Cinematography and Art

A topic that has been coming up recently is how many video game makers seem to eschew the label of artist when talking about their work. The "are video games art?" discussion has gotten old and tiresome for many people even as the debate continues on in many forms. Part of the reason this is interesting to me is that it was never even really a question in my mind - video games were as legitimate an art form as any other. Perhaps this comes from growing up with games, but whatever the case, I'm interested in the subject, particularly because it seems like many of the most influential video game creators aren't keen on describing themselves as artists.

One of the things that is often brought up in these discussions is the similarities and differences between video games and movies. It's often said that movies were considered "artistically legitimate" right off the bat, and that may very well be the case, but I was watching a documentary called Visions of Light this weekend that touched on something relevant to this discussion. The doc follows the history of cinematography in movies and features many prominent cinematographers. I uploaded a short clip to youtube in which Stephen Burum (who worked on The Untouchables, among many other films) talks about how many of the classic DPs characterized their work:


Interestingly, it seems that many of the pioneers of cinematography didn't consider themselves much of an artist. I think there's also a similarity between a cinematographer and a video game designer (or coder, or artist, or any of the hundred other jobs it takes to make a modern game) in that they can both describe what they do as craftsmanlike. In the video above, the cinematographers didn't admit to making art, instead referring to stuff as an "interesting effect," which is a phrase I bet a lot of video game makers use. I don't think this really settles anything, but it is perhaps more evidence of the fact that art is in the eye of the beholder. In the comments to my last post on the subject, my friend Dave posed the question "can something still be art if its creators don't consider it art?" I think the answer is yes.