A groundbreaking show reveals the evolution of art made from pixels, not paint.
A still from Flower, one of the games available to play at the exhibition. Photograph © Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Since “The Art of Video Games” is a groundbreaking, genre-busting show, it seemed appropriate to try something new when attempting to review it. With that in mind, we sent two writers to the media preview yesterday: associate arts editor Sophie Gilbert, who regularly reviews art exhibitions for Washingtonian.com, and assistant editor Michael Gaynor, who writes about science and technology (and has much greater insights into video games than Gilbert, whose expertise is limited to Tetris—the Game Boy version).
“Art” isn’t an easy word to define. In some ways, that’s because we’re so comfortable with our default examples of what art can and cannot be. Paintings are art. So are sculptures. A great movie can be great art, and a great director or a great writer can also be considered a great artist. Art is what appears in the halls of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
That museum’s newest exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” is trying to prove its subject matter belongs in this definition, too. The cards have historically been stacked against them—the crassness and violence of video games has always been a popular political fallback, a scapegoat for school shootings, childhood obesity, the downfall of American culture, etc. Although the exhibit—guest curated by Chris Melissinos, former chief gaming officer for Sun Microsystems and an avid video game collector—doesn’t touch on these controversies in any overt way, it does succeed in placing the first building blocks in favor of the video-games-as-art argument.