I recently read a very interesting blog post on boingboing.net about a new art exhibit opening on Second Life. But this isn’t just a regular art exhibit, it’s interactive art. In this exhibit, called Sheep Vortex, each art piece, which is more than just a digital painting hanging on a wall in a Second Life museum or gallery. Instead, it is a full on experience for the viewer in which he or she literally participates in the art. The Node Zero Gallery, which hosts the exhibit, features digital artist Spot Draves (known as Spot Schism in Second Life) in collaborations with Somatika Xiao (David Stumbaugh in Second Life). Additionally, seven new artists are also debuting digital art experiences.

One thing that really caught my mind was the description of the Node Art Gallery that blogger Lisa Rein offers: “The Node Zero Gallery art experience is like no other, and must be experienced to be truly understood. Some of its installations you can literally walk around inside of, bathing in the sights and sounds around you. While, others take you on little adventures, complete with hidden treasures and puzzles for you to find, explore, and work your way through.” It really made me want to participate in this “digital art experience” for myself! But sadly enough, only those who have a Second Life are able to “transport” into the Node Zero Gallery.

More than anything, though, this piece got me thinking about art in general. It is something we attempt to critique often in American Studies. We’re often asking ourselves “what is art?” or “what qualifies as art”? Does the creation of Second Life art indicate that someone who is simply a good computer programmer could be an established digital artist in Second Life? Is it only important what the artist is creating or who is it also important that the creator be considered an “artist”?

Forgive my scattered thoughts, but the question of art and authenticity is reminding me of a really excellent documentary I saw recently called My Kid Could Paint That. The film followed the whirlwind rise of 4-year-old Marla Olmstead’s art career and her family’s involvement. At first Marla was regarded as a child prodigy who produced incredible abstract canvasses. However, in a controversial turn of events, it seemed as if Marla’s parents may or may not have been guiding her or even doctoring her work to make it more sophisticated. While her parents vehemently denied the accusations, they were also unable to prove that Marla was the sole creator of the pieces. This was the central plot of the documentary, but I tend to wonder, if the pieces are beautiful, does learning that her parents may have aided her make them less beautiful? And also, even if this girl is the sole creator of the works, does the intent (or lack of intent) behind the works matter? It is evident from early on in the film, at least to me, that while she may be creating some beautiful stuff, to her it’s just pushing a bunch of paint around a canvas until the colors are aesthetically pleasing. I always sort of thought that the meaning behind a piece or art was as important as the piece itself. So I guess I wonder, is Marla’s work just “coincidental art”?

So in that vein, I think I would definitely consider the Second Life “digital art experiences” to be authentic art. The meaning behind the art is definitely there and the artists are doing something unquestionably innovative.