What are art museums for today?

An excerpt from an essay I wrote earlier this year. Minus it’s introduction, conclusion, and paragraphs about how religion is the opiate of the masses, and art museums allow us to worship at the temple of artists.


But how do art museums choose what should fill their space? The acquisition of video games into MoMA’s collection[1] could be seen as giving the power of deciding what becomes art to the collective mind of the proletariat. Admittedly the acquisition is part of the design collections rather than the higher status art collection, but it does work to verify the taste of those that video games are aimed at. However Raph Koster asserts that popular entertainment, such as games, are accessible whereas art requires literacy.[2] This presents a problem within an institution where the framework is apparently built around education – how do you educate in a subject that is already theoretically accessible to all? It does also start to question why art should require literacy and education to understand, if video games are now classified as art and require no such consideration.

MoMA’s video game acquisition also highlights another role of some art museums today. Since its inception MoMA has always placed itself as an arbiter of taste, setting out with an aim to introduce the American public to the new European modern art.[3] It is unsurprising then due to its bold collecting strategy and its remit being all aspects of modern culture that it would decide to break the mould and define video games as art. Compare that to the Tate collection and the picture is very different. The Tate acquisition policy states that ‘Tate will only acquire works by artists who have demonstrated their ability over a reasonable period of time’ which presumably precludes non-established new media. However the Tate also work in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum so it could be unfair to consider just one of those institutions alone when new media may be more suited to the Victoria and Albert museum, for example.[4] This does highlight the different approaches afforded to art museums today, choosing to proactively define taste to their audience, or reacting to the tastes of society.

Within the press release for the video games acquisition MoMA also states that as a museum its goal is to study and preserve items, not just to merely display them.[5] This gives us the idea of an art museum as a repository of objects of worth to somebody, but the question is who. In the case of a private art museum it may be items considered to be of worth to the owner or individual curators, however a national art museum has a much broader challenge; it must in some way seek to collect and preserve items that are relevant to the taste of those who fund it. While on one hand that means the large corporate organisations that donate, on the other hand it will often mean the tax paying public. So perhaps we will see more video games entering the collections of major art museums in the future.


[1] “Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters”, http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/11/29/video-games-14-in-the-collection-for-starters accessed on 23rd April 2014.

[2] Raph Koster, “A Theory of Fun: 10 Years Later” (Slide 87), http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/gdco12/Koster_Raph_Theory_Fun_10.pdf accessed on 23rd April 2014.

[3] “The Museum in the Twentieth Century”, Lecture notes, Museums and Society, Dr. Elizabeth Darling, 20th March 2014.

[4] “Tate Acquisition and Disposal Policy, November 2011”, http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/11111 accessed on 23rd April 2014.

[5] “MoMA Acquires 14 Video Games for Architecture and Design Collection”, http://press.moma.org/2012/12/moma-acquires-14-video-games-for-architecture-and-design-collection/ accessed on 23rd April 2014.

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Repost – Blogging vs Vlogging

The lesson? Vlogging, it seems, is similar but different to blogging. Blogging is debate whereas vlogging is emotive. Blogging goes for the mind where vlogging goes for the heart. Blogging is for older people where vlogging catches the young. In a split very similar to that between conservative talk radio versus liberal written journalism, what we’ve seen is the emergence of a new media of talk radio style hosts on YouTube. Many of them haven’t the first clue what they’re talking about, but they’re speaking to large audiences nonetheless.

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I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of vlogging. You almost certainly won’t get it on this blog.

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Displays of hyper-masculinity in amateur photography - why sexist masculine tropes are damaging to both men and women.

Misogyny : Not in my (gaming) industry

Facebook can be amazing. Over the past year or two I’ve steadily curated my Facebook friends lists to provide me with utter joy on a minute-by-minute basis. I can log on and be in touch from people around the world at any hour of the day and my main feed reflects the absolutely wonderful fuckers that I call my friends.

However the downside to Facebook means that occasionally you see a comment from a friend of a friend that isn’t something you would want on your daily feed of happy.

Recently #GamerGate has been in the news and since I have an awful lot of friends working in tech and gaming it’s getting commented on. Alot. Which is great because almost every post that I see on my feed is largely positive about the whole debacle.

But occasionally you get someone, a friend of a friend, who loudly protests that this isn’t what they see in their industry. By saying that they don’t see it, they’re basically silencing the voices of those who do. They’re saying ‘your point is invalid because I don’t see it in my day to day life’.

I’m not seeing the vast quantities of sexism I’m supposed to be seeing. Maybe it just doesn’t affect the company I work for, or the community built around our game.

Yesterday I pointed out that of course  the chap in question hadn’t seen anything like the degree of sexism that us women experience because he is a man. Do you know how he responded to that? He told me that now he had experienced sexism because of my comment to him. My comment to him was apparently sexist because I pointed out that the fact he was male means he doesn’t experience systematic gender-related oppression. The problem is that there’s no answer to this. I can’t counter his claims that I was sexist to him because it’s a personal thing. I feel sorry for him if he believes that genuinely is sexism because he will never understand the pain and hurt that so many of us go through on a regular basis, but I can’t help him with that.

