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The Second Life Art World Isn’t Pushing Hard Enough

Paying It Forward

Listen–we need to talk. You aren’t going to be happy about what I’ve got to say. You probably have your defense ready and that’s great, I’m happy to have this discourse with you, but I would like for you to consider what I’m about to say first.

Yes, I love participating in LEA programs. I can’t praise the idea of allocating sims to artistic endeavors enough. But there’s something going on that I’ve noticed and needs to be addressed. Are you ready? Let’s do this.

There’s way too much self-importance and too little forward thinking in the SL art world. It isn’t groundbreaking enough, and focuses too little on the very culture that makes up this game. It doesn’t warrant the attention it gives itself, and is over-saturated with elements that ignore what the outside art world even celebrates about us.

Second Life is a place of unlimited potential. For a community of creators to miss the train on this again and again is a damn shame. This is a virtual world, where anything is possible, and yet most of the art produced and put on gallery walls are little more than selfies and headshots.

Yes–selfies are a valid point of work. Some artists’ entire careers cover evolving selfies. But this is something our art world is positively bloated with.  When you have an art gallery full of headshots from various artists and this is the best you can present to anyone, you know your industry is in trouble.

Exhibit A: Second Life has missed its own honorary party in the mainstream art and fashion world. When’s the last time anybody pursued some still life shots like this? Or this? That’s a serious callback to SL and our snap-to grids. When’s the last time you saw a virtual body of work like that? This is the kind of aesthetic we’ve seen with vaporwave, with past fashion collections, and nary a fuss was made on the grid about this at all. How? And why? When did we become so blind to what the rest of the world was doing that’s clearly inspired by us?

Exhibit B: Most of what is considered fine art and put on a wall is not fine art. Blogging pictures are great and can still be art, but that’s like visiting a gallery, expecting to see fine art, and seeing a bunch of Annie Leibovitz shots and no paintings. That’s what we have. A lot of Annie Leibovitz and Vogue editorials. Where’s the work commenting on the culture of the game, the administration, making fun of ourselves and talking about how we relate to one another? We can’t call ourselves a proper society until we have art like that.

Exhibit C: The best machinima artists are designers who have never had major participation with a LEA sim, much less the SL art world in general. We need to be trading more notes with each other, and this is one aspect I’m focusing on for the next six weeks to even learn more of myself. Machinima has got to improve, but there are definitely people willing to try that out.

Exhibit D: What’s with the drama? What’s with this? Are you serious? You guys act like thousands of people are going to your shows, because that’s the kind of egos I’m seeing pop up a lot. Tone it down, have a seat, and chill out. Let’s get somewhere better with our overall scene first, and then we can talk about how much bravado we should be sporting.

No, I’m not saying every artist is guilty of these things. But I am saying it’s the majority and it should start to change. Stop and ask yourself–what is this art I’m creating, and why? And then ask how we can push a bit harder to create something more thought-provoking.

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  1. amoralie.triellis

    Excellent thoughts and topic! I will admit that I’m thirsty for thought provoking and immersive virtual art, but I will say this – I don’t think this *isn’t* a place for selfie artists either. Its like RL, when you go in Instagram you’re going to see thousands or mirror shots, baby pictures, and cat portraits. What percentage of instagram is really exceptional ‘fine art’? And yet its a medium for photography. I get your points about people ‘calling themselves’ fine artists – but I really believe SL is just here to allow you to be whatever you want and create the kind of art that you enjoy. We are always allowed to not engage with the art we don’t like, and promote the ‘fine art’ we love! The photography we see makes up a huge community, and people love to be a part of that and are proud of the work they accomplish. Look at it this way – if all of those selfie photographers in SL were capable of what you or I consider ‘fine art’, I’d like to imagine that’s what they would be doing instead. Fine art is a very unique mindset. If all the world were ‘fine art’ would it really be so fine? Thanks for giving me a chance to think on this topic, its interesting!

    • aemeth

      Hi! Thanks for commenting. Definitely there’s room for selfie artists. I totally encourage art that explores the self, I just want more flavors in the ice cream shop, you know?

      You’re right, there’s room for all kinds here. I hope we can start to see some more exploration of what that is soon!

