Monday, March 30, 2009

Virtual Life and Art on the Web

Here are some stunning highlights from the New York Times Magazine article, "Portrait of an Artist as an Avatar" by Sara Corbett:

His use of voluptuous colors, unbalanced composition and busy, layered images suggests both the bursting, overcapitalized nature of information technology today as well as the artist's deeper faith in the authenticity of the human relationships behind it.

People who spend a lot of time in virtual worlds will tell you that, despite the veneer of escape and anonymity provided by an avatar, virtual experiences nonetheless provoke emotions that are deeply felt, which may explain my mortification at losing my virtual hair . . .

Filthy operates as a kind of marketing magnet, a cult personality with a product behind it, and in this case, the product--Jeffery Lipsky's art--acts as a real-world bridge between a humdrum everyday existence and a more fantastical virtual life.

As the Internet continues to speed up and become more personalized, as our screen experiences become more immersive, some experts predict that the whole idea of having an avatar may soon seem less weird and more in keeping with all the other ways we already represent ourselves digitally, through our email addresses and blogs, our Facebook, Flickr and Twitter accounts.

"Art is moving toward the participatory," the sculpture's creator, a San Francisco artist named DC Spensley (who in Second Life goes by Dan-Coyote) told me when I called him later, saying that he creates only virtual art, despite the fact it is impossible to make a living at it.

Is it possible that by simulating an edgy, superconfident art star that you, too, could become one?

Scientists at Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab have found that avatars, with their artificial beauty and fantastical lifestyles, may represent more than wishful thinking on the part of the real people who create them; they may actually help bring those wishes to bear. People trying to lose weight are more apt to accomplish their goals when they spend time using a thin avatar. Someone looking to become more self-confident improves more quickly in real life after adopting an avatar that is good looking. Whatever their shortcomings, virtual worlds are insistently, even defiantly, aspirational places.

My Thoughts: Thank you Sara Corbett. I love that last line. This is a fantastic, beautifully written article and I invite everyone to visit the link that I will include at the bottom of this page.

But first I would like to share some of my thoughts on the emergence of avatars and virtual worlds on the Internet.

As a writer, I've always felt at home with the notion of an alter ego. And what is an avatar but an alter-ego taken to the level of virtual reality?

My life in many ways reflects the blurring of lines between fantasy, illusion and the real world. As a former drug addict, I deliberately played out some dangerous and hallucinogenic experiments with my reality. (See my blog novel that takes place in Vegas or the graphic novel rendition of it.)

But now that I am sober, I still cannot escape the lust I have for imaginary worlds. I read compulsively and often find that the solace of books and reading in general allows one to exist in the half-light of dreams. Also, for about three years, I have been cultivating an avatar of sorts named Lethe Bashar. I mention Lethe frequently in my posts because he is the main character of my novel and my Facebook page says "Lethe Bashar" instead of my real name.

And what is the purpose of all this?

Perhaps the blurring of lines between our conventional identities and our fictional (or virtual ones) is not so foreign to our experience of being human after all. Why not? Our identities are not fixed although we sometimes pretend they are. We have this desire as humans to experiment with our identities. The very notion of possibility, of becoming something more than what you are now, is the basis for this drive.

Sara Corbett, with her precise and creative language, probes the latest manifestations of virtual life and art on the Web. Perhaps the new social technologies are allowing us to exhibit our true selves, which, I might suggest, is the adoption of a "false self".




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