K. Guillory. “Mantis”, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Subject is a game avatar.

The User’s Guide To Gridism

A new genre depicting the world of virtual reality is here. But what is it about?

What if I told you it was worth studying how people play games, engage in online worlds, and study the kind of things users build in virtual environments? You would most likely agree to this, thinking it’s a pretty rational argument.

But what if I said it was also worth painting? What if I said it were possible to combine art, gaming, and tech into one art genre? Would you buy it? Would you think it’s a viable means of recording the way people enjoy their leisure time?

Gridism is an art genre focused on fusing together traditional painting/sculpture and the subject of virtual worlds. It focuses exclusively on the psychology of its users and how they express themselves in digital surroundings.

Many games — Second Life, Eve Online, DayZ, and other, older massive multiplayer games — enable users to give enough input to carve out who they are and what is important to them. So much of this expression is present in these worlds, a culture unto itself begins to form.

Gridism takes these cultures and studies them. The Gridist is not only interested in summarizing who the user is online, but how it might affect their offline world as well. They implement symbolism and key images into their paintings to give the viewer a full story. They not only show why games and virtual worlds can be important to pay attention to, but they show the other side of humanity within them.

Gridism then goes one step further — it attempts to put these works into spaces for public consumption. Online, in physical galleries, on blogs… they are shown off to the public to encourage discussion. Who are we when we delve further into virtual reality, who are we when VR encompasses more of our lives over time? In turn, it encourages the fine art world to reconsider what subjects are worth depicting.

K. Guillory. “Farmland”, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. This work is a portrait of a user who presents as both male and female.

What Are The Benefits Of Gridism?

A better study of marginalized peoples in virtual spaces. Anyone who is a minority or member of the LGBTQA+ community understands how well virtual reality can allow them to express themselves with a diminished fear of backlash. Although the game world isn’t without its own problems of racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia, it does offer more wiggle room for users to be themselves. Studying and recording this in traditional paintings is a point of preservation.

A study of a digital world in transit. Online games are not exactly the pinnacle of permanence. Server outings, declining userbases, and administration changes are all things that can erase user-created cultures. Once traces of these cultures disappear, only stories and screenshots of them remain. These stories and screenshots, still digital in nature, are themselves subject to deletion over time. Gridism solves this by specifying the genre involve traditional artwork, bringing the memories and stories of this world to a more permanent spot — the canvas.

Predecessor to Gridism. — Whiskey Monday. “The Smallest Slight”, 2014. Virtual reality.

Where Did Gridism Come From?

Gridism is an offshoot of digital art. Most art of this type is either post-internet, or conceptual work created in virtual spaces. Art galleries in online spaces tend to be insular because there’s little opportunity for a real-world exhibition. In order to raise the public’s view of online art, Gridism’s mission is very specific in nature.

K. Guillory. “Just Stop Begging”, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Subject is a game avatar.

What Are Some Challenges?

Copyright and ethics issues. Game companies may step in to distribute cease and desist notices to artists whose work eventually threatens pre-existing intellectual property. While most art focuses on user-made avatars, there’s room for argument on what artists may or may not depict in artwork. I expect a very long debate in this area.

False depictions of online worlds. It’s easy to fake it when your work is based on virtual creations, to paint something that simply doesn’t exist in-game. Over time, viewers should be able to tell what art is based on real games and genuine experiences. Listen to the artists’ explanation of their work. The way they speak of it will let you know if they’re being honest.

Corporate interest, unchecked. Tech companies should be encouraged to interact with artists to bring more Gridist work to the public. However, this can easily go sour. Artists in working relationships with tech companies might be pressured to depict only positive experiences. Be wary of anyone who patronizes your work. Make sure everything is transparent in your dealings.

Tips For Artists

How to approach Gridism at all? Where do you begin?

Look for a game that allows for user contributions. Games such as DayZ, Eve Online, Second Life, Minecraft, and Wurm Online are a great start. Make an account, log on, and look around. Observe how other players express themselves. Take note of the culture in-game. You’ll soon find something inspiring to paint.

Record what you see. A player’s abode, a common tavern or town center. A guild of users who have played together for years. A surprise birthday party. A portrait of an online couple. A group outing, situated just outside of a dungeon, waiting silently for all of their members to arrive.

Use VR equipment if you have it. Gear such as Oculus will enhance a painting because it creates a far better understanding of spatial distance. Put on your virtual reality headgear and take a look around. Have a user stand or sit near you — and paint them. Paint everything with the presence you feel in that moment. That is Gridism at its best.

Above all, enjoy the game you play as you depict it. There’s no use in painting anything in a virtual world if you don’t actually like it.

FAQ And Credits

Could other types of art be considered Gridist? What about sculpture or collage?

If it’s physical, it’s Gridist. But it must be physical. This is a genre aiming to redefine what we consider fine art.

Where did the “Gridist” name come from?

It is taken from the phrase “virtual grid”. This is often used in describing Second Life.

Why not “Virtualism”?

Virtualism is taken; it’s a different genre created by Frank Popper.

What about digital photos printed out?

No; this defeats the purpose of Gridism’s mission. Our primary aim is painting and sculpture. The point is to upset tradition a little.

Virtual reality can go to some pretty dark places. Do you expect Gridism to take this turn sometimes?

I fully expect it to. Dystopian views, themes of distraction, psychological issues, are inevitable to depict in Gridist work. Gaming isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. The industry already has its fair share of problems, and VR is only just now taking off!

I have more questions! Or suggestions! Or something to change in this document!

Please leave a comment or contact me at (ashurcollective) at (gmail). Thank you so much for being interested in making this manifesto even better! I’m not great at typing manifestos, but I have a lot of passion for this subject.

Now go pick up a brush and paint those virtual worlds!

Thank you to Mark Wenzel, Stephen Wait, Jessica Pixel, and Whiskey Monday for consultation and feedback.

-Kelly Guillory