  2. Suzyqqq

    Fantastic thoughts!!!!!!

    • aemeth

      Thank you!

  3. John

    It can be very hard to jump from SL to real life art and even from real life art to SL. I often see artists in SL who are trying to just get a show in SL and are turned down by curator after curator. I am a firm believer that a person has to make things happen. I have been fortunate enough to have real life showings of my photography and art work and how did i do this? By investigating galleries and exhibition houses on my own. I am a firm believer a person can do anything if they put their mind to it.

    • aemeth

      Thank you so much for your thoughts on this, John!

  4. Prokofy Neva (@Prokofy)

    This was an interesting post you did. I think much of the reason for the stultifying, amateurish, kitsch and even oppressive art scene in Second Life is due to the nature of the society, which is authoritarian as controlled by its makers, Linden Lab and also with a high factor of “wannabee” available from the anonymous nature of the world.

    I was just watching Draxtor’s feature of Nylon Pyncky, long one of the “cool kids” of SL. In RL she’s a wedding photographer in New Jersey; in SL she’s a top fashion designer with all the retro cool and arch kitsch that you could ask for on one of the top designer sims, Tableau.

    She’s one of the few to make old people avatars in this world of eternal youth; her RL status, revealed in ways most of these artists don’t reveal, is indicative of both the charm and bane of SL. There are many people who become “artists” in SL without being them in RL or if they are artists in RL, they gain the fame they would never have in RL via SL. This is the virtual amplification factor that has worked well for lots of people not even in the art field.

    Yet there’s an oppressiveness, a numbing amateur quality, a horrid kitsch even in the self-conscious cooler-than-thou kitsch that really turns you away from SL art.

    I remember when I first saw a show by Bryn Oh I was all ecstatic and thinking we were living in a new human epoch and new boundaries were crossed and blah blah blah. That was before I then saw my 100th little broken porcelain doll face and ominous clock face and umbrella opened to an alarming angle — not to mention sad clowns or morbid circuses or sepia windmills and Nevada gas stations and gold field vistas worth of Andrew Wyeth by AM Radio, an IBM worker. I think SaveMe Oh is spot on by not just calling these installations “avatar parking lots” where all people do is pile up, photograph and tag them for Plurk or Flickr; she even went further satirizing the avatar parking lot with her own funny pile-up on her blog.

    What you linked to from her and her posts about the totalitarian little shots at the LEA is appalling, but not surprising to me, a long-time student of the oppressive little insecure wannabees at the heart of the SL FIC (Feted Inner Core) phenomenon. Of course SaveMe Oh (are all cutting edge artists using the last name Oh?) is probably no picnic either if she strobe-lights everybody to death during their hippie ritual.

    The whole LEA thing is depressing as only a Soviet Union of Artists can be, where those that suck up to the Communist Party the best get the rewards. You wish it really encouraged great art but I haven’t seen that it does. Socialism does not create good art. And all this “fight the man” and “criticize the administration” (I bet you don’t mean Linden Lab) also makes for bland and stupid art to, in real as in virtual.

    If the kind of things going on there are true that SaveOh is describing, the Lindens should intervene/shut it down. But meanwhile, I ignore all that because of course there is interesting art in SL, you’re just looking to the equivalent of 59th Street to find it instead of looking even in Soho let alone in Jersey City or Williamsburg.

    The complaints of the FIC here in this thread that they can’t make art unless they have 6 months of zillions of prims and even a financial subsidy is just ***** ridiculous. Seriously.

    I was just reminded of Moe Winkler’s work, a German artist. He happened to put an installation into a little 512 by my rentals in Alice. He’s also at a Mexico artists’ museum where you can find interesting stuff, and not all just photographs or selfies by any stretch.

    I often visit the studio of Garvie Garzo whom I view as an artist and even the silly amateurish snobs of LEA would agree is one. Obviously in SL the line between design and art, or architecture and art can’t always be drawn. No matter. Garvie’s “Gilty” gatcha series with the burning zebra, the Salvador Dali watch actually melting and moving off the table (that’s what SL should be for), the paintings turning into branches, the neo THIS IS NOT REAL sign which has the added fun of an annoying neon buzz sound to it which ensures you will not be too enthusiastic about it for long — all this and more is delightful, great, even useful art that is enjoyable to have, talk about, interact with, etc.

