In the World of Video Games, Has the Renaissance Returned?

The Tate Museum in London has teamed up with the makers of  videogame Minecraft to create a new project called ‘Tate Worlds’, which features a series of illusory ‘minecraft’ worlds inspired by art works in the gallery’s collection. In his article ‘Minecraft at Tate: In Gaming, the Renaissance has Returned‘ published on November 24 in The Guardian, journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones argues that this new project is inspired by some of the principles that underpinned the Renaissance, “Video games have recreated one of art’s oldest impulses.”

Andre Derain’s The Pool of London, 1906 and The Soul of the Souless City (New York, an Abstraction) by CRW Nevinson,1920, the first two paintings featured in the project, are, Jones argues:

“…modernist views of urban space – but under the jarring colours and corners, they conform to the tradition of perspective invented in the Renaissance, which treats the picture as a three-dimensional place. This is the kind of art that comes closest to video games, for Renaissance illusionism was the most sustained attempt to create virtual realities.”

And the parallels don’t stop there, according to Jones, “The delight and amazement we feel on entering the rich realities of digital games has so much in common with the artists of the early Renaissance.”

It was said the 15th-century painter Paolo Uccello used to stay up all night studying perspective – his results are staggeringly digital. His wife – claims Giorgio Vasari in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects – begged him to come to bed… but he preferred his virtual world.

So are video games art? Jones asks. He suggests that “they are art of a deeply old-fashioned kind… the universal and accessible aesthetic pleasure that games give is not modern at all; it is like looking into a Renaissance picture… if Piero della Francesca were alive today, he would be programming them.”

Visit NYU Florence students’ Mapping Contemporary Florence project here for a look at contemporary culture in a city strongly marked by the Renaissance.

Check out this 2012 article Jones wrote arguing that video games are not art, ‘Sorry MOMA, video games are not art’, criticizing the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s decision to include video games in its collection.

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