“Have you met Matt Bicknese?” Acting Director Anica Sturdivant asked Thursday night, as she cut a path to the far corner of the FGCU Art Gallery. There, waiting, stood a lanky art student with an empty plate pressed into his left hip looking for all the world like he’d stepped untucked out of some back office at Facebook, Microsoft or some other Silicon Valley computer factory.
The analogy is not without merit. Bicknese’s senior art project, Push Start, focuses on merging the worlds of fine art and video games.
“It’s a controversial area,” Matt readily concedes, “but one which the art faculty was more than willing to let me explore.”
It’s a field fraught with nuance.
In its broadest iteration, a host of high-profile scholars and critics have debated whether video games can be considered art. The discussion dates back to 2005, when film critic Robert Ebert flatly rejected the proposition that video games constitute art in an online discussion that prompted over 5,000 comments before the post was finally closed.
But both the Smithsonian American Art Museum and MoMA offer counterpoint to Ebert’s parochial bias. The former offered an exhibit (The Art of Video Games) earlier this year designed to demonstrate the artistic nature of video games, including the impact of older works and the subsequence influence of video games on pop and creative culture. The Museum of Modern Art is collecting historically-important video games in their original format for an exhibit showcasing video games as an art form.
Regardless of how the video game/art conundrum is resolved, there is growing push for acceptance of art games as a variation of performance art in the tradition of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and Marcel Duchamp’s art productions.
“I hope to become part of that push,” states Bicknese. “That’s why I’ve created games with different philosophical and psychological meanings in order to bridge that gap.”
For his senior project, Matt created three art games:
- The Road Ahead, which focuses on the concept of mortality and how no one is exempt from the inevitable end;
- Cycle, which focuses on routine, and forces the player to go against trained habits in order to win; and
- Progress, which is about balancing moral sensibility with progressing through the game.
“They each retain the fun factor,” Matt assures, “but strike a balance with meaningful interactive digital media. The video games I made [before] never had many artistic qualities to them, even on an aesthetic level. That’s why this project is so important to me. I’ve finally applied by conceptual focus of traditional art to the digital world.”
In particular, Bicknese borrows references from the impressionist, cubist and surrealist movements because of the way “they break things down into basic parts and distort the world around them.”
Matt used a number of platforms to make his games, including Game Maker, Photoshop, GraphicsGale, Anvil Studio and Audacity. “All graphics, music, programming and voice acting were done by me, with some sound effects courtesy of yoyogames.com and freesound.org.
For the exhibition, Matt converted a hallway leading to the food prep area into an ersatz video arcade. He even placed one of the games in an arcade cabinet. Both were a big hit Thursday night with kids from 5 to 55. The response has served to confirm Bicknese’s resolve to find work in the digital art field.
The senior projects will remain on display at the FGCU Art Galleries through December 15.
The Art Galleries at FGCU are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursday evenings from 4 to 8 p.m. For more information, please telephone 239-590-7199.