A Still Image from the Portrait of the Artist in a Video Game

Portrait of the Artist in a Video Game

For my grad project at Emily Carr Institute of Fine Art and Design I custom built an art studio with my own paintings hanging on the wall inside the EA – Electronic Arts game, The Sims. I forced the artist to paint the same pre-canned Modigliani and Mondrian influenced paintings that shipped with the game. The only other activity I allowed the artist to partake in was drinking from the double bar located in his studio. Over the span of the project, the artist drank and painted, over and over again, day in and day out, and during that time I took screen shots of him in an effort to document a digital, algorithmic-based representation of humans in the act of creating. (this is the only image that still survives)

As the days wore on, the artist in the video game became more despondent with each painting, each drink. There were several instances where he fell over at the bar as well, but he would always get up to resume drinking or painting. After approximately 30 days, the artist sat in his chair, in front of his latest, forever repeating artworks that he never finished, and refused to move.

I left him like that for another week and tried to prompt him with more drink or painting, but he refused, and just sat there, staring out from his chair with his hands on his knees. At that point I ended the project and presented many of the screen shots of the work to the faculty as my graduation piece. In keeping with the usual reaction to my endeavours that one could call art, the panel or instructors assembled for me that day didn’t seem to understand what the hell I was talking about and dismissed it as inconsequential work. Oh sure, I passed, graduated, and all that, but my time at Emily Carr was the furthest thing from an environment that fostered creativity as one could imagine.

All I wanted was a place to make work, and was taking the necessary courses to do so with the added bonus that I would eventually wind up with a BFA. I still remember being harassed by the faculty to remove the easel I had set up in a corner of the painting studios because I didn’t have the required credit structure to hold such a space, even though I wasn’t bothering anyone and at most times it was empty. I always thought that if I was making the kind of work deemed “good” by fine arts faculty there, or had at least been able to convince more people as to the merits of my work, I’d be given license to stay there. This was not Good Will Hunting, however.

I arrived one morning and everything was gone, except for a note on an empty easel instructing me to come pick up my 4×4 foot cubist influenced paintings of 7-eleven receipts from the dean’s office. I graduated some time later, a mere blip in the thousands of people that have attended what is now called Emily Carr University.

Much like the artist in the video game, my final act as a painter was never finished. I gave my digital cubist paintings away, and following that, took an almost 6 year hiatus from making art. While I didn’t spend that time sitting in a chair, or falling in front of a bar, I am rather shocked at how, over the 15 years that have taken place since this image was captured, how much I have come to resemble the artist in the video game, and how much of my creative process mirrored his for a certain time.

I’m happy to report that I have recovered from the negative aspects of my art school experience. I have less time to do so, but keep making things — a very small sampling of which you can see here. Judging from the 1 to 2 hits my website gets a month though, I think it’s still pretty safe to say that my work as an artist has yet to be recognized as such. It’s ok, these things take time, and in this case it was almost 20 years. Who has time for that?