Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.

My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.

Recently, I noticed that Maggie was drawing pictures of tiny blocks of grass, like those in Minecraft, rather than real grass. The layers of inspiration sources were fascinating to me: actual elements inspired the digital product, which in turn inspired actual, tangible art.

After a little further exploration, I discovered that this is a growing phenomenon – virtual, digital environments used as inspiration for art. Which begs the question: Are video games really art? Google “Minecraft” and “art” and you will find hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of Minecraft-inspired drawings and images of 3-D structures and artwork created within the Minecraft world. When players wander through the online worlds, they come upon elaborate mansions, statues, and paintings created by other players. In fact, the Minecraft Geological Survey team is cataloging public Minecraft worlds and creating a map of notable creations left by players.

Creativity through gaming platforms is being explored in classrooms from the elementary school level to higher education. MinecraftEdu brings the game into the classroom, encouraging students to collaborate and adapting to many disciplines. There are artistic representations of the human body, adapted from medical scans and built using Minecraft blocks. In the UK, Tullie House Museum and Gallery turned the walls of their gallery into a virtual canvas, recreating an interactive Cumbrian landscape and a partially constructed Hadrian’s Wall.

Art students at Bowling Green State University in Ohio have taken this artistic element to another level, encouraging students to make art from a set number of Minecraft blocks.

And creations are moving beyond digital art into the realm of sound and music. Last year, Virginia Tech University recruited high school game players to build a virtual Minecraft set for an opera (aka OPERAcraft). Individual avatars (game players’ alter egos) act out the individual roles, while the college’s music students provide voices for each character. This project was partially inspired by Virginia Tech faculty member Ivica Ico Bukvic, who explores the intersection among disciplines like music and technology – and created a Linus laptop orchestra using open-source technology. In 2011, music from the video game Civilization was awarded a Grammy Award in the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists” category. Other video game music arrangements have been nominated in subsequent years. The Smithsonian American Art Museum created an exhibition in 2011 titled, “The Art of Video Games”, which shows video games as an artistic medium.

And the concept appears to be here to stay. Artist David Hockney used the Brushes app and a stylus to create digital art on his iPad – art that was eventually exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Field is an abstract audiovisual app that reacts to the environment, interpreting brightness, saturation, and color in photos and translating those images into sounds and geometrical images. Performance artist Miranda July created Somebody – which incorporates our digital communication habits with actual human experiences. A surrogate delivers the user’s text message to the recipient, face-to-face. Musician Bjork created one of the most ambitious combinations of art and technology with her album/app, The Biophilia Educational Programme. The app is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s collections and allows users to use songs as springboards to explore the natural world, engineering, design, and philosophy – all through a digital platform.

Coming generations of children and adults will likely continue to use digital platforms as artistic media – and using those digital worlds to explore the natural world, examine philosophy, and create new design approaches. Where does inspiration come from? Nature, human interaction, art, design, and technology that has not even been developed yet. With any luck, we will continue to adapt and surprise one another with art, and sources of inspiration will both evolve and remain constant.


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  1. Linda Gerig

    My grandson plays and connects to my iPad and we play together. Although I only know how to cut down trees. Linda Gerig