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All the talk of art and not-art in this week's readings had me thinking about my favorite topic again. There still seems to be controversy over whether video games can be considered a type of artwork, and if so what parameters and distinctions can be made between art-games and not-art-games. The Smithsonian's American Art Museum currently has an exhibition open about the Art of Video Games, which gives the argument a certain amount of clout - we have talked in class about the effect of placing an object in a museum. But their methodology leaves a lot to be desired; the games that do appear were decided by popular vote, which means the majority were chosen based on popularity and name recognition, rather than through some sort of official canon or gatekeepers. Braid, for example, is considered highly influential as well as beautiful, and did not make the cut.

For video games to work, a combination of different bibliographic codes must be understood. Like Umberto Eco's cultural encyclopedia, games are decoded through the use of established signs from older media, in particular film. For example, the game Flower lets you guide a stream of wind through a landscape. Without modern notions of cinematography, the viewer wouldn't be able to understand the movement of the camera as the wind passes across flowers and other pieces of landscape. Games differentiate themselves through the use of touch. We control the wind, and the camera follows its guide rather than follow one per-conceived pathway.

That's not to say that art can not be interactive: installations have incorporated audience participation.Simply that a computer-generated program could be designated a type of this art, one that is completely computer generated and removed from the museum system into the comfort of individual homes. If you would like to experience this particular game in a museum sign system, however, you can - it's one of the 5 playable pieces at the Art of Video Games exhibit.

I personally think the difference between video-game-art and video-game-not-art is a simple one - awareness of the medium, or a mediological perspective. There are a number of games (referred to as "tent poles," itself a film industry term) which make most of the money, games licensed from other properties or war games or sequels which simply repeat previous established norms without sight of what messages are being transmitted and how games transmit them in a particular way. That said there are independent games, like Braid, which understand and manipulate the game's place in the media sphere. They won't be seen in the current art exhibit but I think of them as art. One of my favorite examples is iPhone Story, or Phone Story, a game designed to play on your smartphone which brutally un-black-boxes the contents of the phone and how these parts are constructed. The game is ironically banned on the iPhone because of the game's section on Coltan, where you control an armed guard forcing child laborers to mine for the precious mineral. Apple objected to the images of child labor, while refusing to acknowledge or remedy their real-world use of the practice. The game also has levels based on the Foxconn scandals, e-waste and ultra commodity culture. I like to think of this example as a deconstruction of the mythical qualities of a smart phone,as it not only lays bare the unethical way iPhones are produced but deliberately makes the player complicit by guiding the action.

-Tracy Carlin

-Art= social/cultural/economic capital
-Art vs art
-fickle canon, fickle collective

Captial A- Art

Capital…is a force inscribed in the objectivity of things so that everything is not equally possible or impossible.-bourdieu pg 242

Art/art have the ability to embody and transmit capital in its various forms (economic, social, cultural); it is both product and provocateur. However the status of an art object is constantly in flux, its value is continuously re-mediated. Its status either buttresses the canon or is crushed by it if deemed un-worth by the latest stewards. As Bourdieu suggests, meaning and value are ascribed to the object. We are the ones that imbue art with its meaning, we decided to uphold its designation or fuel “disinterest”. Like text anchors the meaning to an image, cultural institutions define the “worth” of an object.

Who would have ever imagined that screen printed rendition of an everyday household item, a can of Campbell’s Soup, would have captured the spirit of commercialism, artistic expression, and then popular culture? And had Duchamp not signed that urinal, what institution would have been determined to treasure it?

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Enter the dialogic echoes: And what of history? How do we decide which object to call forward from the shadows of obscurity and into the exhibitor’s gallery lights? How do we deem cultural narratives worthy of our gaze; our imaginings?
The ability of this agent to transcend, transmit and reflect our own social and historical inscriptions for us and back to us is a mediological phenomenon, a constantly evolving and shifting heuristic, that is indicative of our own collective force.

