Ross does a clever thing with his artist name. His pen name is “Raw Spoon.” It’s a nice little pronunciation tweak on his real name. The kind of thing that makes people tilt their head and go, “Oh wow, I see what he did there.” I know this because I bring him up to as many people as I can and I’ve seen this exact reaction dozens of times.
That’s also the reaction that his art tends to illicit, various versions of “Oh I see what he did there!” His pieces are occasionally subversive and almost always bubbling with significance below the surface.
Ross (or Raw) is not a natural gamer, thus he let me pick the game he played before this interview and I naturally needed to pick a game with similar tilts to his art; messages just below the surface, brimming with outward beauty. The natural choice was Old Man’s Journey.
Released by developer Broken Rules, Old Man’s Journey is a two hour puzzle/adventure game featuring emotional gut punches that hit harder than a Kratos axe throw. We kept our conversation spoiler free, but if you haven’t played it, you must.
I’ll let you web surf to see the myriad of awards that people have lined up to throw at this title. Just like my friends art, Old Many’s Journey has people tilting their heads. People have clearly “seen what they did there.”
For the question “are video game art?” I wanted someone who’s had their hands in a lot of artistic pots. Ross fits that perfectly. As a sort of artistic journeyman Ross has done things like written a novel and then turn around and animate a music video for a band. He once created a little group of friendly looking monsters and turned them into an interactive sticker sheet and hid them all over Atlanta. There isn’t any type of art that he won’t at least consider, a mindset rare in a world where people become wildly loyal to their “thing” and wildly vicious to anything that isn’t their “thing.”
Did I tip the scale in my favor by specifically choosing an artist with a wide reaching definition of what “art” is? Yes. But he’s always worth talking to and we hit some points I would have never expected.
So I know you played Old Man’s Journey basically at our request (thank you for that by the way) Was that your first interaction with gaming in a while?
Thanks Nathan! I’m really excited and flattered to be interviewed! I’ve enjoyed the Splash Damage podcast, even as someone who usually has very little interest in gaming. And to answer your question, Yes! I am an artist and writer and I have long felt the purpose of my life is to create. So it has been hard for me to justify spending time playing video games when I could be producing art. But I really like you [guys] and I know how passionate you guys are about gaming. So when you told me about a game that was stunning visually and had a heartbreaking story, I thought it was worth jumping into your world. I’m glad I did!
Haha. When picking a game for you we specifically looked for something that would appeal to an artist, and Old Man’s Journey checks all the boxes for that. Did you find any inspiration from the experience? Lots of people love just listening to the soundtrack.
The music was beautiful and the storytelling was powerful, but the visuals inspired me to make this piece of art. I guess let’s call it fan art so I don’t get sued. Ha! The tall and narrow one is the original, but I also made a format to be used as a phone background. Anyone can use it!
To answer your question I just googled the definition and asked if Old Man’s Journey applied. Here’s what Google kicks out: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” I think Old Man’s Journey is applied creative skill for the purpose of beauty and causing emotion. Well, I assume the creators had this in mind, so I’d say ‘yes, I think it is art.’
But I think the deeper question would be, “What is the response you are trying to evoke, and why?” I, personally, think that unless art is meant to motivate us to act or think in a new way, it is no more than wallpaper. No more than a pleasing aesthetic to make your space more comfortable and to make the artist money, or praise for his skill. Yay, you’re good at art. The critics will praise you if you innovate and have mastery and stuff. And bringing beauty to the world is a skill worth being paid for. So it’s no worse or better than the person who makes a hamburger, or a software engineer who makes an app. But, I think if art is not being used to motivate us to act or think differently, its full potential is not being accessed. Good novels will make you look at the world differently. See yourself and others differently. See God differently. Visual art, music, plays, and movies can do the same. I think, out of the whole society, it is most important that artists and politicians are philosophers and ethicists. This is because the job of politicians and governors are meant to set the proper guard rails to keep society functioning as a whole. And artists hold the job of casting a vision of a life worth pursuing. So, yes. Old Man’s Journey is art, by the definition. But did it motivate you to think or act differently. I think it did. Through its heartbreaking story, and beautiful settings, it reminded me to cherish the world and people I love better. And that is a worthy purpose for art.
It’s so interesting that your definition of art has an aspect of intellectual challenge to it. I can’t disagree with that. People in a gallery will stand in front of the same painting for a half hour for that exact reason. Speaking of challenge, a lot of people have a problem calling video games art because there’s a level of skill involved. I’m unable to see the full artistic expression of the game unless I can prove I have the skill to overcome the challenges the game presents me. When you’re illustrating or writing do you actively ask yourself “How is this piece going to challenge people?”
I often do, even though for each piece it may be asked in different terms. Some of my pieces are meant to add beauty to a struggle. Or perhaps to tie two unrelated concepts together in a way to reveal new meaning. Sometimes I will reference famous art pieces and do a new take on them to try and reveal a new insight using them. So, yes! I am challenging the viewer to step up their game. I’m thinking, there is more in this piece of art, more that I want to impart to you, if you choose to engage it. Although I have to admit that sometimes, especially in my older work which I stumbled upon again last night, I just make some things because they look, clever, funny, trendy, or cool. Like a duck with a crown on. That was one I found last night. No deeper meaning to that.
Haha! I feel like they’ve always seen themselves as kings and queens of the avian world, even with the Bald Eagle in the mix. I know that’s a joke but it points to the fact that messages can be pulled from art, even messages the artist didn’t intend. With Old Man’s Journey we’re given the regrets of the old man but see them in a very calm serene package of visual arts. It lets the player get at the meat of difficult topics without being overly stressful. I just read that the Japanese gaming community has Old Man’s Journey listed as a “healing game” which surprised the makers over at Broken Rules studios. Another example of a message in art that an artist didn’t intend. I also just have to say; I’ve seen a few of your creature characters and some of them would make excellent game content, any possibilities there?
One thought on “Video Games as Art: A Conversation with Artist Ross Boone”
This is so great, Nathan! Thank you for interviewing me. If anyone would like to find my work head over to RawSpoon.com. Thanks again for an experience in your beautiful world of gaming!