Creativity is elusive in online "art". That is the message of the latest digital art craze – taking landscape photographs inside the world of Grand Theft Auto.
A group of gamers plunging into the spectacular spaces and dramas of Grand Theft Auto V have created some eye-catching images. They pool their works under the group name Landscape Photographers of Los Santos and Blaine County, the fictional places where GTA's adventures are set.
An app in the game called iFruit allows players to take screen shots – and instead of grabbing violent or ludicrous images, the Landscape Photographers of Los Santos and Blaine County use it to take sublime pictures of the game's vistas.
The pictures are undeniably eye-fooling. They look like grand views of the American west, with a romantic sensibility that goes back to 19th-century American landscape artists such as Frederic Church. Atmospheric and poetical, these entrancing California-like landscapes might be stills from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo or pictures by a latter-day Ansel Adams.
The joke is that in taking sensitive screenshots, the GTA photographers are transferring the art of landscape from the real world to the virtual. Where others play the game for thrills and violence, they seek out its pastoral moments.
This is all very witty and clever, until you cast your eyes about and find there are already sublime landscapes from GTAV in circulation – and they were released by the game's creators as publicity images.
Back in the summer, as excitement about the new edition of the game built up among fans, Rockstar, its creator, released some awe-inspiring stills from the game. One of these official pictures shows a dazzling American landscape of sunlit water, massive rocks, evergreen forests and a steel-frame railway bridge. Another shows two digital characters at a viewpoint above a breathtaking city.
So the Landscape Photographers of Los Santos and Blaine County are not doing anything fresh – they are just recycling images the game itself creates, and which the makers already published as promotional material.
There is creativity, wit and art in Grand Theft Auto V – but it's from the game's makers. In the digital world, the real creative work is confined to a tiny minority of designers who work for games companies and software giants. This just confirms what has always been true, from the Sistine Chapel to Hollywood: art is made by the few, for the many. It takes rare gifts, disciplined skills and an original mind. Artists are developers, not players.
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
Original headline: Grand Theft Auto: meet the grand masters of digital art
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