The thing is, I’m a gamer. There, I said it. Something that I don’t often admit. Do you know why I don’t admit it very often? Because people go ‘oh, that’s cute’ and then either assume that I play computer games because of some fictional boyfriend that I may or may not have, or that I play ‘girl games’. I confess, I’m actually a Warcraft addict. But it all started way back when I used to play games on my Atari ST and mess around with programming. Then came Tomb Raider for the Playstation and my Dad and I used to sit in my bedroom on the floor for hours playing it together. I’m also a God Sim addict and haven’t found one that can defeat me yet. Oh, and I like to write databases for fun. So no, I’m not a fucking ‘healer girlfriend’.

Where were we. Yes. I’m a gamer. Warcrack. I have experienced the fear of not using microphones in raids because you just don’t know if you’re going to get some misogynistic prick who thinks that women shouldn’t play computer games. In fact I joined my awesome guild because they were a mature guild who didn’t let children – or bad behaviour – be a part of it all. For the last five years I’ve played with an awesome group of ScaNorwegianDogs where we treat each other like humans. But that doesn’t mean that every now and again I don’t dip into the public chats and raids for some reason. Even on a roleplaying server – which are generally more mature in nature – within a few minutes of being in the city chat channels I can experience homophobia or misogyny.

And really all this is pretty amazing considering that around 48% of gamers are now women.

48% of gamers are women. WOW I hear you say, that’s some motherfuckingawesome equality RIGHT THERE.

Well yes it is. And no. Because #GamerGate continues.

Female game developers, journalists and critics are under mass fire right now. I’m even writing this blog tentatively because I know it’ll eventually get picked up on searches. Already a while ago there was an attempted hack on my twitter account because during the #ZoeQuinn business I dared to question the men’s rights activists who were so active during that mess. And I’m just a small fish in a massive pond. Imagine that those big fish feel like.

No wait, we don’t need to imagine. This week the University of Utah has been threatened because Anita Sarkeesian is speaking there tonight. And I don’t just mean a little threat, I mean some pretty fucking graphic shit has been written to them.

If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attach will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women’s Centre. I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs. This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.

You have 24 hours to cancel Sarkeesian’s talk. You might be foolish enough to just beef up security at the event, but that won’t save you. Even if they’re able to stop me, there are plenty of feminists on campus who won’t be able to defend themselves. One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die.

[…]

Anita Sarkeesian is everything wrong with the feminist woman, and she is going to die screaming like the craven little whole that she is if you let her come to USU. I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.

[…]

Feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged.

This is the rage that is incited by Sarkeesian. Do you know what Sarkeesian does? She critiques video games from a feminist perspective, pointing out that they’re rather hateful and misogynistic an awful lot of the time. (Wow, that was pretty polite of me…).

Let me remind you again. 48% of gamers are women. 

But this isn’t the first time that Sarkeesian has been targeted for her work. Here’s the TED Talk from 2012, shortly after she kickstarted her Tropes vs Women project (which I should point out, funded at almost $160k for making a feminist video game series for YouTube).

I’m going to use a trigger warning here. I hate them. But this video does contain depictions of actual online violence against Sarkeesian.

You’ll notice something very telling on the YouTube video page.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 08.29.22Sadly, not an uncommon sight on anything involving feminism on YouTube. It seems that men’s rights activists and anti-feminists can’t actually be trusted to engage rationally. How often do you see comments disabled on a MRA video because the feminists are threatening sexual violence against the MRA? Yeah. Quite.


Anyway, I’m not sure where I’m going with this now. I think that the big frustration for me is that people still say ‘I don’t recognise this industry, this isn’t the industry that I work in’. Guys, we need you. We need you as allies. We need you to educate yourself so that you can see this batshit crazy behaviour and help us call it out. Because sadly much of society still gives more weight to the voices of men.

We need you to actively look for this behaviour in your friendship circles, your workplaces and your industries and we need you to call it out.

Because this weekend more than one female game developer has had to flee her home due to threats of sexual violence and violence being made against her and her family and this isn’t acceptable in the gaming and tech industries. Or any industry. Or just generally in the world. At all.

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Choosing a photographer to study with

Very early on in my photographic career I discovered that my talent was most certainly not for taking photographs (although I’m not too bad at that either) but rather for looking at other peoples photographs. I worked out that with all the business acumen in the world I would never progress above the level of a-bit-better-than-average and I’d have to be happy on a lower end, modest salary for the rest of my life. Anyone that knows me will recognise that I’m not the kind of person to settle, so I took a long time working out what part of photography I am good at.

I’m really good at looking at pictures. I can pull portfolio images together with ease that other people don’t seem to have. I can see flaws in images and identify how things could be better. More to the point I actually enjoy doings things like this far more than taking pictures. Talking about and looking at photos is what I’m good at so I decided to go to university to do a degree in History of Art. And I’m doing very well at it, getting a first at the end of my first year.


But what does this have to do with choosing a photographer to study with?

