Back in 2015, I was standing in an art gallery in Edinburgh when I heard a historian talk about Candy Crush; that one mobile game where you move little, colourful sweets around with your index finger. “All of the children were more interested in their phones,” he says, “which says a lot about popular art, I think.”
Behind me, there’s a crowd of bookish people, laughing at the historian’s jokes. He’s standing there, in a tweed-jacket and glasses, making off-hand references to video games, one of the biggest industries in the world. His jokes are pretty good actually, maybe even rehearsed in front of a mirror. What’s more interesting is how this crowd of people, all about my father’s age, know exactly what he’s talking about.
It’s a sunny day in August, and I’m looking at a piece by Rembrandt, a self-portrait painted back in 1657. It’s sullen and morose and has faded over time. Behind me, the art historian makes another joke about pointillism’s relation to Minecraft. Strange as it may seem, finding artistic parallels between pointillism and Minecraft isn’t as hard as you might expect. In fact, finding parallels between video games and art is probably easier than you think.
The first time I saw a pointillist painting was years ago now, back when I first saw the John Hughes’ film, Ferris Buller’s Day Off. One of the characters in that film stares intently at a George Seurat painting called “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” a classic example of the pointillist technique.
In the film’s commentary, Hughes states:
“I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie, the pointillist style. You don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.”
Really, when you think of it like this, you can see the relationship between pointillism and the art style of Minecraft – essentially, a game where individual, coloured blocks are used to form the shape of the whole; whether that’s a landscape, a city, or a castle. Really, the same concept applies to pixel art, the foundation of what feels like a million video games of the past.
But back in the art gallery, I’d be lying if I said the historian’s jokes were coming from a place other than mockery and disdain. In an interview from 2010, director, Guillermo del Toro, rightly said video games were a “medium that gains no respect among the intelligentsia.” Although, del Toro would later go on to call both Shadow of the Colossus and Ico gaming masterpieces, stating: “Videogames use art direction, colour and storytelling in a very pure way that a lot of movies have forgotten.”
Interestingly enough, even the box art for Ico was painted by Fumito Ueda – inspired by Giorgio de Chirico’s painting, “The Nostalgia of the Infinite.” Comparing the two images will show you just how similar they are, and by extension, demonstrate the symbiotic link between art and video game direction.