Your Red Box has Better art in it than Many Professional Galleries
Something interesting and important is going on right now over at The Mule Abides, where Tavis is talking about D&D and contemporary fine art. Maybe this conversation has been going on around the art/game world for a while, but I’m just becoming aware of it.
Tavis asks, pointedly “what is the alleged difference between commercial art by Dave Trampier, Ian Miller, Gary Gygax, et. al. and gallery artists take serious at all?”
It’s a self-evident to me that the distinction between the kind of art those artists made and contemporary fine art is vanishingly small. Erol Otus could walk into half a dozen Seattle galleries today and get his art hung, no question.
Compare a recent Erol Otus:
Hackmaster Basic cover by Erol Otus
To these gallery-worthy works of art:
Why Do I Do What I Do? by Tara McPherson
Wishes for the Wicked by Scott Campbell
Art by Andrey Mayorov
They’re on a par, at least in enough ways to matter. What’s more interesting to me is how we got to here.
Here’s some art from Magic: The Gathering, circa 1994-ish.
Hymn to Tourach by Scott Kirschner
Mana Vault by Scott Tedin
Necropotence by Scott Tedin
I really dig that Hymn to Tourach (top image). What the hell is going on there? Who is that guy? What's going to happen if he drinks that cup? Don't drink the cup, man! Don't drink it!?
Anyway, this is art that stimulates the imagination. It gives you enough to start you feeling, but then leaves you to complete the journey on its own. It’s interesting, exciting, and evokes a range of emotions including wonder, interest, and enjoyment. By the way, these experiences all work in a direction that’s oblique to the business interests of the company publishing the game. They’re unnecessary.
Here’s some art from Magic: the Gathering circa now:
Auriok Edgewright by Mike Bierek
Auriok Sunchaser by James Ryman
Abuna Acolyte by Kieryluk
It’s generally of a higher technical quality. It’s highly art directed and carefully produced. It’s also utterly soulless. There’s no question posed that can’t be answered by buying a comic or a novel or something. There’s no experience that can’t be harnessed as an engine of the business. It’s unquestionably some of the best game art out there, but “fine” it is not.*
I submit that old-school D&D art and contemporary art that employs gamer sensibilities is looking better and better because commercial art has pulled away from it in an altogether less inspiring direction, leaving the good stuff standing alone.
Yeah, I think that’s one of the most important functions of good art today: to make the distinction between commercial and creative crystal clear. That’s why tattoo art, graffiti, flash mobs, lowbrow, pop culture, outsider art, folk art, and brute art are everywhere these days.
* Hey, business is a great thing! After all, Erol Otus got his start drawing for a business, right? I’m not slamming commercial illustration here. It can be greatly awesome.
Edit: Added picture credits