What do Prince, A Blue Square and Gone Home have in common?

A couple of weeks ago I was listening intently to all of Prince’s music, as you might expect. I appreciated how much conversation there was around him. How many stories were being told, and how we were all remembering him. Something struck me about his music, and his entire persona. He didn’t seem to accept the natural way of things.

I’m certainly not an expert on Prince but to me, his androgynous nature, his desire to have complete control over his music. His exploration of style, genre and lyrics that went far wider than many other musicians. I don’t think he set out to particularly different or unique. He was just being himself, no matter how many “conventions” that broke.

During this time following Prince’s death an entirely separate thought entered my mind. What is it about modern art that makes it so important. Why is this blue square a famous modern art piece, when I painted something like that in primary school (probably not as uniformly).

“International Klein Blue” (source: culturehearts.com)

I decided to explore the topic and read the thoughts of others instead of ridiculing it as silly art for people with nothing to do (this might have been to avoid studying for exams, but who knows).

What I found was actually rather amazing. Let’s take the blue painting above. It’s by an artist called Yves Klein. Before he painted the blue painting he painted a series of monochrome paintings of different colours in a book entitled Yves Peintures. It was intended as a parody of other artists catalogs. But people misinterpreted it and attributed deeper meaning to it. He decided then to push it one step further and create an exhibition of eleven blue paintings. It was a critical success.

You could argue it’s a product of the ridiculous nature of modern art, and not talent. But Yves successfully used the silliness of modern art to force people to think differently about art, and what it even is. This is something many people cannot do. So you could argue it’s a skill that needs to be mastered? A talent?

I feel this may be difficult for some people to accept as being great art. So I’ll look at one more example. This painting, by Piet Mondrian.

“Composition in blue, red and yellow” (source: thecharnelhouse.org)

If art is about expressing an idea, or thought as elegantly and beautifully as possible, then this is it. We need to consider the story behind the art just as much as what it is. Mondrian wanted to explore what a painting was at its core. To strip away everything unnecessary and be left with nothing. Three primary colours implies every other possible colour. Lines imply every other possible shape. It is every painting ever. In one painting. It’s an elegant way to communicate, and it forces you to consider what a painting really is.

A great article pointed me to the fact that with the invention of photography there was no pressure for artists to realistically recreate the real world. They were free to explore ideas, and thoughts that photographs never could. Art nowadays provides us with a way to reconsider things we thought definite. It allows us to reflect and learn and communicate in whole other ways. When art doesn’t need to be bound by realism, pure workmanship cannot be the metric you judge with. But it prompts the question that never goes away.

What is art?

When I realized this the other day, I thought to myself, didn’t Prince do something similar? Didn’t he break convention and force people to reconsider things about the music industry. He made music that got you to reflect and think about gender, relationships, and countless other things. He made music that crossed genres, and music that felt different to anything else.

This triggered another thought. What if this is happening now in the games industry?

This game is called Gone Home. There is no combat, no winning, no losing. You just explore a space, and consider events gone past. But some people don’t like it. Why? It breaks convention. It forces people to reconsider what a game is. It dealt with a subject matter unheard of in games (lesbian relationships). It also allowed us to explore an experience previously unheard of in any other medium.

So lets return to the question, what is Art (or a game, or music)?

I don’t think it matters. In the art world, there are no boundaries for what you can and cannot do. And as a result ideas, thoughts and messages can be conveyed with complete freedom of speech. Broken from the limits of an otherwise finite way of communicating ideas. Why can’t we have this for other mediums? Maybe Gone Home isn’t a game, but I don’t think it matters. We have an experience like nothing else. There are now other games like it, “Dear Esther” or “Everybody’s Gone To the Rapture” for example. Without someone exploring the outside of the normal, we’d never get anything new.

So maybe this is how we develop as a race. By removing boundaries.

By exploring the unknown.

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