    To be sure, her little chair with the little children’s hands coming up of it; the Venus Bound and so on — Not For Us as they say. But perhaps for someone.

    The events held constantly in SL for merchants to sell their wares ARE the art of SL because this is where art is, where Medicis can pay for it, where audiences can see it, and where it can be bought and used. I guarantee you it’s not at LEA or some sim with doll parts and a sad circus. The show 6 Republic was worth of the grandest art of real or second life — textures, builds, concepts, and works placed in it — it’s an installation of art that also happens to sell furniture, some of which is art. Here the line to architecture is blurred but then you have to ask: when an artist like Imo makes a RL building replica in SL in miniature with more than a tongue in cheek, it’s not by definition architecture in a world where many prefabs in fact are sculptures that people put out and don’t actually “live in” — they might teleport to flat boards in black boxes to a sex bed but leave their “sculpture” with all its artfully draped mesh shabby chic blankets on worn wooden benches to just look at from their lawns….

    Sometimes these designers educate me, I hate their stuff at first with my bourgeois Wal-mart tastes but then I come to appreciate things like keke’s traveler chairs. And Imogen Neox’s Prentiss Hospital for SL which was in the 6 Republic event. I mean, what sort of fugly travesty is that thing? Yet I’m drawn to it:

    I mean, check out this entire sim, it’s a work of art.

    I think if you stop trying to find art where it isn’t, at the Soviet Union of Artists circa 1953, you might do better.

    Years ago at the dawn of the Internet for everybody, a co-worker told me “Walk around the robots” about all the stupid on the Internet. And I’m still walking in SL, and it’s great.

    • aemeth

      Saveme Oh is unfortunately someone I don’t deal with. I saw she just tried to link a post here–Gogo accidentally greenlighted it–but I marked it as spam because she’s been going around and harassing people in-world she thought were my alts. Those users got back to me about it, which made me upset because harassment is something that is zero-tolerance with me.

      When I first encountered Saveme, I thought her whole demeanor was an act, like Michael Green’s work in SL. I figured she was playing a part and I was like, “whatever, just come give a talk at the Art Farm”. It didn’t take long for me to realize that.. yeah, she actually is crazy. Once that happened, I was done.

      Her comment has been marked as spam and I’ll be banning her from here when I get the chance, if the spam marking hasn’t done so already.

      I know who Nylon is; I was the one who told her to get into portrait art. I’m happy for her success and I think she’s a great artist. SL’s grid is a lot brighter because of Tableau’s existence.

      LEA is just another art program. I’ve seen this stuff irl–it’s a lottery and a selection process and not everyone gets in. The same happens with an art program that happens every four years where I live (Detroit). Because we’re so arts-intensive here, many people apply and only a few get in. I applied but didn’t make it this year, same for LEA…

      It’s okay if it doesn’t happen because plots are cheap and I can always fund a way to make my art work elsewhere. That’s a good thing about SL–there’s always hope for making a project work. You just have to find the right parcel.

      I suggest to everyone who doesn’t like the process of art grants to just keep trying. That’s the name of the game, even if you don’t like the jury.

      People who claim to be professional artists but complain excessively about it strike me as those who are not familiar with grants and fellowships, period. At the same time, I’ve got distance from LEA, aside from my involvement with the art farm, and that’s just how I like it.

      “I think if you stop trying to find art where it isn’t, at the Soviet Union of Artists circa 1953, you might do better.”

      –> “And all this “fight the man” and “criticize the administration” (I bet you don’t mean Linden Lab) also makes for bland and stupid art to, in real as in virtual.”

      I think you have personal tastes about art and not a very strong background of art criticism. Disregarding *any* kind of art in SL is stupid. I never said any of the work here was invalid. I said one aspect of it was *bloated*. There’s a big difference and I like to make sure in criticizing art, I’m not excluding anyone for trying to make some and share it on the grid.

      If you don’t like a piece of art, that’s okay. But discounting it is against my personal rules. State your case with a more educated tone and we can have an art criticism talk, but not before then.

