Virtual RealityThe traditional painters' materials, canvas, paper, gesso, oils, watercolours, acrylics, and the like, have served artists well down through the centuries, granting them more and more freedom of expression as the various material technologies have developed. In the process, their gradual development has served to broaden our definition of art to what some might consider an almost "frightening" degree. There are still limits, but more and more they are becoming vague, arguable, and (some would say) almost useless. The lines between drawing and painting, painting and sculpture, sculpture and reality are now so ill-defined that the various divisions into which we have traditionally pocketed the various "arts" have almost evaporated. And now, thanks to the computer, we can "virtually" create and control reality as artists. Donning an electronic audio-visual helmet, we are made a part of a surreal world Salvador Dali would have "died" for.
All the arts are now merging into a "reality" just as the coloured lights of red, green, and blue merge into white. It is an end that has been a long time coming but which, now, as we look back over centuries of artistic trends and progress, seems both logical and inevitable. Motion picture development, and later television foreshadowed it. Both have become amalgamations of all the arts. But the one element that was missing from these artistic hybrids was the insertion of the viewer into the midst of the composition. Actually the term "viewer" is a poor choice of words. It denotes passivity. As any 14-year-old electronic game ace will tell you, virtual reality is anything but passive.
Abstractionist (especially sculptors) in the thirties, forties, and fifties strove to allow the "audience" to take control of their work by permitting them to "see" whatever they wanted in their various works, to move into it and about it, even climb all over it. Today, virtual reality is removing the last technical limits to the environment the artist can create for his or her audience to enter and interact with. This art trend is moving so fast that it's making Bill Gates' brand new, multi-million-dollar, electronic, art-filled mansion seem quaint by comparison.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
16 December 1997