Virtual Art

A Short Essay
For the past several years I have been working in and exploring what I consider to be a genuinely new art medium. It is so new that it barely has a name. Some call it Virtualism, which I will call it for the sake of simplicity. What I am talking about is art that is made with and can only be experienced in, 3D virtual world environments. This is a medium that only exists in the computer. The essence of this medium is creating immersive installations or experiences that you navigate in a 3D world. These encompass space, avatar interactions, animation, sound, music and scripted code. It is possible to hint at these environments with photos or videos, but to truly capture the experience one must occupy and interact with the virtual space. It is the difference between taking a picture of the woods, and standing in one. Virtualism favors interactions and immersive experiences that are not possible in the real world; an aspect that makes for a unique and exciting art medium.

About 160 years ago saw the invention of photography. A little over 50 years after that saw the advent of cinema. Both of these were new mediums, similar in some respects to what came before but fundamentally their own and in many ways, radically different. Each of these new and modern art mediums originally mimiced their predesesors. Photography imitated painting. Cinema imitated theater. But it was not long before artists began to experiment and these mediums grew over time into unique art forms which continue to evolve and grow. However, in the begining and for some people, long into their development, these mediums were not considered art. Today you would be hard pressed to find academic denial of these art forms. Virtualism is in much the same boat as photography in its infancy. Traditional techniques like design, theater, music and sculpture are incorporated but the alchemy of the virtual environment produces something new.

There are real world galleries and arts institutions that are dabbling with virtual art but that circle of validation is small. Most people and many in the art world are simply unaware. It is difficult for art galleries to get behind this medium as its commodification is almost non-existent. A few years ago some artists with real world reputations sold installations or virtual sculptures for real money, but these people all had art world cred ($ales) going in. In terms of art sales these were exceptions and rare. However there continue to be Universities, Arts institutions and individuals who underwrite and support virtual installations large and small through shows, competitions and residencies.

There is real potential here but where it will go is uncertain. Virtual worlds enjoyed a surge of hype a few years ago but corporations eager to exploit found it difficult to produce commercial returns. Second Life, the largest of these virtual worlds is embroiled in a legal snafu with content creators over content ownership which has had a dampening effect on artists unwilling to give up rights. There are other venues but they are not as well populated, at least at this time. However the genie is out of the bottle, there is a new medium out there with great potential that has only begun to be explored. It has birthed a varied and enthusiastic group of artists and curators. If the current iteration is subsumed by corporate whims one can always be sure that technology will progress and venues we can only presently imagine become available. Predicting the future of technology has a history of being wildly off but whatever comes next, artists will be there to experiment and build.