much the creation of the auction-mart. or In the world of photography and 3D rendering, complex realism is not just excessive, it is dull. or We have better ways of expressing the same themes now, it just requires a little more training to appreciate them – or a little less.

They both go to a gallery show where the featured artist worships at the Sistine but not at its altar. They look at his frescoes, his equestrians and saintly tableaux, and think back to time they went to the Uffizi on a family vacation with grandma and the cousins. They try to feel the same sense of awe. They wonder why. They wonder if they should. They wonder if Stendhal Syndrome is predicated on its expectation, or at least upon the expectation of Florence and its History. They wonder, Axel-like, if their servants could better appreciate this all. They wonder, perhaps, if they are the servants. They wonder if artists were better Then. They wonder why. They wonder if – but what if they weren’t? They wander the gallery. They wonder if it’s too soon to go to Starbucks and get a drink.

They talk of these things over lattes they wish were beer. A beardy fellow with carafe cafard interjects: Well, what do you expect? Today, if someone is making a fresco, they do it in homage to an earlier style. If they simply raise up their efforts like an offering to a shrine, they shall never equal that which receives their supplications. And if they don’t… if they take their work in a different direction, make new improvements of technique and perspective, employ new materials and technologies for better and more efficient and different effect, in short seek to improve upon the work of the come-before… then they are no longer fresco-makers, no longer working in the way of Giotto or Ghirlandaio. They may be great artists, but they are not of the same tradition. It is not just context: it is constraints, and those are gone.

Says a passing undergraduate: of course! the art has to get worse! it’s the second law of thermodynamics! entropy always increases!

Says a passing grad student: no. that’s not what that means. shut up and die. (he says this into his coffee.) (what the coffee replies, we do not hear.)

Says a scruffy señora with salad-bowl headphones gorget-like around her neck: It’s totally the same with adventure gaming. I mean, you’re talking about della Francesca and da Cortona but you might as well be talking about LeChuck.

It is true! says her blushing groom. What is the modern adventure gaming community – or adventure game industry – or “indie” adventure game scene, though there be nothing else to be independent of – what else is it but a group defined by its archaism, no different from fresco-painters with Walter Pater ren-faire joie de vivre? We strive and suffer to try to recreate the glory days of the genre – but such games were made with the most advanced technology available to them, accomplishing the very most they were able with the limitations that yoked them. They did not self-impose constraints. They did not seek to pay homage; they were building their own altars, stone by eight-bit stone. They did not wish to stay within the bounds of the genre. As much as the genre was defined, they sought to break those definitions every way they could! The only reason there is an image in the modern mind of the “adventure game” is because so many different sorts of games now exist to give it contrast – the puzzle platformer, the interactive fiction, the physics-engine cake-denying brouhaha.

If Michaelangelo had been born today, says the wise barrista with scrub-cloth in hand, he might have been a truly great artist, in one or one thousand media, or a medium we do not even yet know. But he would not have been a fresco-maker. No more can we today be Sierra during the first Bush administration. No more can Tim Schaefer now be the Tim Schaefer of Secret and Full and Grim. If Raphael lived today he would know how to use a camera, and thus his work could not but be influenced thereby. To ask a protagonist who could fire portals, switch bodies, command squads, reverse time, to ask them to abandon all this in favor of a verb list… it is not just unrealistic; it is necessitating that the result will be unexceptional.

For the difference – says this humble author, sitting in the corner and drinking free wifi – is that Michaelangelo sought to portray things (reality, religion, imagination) as best as he was able using the best tools available. At worst form followed function; at best, form and function were as one. A modern fresco-painter is by necessity having function follow form. The result will be, in its finest expression, first-rate fanfiction, appreciable solely as paratext and pander. More often it shall be well-executed but soulless, laudable only as academic exercise: it shall not outlive the semester.

The goal of an artist should be to establish, not what constraints they wish to labor under, but what they of necessity do contend with. The art which we shall hail as important will be that which takes the next step in ignoring those constraints; the art which, God willing, we shall know as good will be that which accomplishes its goals as best as its constraints – its natural constraints – can allow. Even an artist who sets some constraints of type for themselves – static as opposed to dynamic; visual but not auditory – must not needs settle upon an established media, let alone a tradition. A filmmaker can do a great deal with 2 1/2 hours of sight and sound; a modern gamemaker with 7 gigs on a DVD is as far beyond Broderbund as it is beyond Chutes and Ladders, as Joel and Ethan are to Punch and Judy. To limit themselves to making an “adventure game” is an interesting exercise; but to build upon the genre with the tools of all genres to create, not an adventure game, but a game which is adventurous,a game which is an adventure… such, I can only think, will be the goal of those who will lead the Renaissance of gaming.

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~ by davekov on 14 March 2012.

One Response to “Dead Fresco Doubleclick Blues”

  1. […] (in response to, and honoring the high-falutin’ style of: Dead Fresco) […]

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