This month, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opened an exhibition featuring some of our best-loved video games, including Pac-Man, Tetris and Sim City 2000 – not exactly what you would expect alongside Edvard Munch’s iconic modern art piece The Scream, also currently on display at the museum.
Well, according to Jonathan Jones of The Guardian, that is. His scathing reaction to MoMA’s recent acquisition of 14 video games asks: what exactly is art? Jones’ answer is quite distinctly: a person’s reaction to life. And games? They are just games, he says. “No one “owns” the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art.”
But what is ownership to art? After all, MoMA also boasts to have acquired the @ sign. And even if I was going to attempt a definition of ‘art’ (and I’ll try not to), it would begin at something that makes you think about life. Whatever Munch wanted us to feel when viewing The Scream, our reactions to it are still valid; The Scream is still ‘art’ whether or not I agree with, or even know, what Munch’s views were. It is not so much the aims of the artist but the reaction of the viewer that is central to my understanding of art. And, that being the case, the unique capacity that video games have to draw us into them, to force us to recognise our active part in the world, surely locates them firmly within notions of ‘art’.
In a time when it is easy to get left behind if you don’t pick up the pace, surely the embrace of the digital, of the interactive, is the start of an exciting new chapter in the art world? It may even bring in a whole new demographic of art-lovers and artists alike, and that’s no bad thing. If there’s anything that starts people thinking, it’s controversy – and MoMA’s new exhibit has definitely succeeded in that.