      Thanks for recommending the sim, I’ll check it out.

  5. cibigibi

    The sad truth is that in SL art simply don’t exist. We have many artistic activities and i like but no art, for many reasons both technicals and humans. Everyone seem to have a solution, as this guy here over, that have discovered the true art and make some advesiting maybe for some friends.
    Is always guilt of someone other, depends on how write.
    SL is first of all a lab, where some persons can try a extension of themselves, nothing more. This is not a statement of quality, as we can see in all this things called “art”. But maybe for someone is the only possibility for try something beyond himself.
    We can rant about this is shit, this not, my shit is more good than your, but at the end is just a solitary rant, justified or not is not my responsibility to say.
    Also a art community in SL It does not exist. Anyone so called or self-proclaimed artist claim to be the best. Proclaiming himself “artist” does not mean do art. And in anycase also artist can do big shit, maybe artistic but shit, there are not medals.
    I understand your talk, but It does not propose a solution, as many other rants about “art in SL”. But nice try.

    (Livio Korobase)

    • aemeth

      Hi! I think from your response, you’re saying it’s all meaningless? Well, that unfortunately defeats the purpose and tradition of art criticism, which is a valid practice and aims to keep artists on their toes.

      If you were the zoom that argument out a bit, you could say that ALL art is meaningless. I would argue it isn’t.

      I would definitely recommend the series “Art Versus Reality”, you might enjoy it!:

      • cibigibi

        Art criticism in SL can be welcome, if we use SL parameters for criticize. Use RL parameters (if they exist) applied to SL is just shallow. The word “art” is abused and she take different meaning following culture and tradition. For a European word have a meaning, for a american another, with countless shades in the middle. I would definitely reccomend you to read some good books about story of art, at least.

        • aemeth

          Or take a class in art theory? Or base your career in professional art? Done and done! This is why I’m so passionate about the subject.

          I don’t talk about my accomplishments too much because I’m kind of modest like that, but you can read about one the things I did here:

          Art criticism comes from art theory. There is a certain way to evaluate art:

          – Identify the genre.
          – Identify how the art was made.
          – Find out or determine the piece’s message.
          – Use this information to evaluate if this was successfully done.
          – Look into the technique and see if this was well-done.

          These are pillars for evaluating all kinds of art, and that is why art criticism is a very real and valid practice. It keeps artists in check and pushes us to make better art.

          We have lots of examples of SL art now, and we can start to build a good system for criticism here as well. The virtual world is not exempt from that.

          • cibigibi

            So, i have to exibit my curriculum? :). I see you are passionate, and this is good. But, i repeat, no one of classic methods work in SL, because we have this little difference: SL IS NOT RL, the creative process, the tools are completely different. So, what genre of art you can identify in SL? Painting? With what? We can have just textures at low resolution loaded in world from outside. Dance? with a chimera and commercial animations? Sculpting? With mesh at low resolution? Music? Is impossible play inside SL, you can just take a stream from outside. And so on. SL don’t have the tools for make art, is so simple. We have artistic events, is all. You use your pillars for your pleasure, but they mean not much in SL. Using your pillars you can do only low level art critics, you understand? Can be funny, but don’t pretend that someone listen you.

          • aemeth

            “So, i have to exibit my curriculum?”

            Nope, but you just questioned mine. You can’t put that sort of snobbery off on someone else and not get questioned on your own knowledge of the subject.

            Yes, we *can* apply classic art criticism to SL art. All genres are able to undergo it. Virtual/3D art has been around for more than a decade, and we’ve had plenty of examples of it to apply the standard method of criticism.

            “SL don’t have the tools for make art, is so simple.”

            I’m sorry you feel that way. For someone who covers art events in SL, you don’t seem to understand much about what the artists are doing. You’re also discounting every effort artists in this game have made to create art.

            Thanks for stopping by!

  6. lucagrabacr

    Nicely put, Juicy, your points are definitely worth thinking about. Unfortunately LL do little to nothing in term of bringing this kind of intricate concern to a brighter light within the community. Oh well, all we can do is do our best and hope for the best 🙂

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