-Metasebia Yoseph

From late 20 century, Chinese media workers and artists are continuing discover how to use western forms to express Chinese content. Like western art media products will reflect traditional western high art values, Chinese artists try to use western media technology to express traditional Chinese art and culture values. Unlike western realistic oil painting, Chinese traditional ink wash paintings focus on descriptions of move and aura of an object. They use water to blend and blur solid colors into soft and use the special brushwork of brushes to create a dynamic image. For example, the following wash painting is a traditional Chinese style portrait of a lady. The artist used water to blur the boundaries of the lady’s cloth to create the effects of wind blowing. Also, unlike western artists use canvas and thick paper, Chinese Xuan paper is soft and can absorb water. Digital editing technology has incredibly expressed the flow water ink moving on a Xuan paper in an advertisement made by China Central Television. In the advertisement, 3D technology describes the movement of wash ink and the trail of ink forms a story of Chinese visual culture.
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Chinese photographer, Chen Man has always committed herself to discover how to use technology to express modern Chinese culture. She was born in 1980 and is a representative of young generation Chinese artist. Her knowledge of photography are from western institutional system. She divided his career into three phases. For the first period, in about 2002 and 2003, she was fascinated by the post-editing work. She said that she was crazy about using Photoshop to correct any imperfect of skin of a photograph. She said, "Photographers didn't regard me as a photographer, because my works are too art. Artists didn't regard me as an artist, because my photograph is published in fashion magazines. I was in a very special position" (Interview with Chen Man). For the second phase, she worked as professional fashion photographer. While other photographer imitated western genres, she started to work on topics such as “the context of contemporary China”. She used typical visual symbols like Tian An Men or the Great Wall as her background of many high fashion photographs to create a visual impact. In this way, she tried to express a positive aesthetic power of Chinese local visual images. Right now, she is working on the narrative of rejuvenating ancient Chinese philosophies. It is a mixture of western know-how and Chinese culture. She is trying to find the right artistic language of today’s China. The following commercial is she made for M.A.C make up. Her theme is about water and love. It is a critique of traditional Chinese philosophy. In the commercial, she tells the story of how life started with a drop of water, and split into “yin and yang” (male and female), and then become a whole world because of love. In this video, her use of lights and shadows and use of lens are affected by western movie a lot. However, the model’s make up and whole image is so eastern style. She uses pink and blue to represent male and female in the video, which comes from western values. She didn’t use pure red, because with a blending of water, red color transferred into a soft pink, where she goes back to traditional Chinese wash paintings.

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--Xindi Guo

Relating Conflict Resolution to Media Theory and Visual culture over the past few months solidified my understanding of how we use visual culture and apply theories of prominent postmodern and philosophical thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, Baudrillard, Debord and others (who we studied similarly in terms of their contributions to the field of CR Theory as well). As this semester progressed, I was able to see how their notions of how we perceive the world about us and express the realities of our social beings as they relate to world order, art, language and political economy.

I took this week’s readings to think about what we’ve learned this entire semester around Bourdieu’s “The Forms of Capital” not just because visual art and expression becomes “visual culture” when we invest in it as part of our social identity, but because the landscape of media is changing and there are multiple ways of expression that leave us in an indefinable and somewhat infinite state of cultural morphing.

Below I try to juxtapose the duality if what we are experiencing where sources of political economy reflected in traditional television, institutionalized art galleries, couture fashion runways, and internet media reflect Bourdieu’s “institutionalized” or “objective” states (p6-7) with cultural capital that is familiar to us en masse is challenged with the emergence of more “social capital” as seen in graffiti, commercial fashion, “reality” shows and website blogs. Of course, these are not two clearly defines opposing worlds, but they do reflect a shift in Visual art and culture that is a direct result of a digital age and shifting political economic paradigms.

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Irvine’s Map of Theory, Traditions, Philosophies, Affiliations and Prior Methodologies allowed me to consider how my work on cultural perceptions in the media (as they affect conflict) relates to how Realist/Liberalist theories of war and conflict have now given way to the more poststructuralist/postmodern notions of alternate resolution skills because the traditional perceptions within media have given way to modes of cultural expression that are increasingly diverse and include powerful forces of pop culture that challenge our social realities within conflict environments. The influence of thinkers like Derrida and Foucault and others force us to consider how we deconstruct these social realities and our abilities to co-exist as communities and nations. In just the same manner, I found the Mitchell article’s “Counter Theses on Visual Culture” exhibits the same postmodern thinking as deconstruction because he argues for the constant dynamism of though and philosophy within visual culture much like Derrida.
Thinking about how we institutionalize visual culture and monetize or quantify its relevance to our societies as being a reflection of our priorities as a group requires that we also understand how taking on our identities as a group also involves our ability to decode and understand “others” in a conflict. I hope to formulate a thesis on how institutionalized media utilizes cultural and social capital made available through television and the internet (visuals, linguistics, reception social history, sociology of media, political economy etc) to determine how conflict is shaped by media and also how media shapes conflict.

