[ISEA2016] Artist Talk: Ragnhild Tronstad — Aesthetics of Play Revisited

Artist Statement

What are the aesthetic characteristics of play, and how do they relate to art? In this talk, I discuss ways in which play is approached in aesthetic theory [1,2,3], and understandings of the aesthetics of play as they occur within game studies [4,5,6,7,8]. I propose an alternative view, regarding play as a medium in its own right, to which a particular kind of aesthetic is attached. Typically today the term “games” denotes the multi-medial phenomenon of video games, in which a number of modalities, techniques and aesthetics are implied. To isolate a “medium of play” in midst of these modalities (all contributing to the aesthetic experience of play) is an exercise that provides us with greater analytical clarity, which is exactly what we need to be able to pinpoint the specificities characterizing the medium of play. Identifying a conflict that, arguably, complicates the often presumed close relationship between art and play, I suggest a conceptual approach to the aesthetics of play that is rooted in sensuous perception rather than in art theory. Applying this perspective, the relationship between play, interactive and non-interactive art is discussed [9], as is the playfulness of art games [10, 11]. Finally, I introduce the concept of beauty [12] in play, and ask the fundamental questions: Why is play a pleasure? Can it be a burden?

[1] Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (New York: Dover, 2004 [1794].)
[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (New York: Hafner press, 2006 [1790].)
[3] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward, 1993 [1960].)
[4] Roger Caillois, Man, Play, and Games (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001 [1958].)
[5] Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955 [1938].)
[6] John Sharp, Works of Game (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2015.)
[7] Miguel Sicart, Play Matters (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2014.)
[8] Brian Upton, The Aesthetic of Play (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2015.)
[9] Katja Kwastek, Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2013.)
[10 ] Mary Flanagan, Critical Play. Radical Game Design. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009.)
[11] Christiane Paul, Digital Art. (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003.)
[12] Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Metaphysica (1739:662), in Philosophies of Beauty from Socrates to Robert Bridges, ed. Edgar Frederick Carritt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952 [1931].)

  • Ragnhild Tronstad, Faculty of Technology, Art and Design, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway