Art in the age of ones and zeros: Minecraft Art
Art has always been fundamentally intertwined with technology. New techniques and materials have constantly allowed artists to innovate and create new types of works. In this series we look at the impact of digital technologies on art and how artists are creating entirely novel forms of art using these modern tools. We've previously examined the fields of "datamoshing", ASCII art, BioArt and Internet Art. In this instalment we examine the quietly revolutionary world of Minecraft Art.
In 2009, the first development version of a game called Minecraft was released to the public. The game pretty quickly moved from cult sensation to giant commercial hit and by 2011, without any commercial advertising, it had generated over 1 million purchases. In 2014, the game crossed over into the record books, becoming one of the biggest hits of all time with 100 million registered users. That same year Microsoft came knocking and bought the entire kit and caboodle for US$2.5 billion dollars.
Minecraft's unique ability to be both a game that players can move through, and an open-ended world they can create, has generated some fascinatingly creative outcomes in recent years. It's a perfect example of what is often referred to as an open world, or sandbox game, where players have significant freedom to roam, construct or just inhabit a digital world.
The procedurally-generated game world centers primarily around breaking and placing blocks, but one mode, known as creative mode, has proved inspiring to those artistically minded players. This mode concentrates on the building aspects of the game, letting players focus on generating giant three-dimensional projects.
Designer of Minecraft, Markus "Notch" Persson, has essentially turned a computer-aided design (CAD) program into a computer game, making millions of users quasi-artist/designers. Cody Sumter, from the MIT Media Lab, succinctly summed it up to Wired in 2012, saying, "[Persson] tricked 40 million people into learning to use a CAD program."
With millions of people playing with the tool, you will inevitably end up with some weird and wonderful results. For a start, it's not a fully realized modern digital tool without a Star Wars based outcome and minecrafter Grahame Skeavington (aka Paradise Decay) spent several years recreating the original 1977 film, scene by scene.
Users designing bizarre rollercoaster simulations turned out to be an early trend in Minecraft art and one of the biggest and best was a insanely comprehensive Beetlejuice-inspired ride. It took the creators two months to build.
More recently, we've started seeing Minecraft art become recognized by major art galleries. The Tate Modern in London sparked the trend in late 2014, announcing a collaborative project entitled Tate Worlds. The project gathered together some of the game's most accomplished mapmakers, and commissioned them to created 3D environments in Minecraft based on classic works of art.
The final 3D products were publicly released by the Tate for any interested minecrafter to download and inhabit. And yes, there is of course a Salvador Dali inspired world.
Most recently, the Museum of London joined forces with a Minecraft design collective called Blockworks to create a 3D rendering of the 1666 Great Fire of London. A detailed virtual model of the city of the time was built, allowing players to explore the 17th century city before, during, and after this devastating historical event.
The managing director of Blockworks, James Delaney, recently put together a gorgeous coffee-table book filled with stunning Minecraft designs entitled Beautiful Minecraft. The book makes a strong case for the artistic worth of Minecraft as serious creative outlet.
Take a look through our gallery and check out the variety of amazing Minecraft artworks created in this thoroughly new creative medium.