Yes, But Is It Art?

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On April 6th, the famous and sometimes infamous “painter of light”, Thomas Kinkade died of unknown causes. When he was alive, he was quick to claim that he was the most successful artist who ever lived, and by his terms, he was right. It’s estimated that he sold $100 million dollars worth of art every year. His soft paintings of idyllic houses and rivers were sold at outlets in thousands of malls and adorned the walls of many more homes across the country. Yet, the art world with its intuitions, canons, and actors, has rebuffed him empirically, putting him squarely in the non-art side of the binary relationship. The recent admission by his brother that Kinkade has slipped into alcoholism and depression before his death shows just how much this negative differentiation used by the art world affected the painter.

It would be hard to argue that Kinkade’s work wasn’t art by strict definition. His paintings had no other function than to be used as wall decorations and to evoke, at least so some, emotions and good feelings. However, those within the art world with the self-defining authority to deem things as art were quick to write him his work off completely as worthy of discourse. In a piece written by one of my favorite critics, Jerry Saltz writes:
“Kinkade's pictures strike those in the art world as either prepackaged, ersatz, contrived, or cynical. Unoriginal rote things done in his perfectly conventional, balanced people-pleasing way produced these confected conglomerations of things people wanted to think they wanted to think about, democratic paintings whose meanings are hidden from no one, whose appeal is to not to vex or disturb, to produce doubt or newness.”
Here, we can see that the cultural encyclopedia, as Eco put it, does not favor Kinkade. His subject matter, his execution, his underlying messages of Christianity, and, of course, his business model for selling (he frequently sold on tv shopping channels and in malls), all clash with the signifiers and codes put in place in our society for what a true “artist” is and what institutionalized art can be. If such art as Kinkade’s, or others like him with similar styles and motivations, were to be accepted into the galleries and museums, it would challenge the institutions and their authority to oversee the established norms of their given cultural encyclopedia. If the art world only exists through negative differential, by perpetuating the binary logic of art and non-art, something like Thomas Kinkade’s work, which functions on the borders, can act as a real lightning rod because those gatekeepers with the authority to enforce the binary are on high alert to keep out the riff-raff.

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Why is Kinkade’s work so widely panned? I would argue that it is art that, while made mostly in 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s, was firmly planted in modernism, having never transcended to post-modernism, let alone post-post. His mawkish work is completely un-selfreflexive art, totally devoid of references to or understandings of anything made since 1940, and it invokes the grand narratives that post-modernism rebelled against. Where as artists like Koons use shmaltz and kitsch and other german words as a tool and a framework within which to make commentary on our society, Kinkade’s works has none of that awareness. It ends up acting as source material for the Koons of the world, creating the structure in which such artists create new ideas, but never actually moving forward on their own right .

“It follows that the transmission of cultural capital is no doubt the best hidden form of hereditary transmission of capital, and it therefore receives proportionately greater weight in the system of reproduction strategies, as the direct, visible forms of transmission tend to be more strongly censored and controlled.”
  • Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital”

One cultural artifact that's fascinated me for almost a decade now is the “Weddings” section of the New York Times. While reading the Bourdieu essay, I couldn't help but think often about these Sunday announcements and their immense displays of cultural and social capital.

In terms of other theories and methods we've studied over the course of the semester, weddings announcements speak to historic cultural traditions, in which announcements were used to announce and catalog family lineages and meeting points. The Weddings section, today, more diverse in some ways than ever, while remaining the same in others, points to a traditions that are already existing in our cultural encylopedia. It's difficult to find starting and end points, causes and effects, when reading of the families and educations of the married couple. Did their education enable them to meet? Did their elite education enable them to be allowed into this society section? The questions go on.

In the following example, taken from Gawker's weekly analysis of the cultural capital of new married couples, we can begin to see how deeply rooted a typical 'approved' published couple can be in the elite world:


Connections to elite schools are mandatory – the new capital of 'social mobility', but just as important are the old society measures – religion and family occupation. Other cultural limitations have evolved over time – gay and lesbian couples are now published in the section – but still need to possess the same elite criteria in order to have their announcement be worthy of acceptance.

For further reading on the subject, here's a great article written by Katie Baker for Grantland:

- Jen