Synthetic images.

Michaël Samyn, July 7, 2012

Aesthetically, videogames have more in common with figurative painting than they do with film. As long as videogames attempt to mimic film, they will remain inferior to it. And quite frankly, their output will always remain dangerously close to kitsch.

We need to accept that the images we produce are synthetic and not photographic. That moves our medium away from cinema but brings it closer to pre-photography figurative painting. Instead of watching films, we should be studying renaissance and baroque paintings.

I say “pre-photography” because I feel that photography has ruined the art of painting. And more problematically for us, photography has also ruined our capacity to enjoy realistic synthetic figurative images. But perhaps videogames can rekindle this.

Pre-modern oil painting is not so much about making pictures, it seems to me. It’s about generating sensations. It’s more about presenting textures and atmospheres than it is about representing visible reality. And this is what brings this art form very close to videogames.

What the synthetic image lacks in visual fidelity, it more than makes up for in the power of suggestion, in stimulating the imagination, in reminding of touch and smell.

Photographic images are nice. But synthetic images are much more powerful. Photographic images are also easy to forget because they look like reality and we don’t need art to see reality. But a synthetic image is unique, is completely created by the artist. There’s no need to hide that under pretending that the image is a photograph. We should take pride in the synthetic nature of our medium. It brings us closer to Michelangelo and Rubens than to snap shots and home videos.

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