Lots of photographers claim to be able to offer an awful lot to new photographers. The reality is that they don’t. Only today I saw a wedding photographer on Facebook who was offering the ‘opportunity’ to assist him on two weddings this weekend. He said it was a great chance for someone looking to make a career as a photographer. He also said you had to provide all your own gear (a minimum of a basic digital camera and an 18-55mm lens along with a flash gun) as well as your own transport too and from the venues. Graciously he said you’d be able to take and use any pictures you like – I hope his clients are happy with that!

The big, fat cynic in me started to creep out and ask questions and provide answers along these lines:

  • He stated he was shooting three weddings this weekend. Three weddings in a weekend? Fuck my life that’s alot. Quantity is certainly a viable business model but remember that you can’t have quantity, quality and low cost. One of those things has to give. He wasn’t a very expensive photographer.
  • The gear he wanted the assistant to provide. Top photographers will often have gear for their assistants. That way they know it’s all maintained, insured and in great working order. However often assistants do provide their own kit, so that’s not totally unusual. It was the mention of the 18-55mm kit lens that did it for me. You cannot shoot a wedding on an 18-55mm kit lens. It doesn’t let enough light in for the ceremony or the evening celebrations. It’s not long enough to shoot much of the ceremony from where an assistant is likely to stand. It’s not good quality enough to produce a high quality result. The kit lenses are generally soft and hard to get good results from – certainly in the hands of someone inexperienced. There’s no way in a million years I’d consider using a 18-55mm kit lens for a wedding I cared about producing good results for – there’s a reason you can pick them up for less than £20 on eBay. I’m not a gear snob at all, quite the opposite in fact. But if you’re shooting someones wedding, this isn’t a time for shooting with entry level kit most of the time.
  • If you’re looking for assistants who want a break in the industry you’re mostly going to be looking at young people. People who have just finished degrees or who have just finished school. Makes you a bit of an arsehole to say that you won’t drop someone too and from a train station or similar. Young people often don’t have their own transport and since they’re doing you a favour here as much as you’re supposedly helping them out, the least you can do is offer to pick them up from the station.
  • He also mentioned that he couldn’t pay because he had to pay for insurance for the assistant. Warning bells, he’s not charging enough money. Why can’t he charge enough money to pay for an assistant? Must be because his photos aren’t very good or he’s a terrible business person – do you really think you can learn skills about the industry from a person who is either of those things?
  • Lastly I looked at his pictures. My suspicions were correct, they were terrible.

There is so much emphasis put on taking photographs. At first glance that sounds like a silly thing to say. Of course if you want to be a photographer you have to take lots of photographs, right? Well yeah, of course you do. But you also need to look at photographs and learn what good photographs look like.

This is where you go ‘But Char! Art is subjective!’ yes well… no. But yes. It is, different people can have different aesthetic tastes, but quality is not subjective when it comes to traditional commercial photography. (I’m going to insert a disclaimer here that some people make ‘poor quality’ their style, I’m not discussing that).

Before you even think about assisting someone for experience (i.e. without getting paid) or apprenticing someone you need to take some time out to educate yourself as to what a quality photographer means. Learning to recognise bad photoshopping or things like, oh you know, the whole fucking image being out of focus are crucial skills for an assistant. I mean we all think stuff like the following shot is really funny, but the reality is that lots of photographers skills are no better. And why would you want to work with someone like that?

Strange-Boob-Photoshop

As an assistant your job is attention to detail. Attention to what the photographer is doing, attention to what s/he wants, attention to the brides dress and to the grooms suit. Attention to detail is one of the more relevant skills that either a photographer or an assistant can have and you need it before you even do your first job.

Learning this skill requires looking at images and learning why they work and why they don’t. My attitude to photography hasn’t always gone down well in the LRP world – I simply refuse to put pictures online that do not meet my standard. That means they must be in focus, they must be sharp, they must be well composed and they must have a good background – I’d say they are fairly minimal requirements for any photographer who wants to be half decent. You should not assist or try to learn from any photographer that doesn’t have those skills.

Here’s a good example. A few weeks ago I shot some stuff for Evenlode. I was feeling kind of under the weather, it was hot, we were doing things in a hurry and I didn’t pay enough attention. This is a photo I love. You know what I don’t love? The fact that the belt isn’t centred with the rest of the armour.

_MG_9936webIf a photographer is kicking out work with constant mistakes like this, you shouldn’t be studying from them. And you need to teach yourself to spot mistakes. That could be brides dresses being messed up, or it could be bad photoshopping or inability to focus, but before you even start to work with another photographer with the intent of learning you need to understand and recognise these things.

Working with just any photographer won’t help you. You need to be picky and as an apprentice it’s your prerogative to do so. Don’t just take every opportunity that comes along, hunt people out. You’ll learn more and you’re learn quickly. And you’ll be better.

Learning about images is just as important as learning to shoot images. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.



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Sometimes we’re just not educated

You know, sometimes it’s not that we’re trying to be horrible people. Or that we do something deliberately offensive. Or that we’re trying to just be a cunt. Sometimes it’s accidental. And the way to combat that isn’t to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY AND SLAG THE PERSON OFF but with education.

Saw this on my Facebook feed this morning. Reminded me of stuff.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 08.52.24



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#selfie #dreadhawk

#selfie #dreadhawk

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