This week Linden Lab announced an NEA-style Linden Endowment for the Arts program, which is a great initiative in itself, and it's also kicked up some larger questions worth asking. One immediate controversy: Does live music performed in Second Life qualify as art? In that regard, Crap Mariner has a rant on his blog, expressing a tension in the arts community between performers like her and some 3D builders who disregard live performance in-world. Or as he calls them, "Prim Supremacists", who "[dismiss] music as just one guy with a guitar playing on a stage, or saying that music should be separated out into its own area." If you follow a real world criterion, performing arts are usually considered a related but distinct form from other mediums -- painting, sculpture, and so on. (Maybe a possible solution is to create a sub-category of the LEA called Linden Endowment for the Performing Arts.) And to be sure, it's definitely true that most SL musicians don't really integrate the medium into their show, offering only a simulation of a real world show. (Performers like Grace McDunnough and Chouchou are exceptions.) Nothing wrong with that at all, of course. Then again, a lot of 3D sculptures don't strike me as any more artistic in a Second Life sense -- only simulations of a real world sculpture. (And nothing wrong with that either.)
All of which raises the even larger question: What is art in Second Life? That's far from being a resolved question, though some have taken early stabs. (DC Spensley's "Hyperformalism" is a pioneering approach.) For the most part, with Second Life art, we're still in the "I can't define it, but I know it when I'm immersed in it" stage. To start things out, here's a rough-and-ready definition to build on:
Second Life art is art that attempts to essentialize an important aspect of the human experience in a way that's only feasible in SL, leveraging most or all of Second Life's unique affordances.
What an awkward mouthful. Got a better definition? Doubtless you do. Discuss over the weekend!