SchoolArts Magazine

AUG-SEP 2014

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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David Gran M y wife Kim and I met award-winning artist and game designer Ken Wong ( kenart.net ) when he was working at Spicy Horse, his Shanghai-based game design firm. Ken recently completed work on his smartphone game, Monument Valley ( monumentvalleygame.com ), which has been described by Wired magazine as "possibly the most beautiful game of 2014." Kim and I caught up with Ken on a trip back through Shanghai and had a conversation with him about the nature of art in the twenty-first cen- tury, and how video games are part of that world. Below is an excerpt from our conversation, which can be found in its entirety at carrotrevolution. wikispaces.com . David: Hi, Ken! When you came to our school, you explained how you taught yourself much of what you needed to know as an artist. Can you talk a little bit about your approach? Ken: In university, I spent a lot of time at an online art forum. You had graf- fiti artists and concept artists direct- ing games, and it was a real mix of personalities. And there was a philoso- phy of constructive criticism. It was such a great way to post your own art and get the feedback of an experienced artist, or just reading what they would say about other people's art. That is really how I cut my teeth—that and holding myself to a high level, say- ing "one day I want to be greater than these guys." David: Taking into account your advice about being self-taught, how would you advise art teachers to incorporate that idea into their class- rooms? Ken: I've always felt that additional things that you can learn attached to a lesson would be great. You know, we're creating a computer game about Vic - torian London and it's not just going to come from our heads; it's going to come from the research, and the real Victorian London is much more inter - esting than anything that we could come up with by ourselves. It's actu - ally my favorite part of being an art director—finding out how things actu - ally looked or smelled or moved. Kim: How much time did you spend researching? Ken: Most of the work we do is prepro- duction. It's the research, the sketch- ing, discussing, it's reviewing things. Only right at the end do we sit down and make it look pretty. David: Can you tell us a bit about the new game you're working on? Ken: I wanted to make a game where you interact with architecture, and one day I saw a piece of M. C. Escher's art, and then it really clicked for me. There was a view of this building, and I could imagine guiding a character from the bottom to the top of the tower, and that could be a game. [Monument Valley] is set in an Escher-like universe, where you can take advantage of visual illusions. So there's stuff in Monument Valley that isn't possible, that doesn't make sense. We're saying, "Look, this is not real, leave your perceptions at the door, just come along for the ride." David: What are your thoughts on video games as art? Ken: I don't see any debate. At one point moving pictures were an inven- tion, and then they were a mimic of theater, and then it became an art form. "Games" is a misnomer. What we call "video games" can be so much more. "Interactive art" or "interactive experiences" is a much better term. You can create a very beautiful inter- active experience without it being a "game," per se. So you can argue whether we have made art yet, or if we've made good art, but that's for the critics. David Gran teaches high school art and film classes at the Shanghai American School in China and is the author of The Carrot Revolution, a blog about twenty- first-century art education. Carrotrevolu- tion.blogspot.com. dsgran@yahoo.com @ R + A Conversation with Ken Wong 26 August/September 2014 SchoolArts

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