Inside the Virtual Reality Canvas

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Expression or application of human creative skills and imagination is how Art could be defined. Some of these expressions are typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, and the works produced are appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Utilizing digital technologies as media for artistic expression has been around for about 50 years, but the interfaces that allow artistic expression in such media have been limited and the pursuit of a tool or technology (i.e. human computer interface) that would allow for a more natural and expressive relationship with the medium has been ongoing.

With the dawn of commercial virtual reality (VR), we are finally getting closer to a more natural and expressive interface to work in the digital medium. And it is no accident that big technology players such as Facebook are at the forefront of enabling such a big leap in digital art creation. This new VR canvas allows for forms of artistic expressions that are not bound by reality or the laws of physics. Inside this VR canvas, artists' creations are not just appreciated, but they are experienced with a sense of presence and immersion that cannot be expressed in words or by looking at digital art on a web browser. You are placed literally in the art, becoming both an observer and a participant. VR is not just for tours of museum exhibits or playing video games anymore; it is becoming a real medium for artistic expression that can make use of multi-player gaming paradigms for the creation of collaborative art and collaborative shared experiences and human connections. In this way, gaming transforms into the platform and the medium, not the product.

As with all forms of digital media, distribution has benefited from the internet and it has enabled new artists to enter more traditional circles of art and the academy but through very unconventional ways. You could say that the internet has ‘democratized’ the distribution of art, but not without its challenges. Furthermore, the internet has given rise to two very distinct modes of ‘curating’ art—the public and the institution based—where reviews are given by two distinct group of critics and they both coexist for the benefit of the artist, up to the point of having different platforms for giving special distinctions (awards) for their work. Traditional academies should evolve to embrace this new medium as they have in the past with prior forms of digital technology.

Because of the versatility of the VR ecosystem available to consumers, it is not impossible to consider that VR may become its own artistic expressive platform. If embraced by the academy, it could become a new ‘renaissance’ for the arts— a new platform to help promote the cultural work of the arts community to broader audiences, a new platform to create art that is not bound by time, place or space. There is an opportunity to define this medium as it evolves akin to trying to create the paintbrush while creating the painting. VR’s ability to embody the viewer’s own aesthetic, artistic, and conceptual revelations makes it a powerful medium in any arena.