Virtualizing Visual Art

I have to apologize about the long absence. There are several reasons for that. The first reason being art. And that brings me to one of the items in my list of topics to talk about.

What pulled my attention from mid-August to early October is a virtualization of a real-life artist event -- Burning Man ( irl was translated into Burning Life ( in SL. Artists coming together to create art for art's sake. A lot has been written about the two events, so I will not delve into that. I had never been to the real-life Burning Man, and I may never. The SL Burning Life was enough experience to last me a lifetime, and I'll leave it at that.

There are two classifications of art in Second Life:
* art created inside SL, including SL photography, and
* art created in the real world, which are mostly photographs and 2-D images imported into SL.

Gallery owners differentiate between the two and seem to have a preference for RL art and RL artists. To be honest, I think that's a snobbish attitude. It's akin to preferring a crappy oil painting to a breathtaking photograph, just because the painter took more time on the work or spent more money on materials.

Any week-old newbie knows how to import a texture, slap it on a prim, and resize that prim. Where's the creativity in that? Why not just upload the texture on a photo website, like Flickr, where it could get viewed by more eyeballs? Or submit it to a stock photo company and get paid much more than US$1 or US$2 for it?

I'm not saying that all RL art in SL are crappy. After all, I own a gallery, where I sell my own RL photographs, and I'm not about to admit my work is crappy. ;)

But, to a lot of artists, Second Life has become a new medium. And, if all you do is slap a texture on a prim, then you're not really taking advantage of the unique possibilities that a 3-D world affords you.

My first exposure to SL art is in the Second Louvre, where I discovered an array of amazing sculptures, made with a few types of prims. After having learned how to build and script pretty much anything, and after seeing countless other art by other artists, I'm still amazed how Starax Statosky can evoke emotion with a sculpture using only those few types of prims. Now that is creative genius.

How Much Is That Pixel in the Window?

The currency used in Second Life is Linden dollars (L$), which you can purchase at approximately 265L$/US$. And you can buy pretty much anything you would need inworld. And more.

Now, you might ask why anyone would spend real money to purchase virtual stuff. They're all just pixels anyway. Well, I've figured some of the reasons:

* For the same reason people purchase entertainment software. Just because it's virtual doesn't mean it's unreal. It *is* as real as any other software; it's just intangible.

* For the same reason people purchase digital art. A lot of these items, particularly the virtual art pieces, are visually satisfying. It's food for the soul. It expresses something.

* For the same reason people purchase designer clothing and accessories. People who care about their appearance in the real world still care about how they look -- or how their avatars look -- in the virtual world. After all, their avatars represent them.

* For the same reason people pay to watch movies or any fictional work. Even though the stimuli is virtual, the core experience is still real and the emotions are still real. But because of the the interactivity in Second Life, a greater part of the experience is real. Friendships and other relationships are still real. All interactions are still real. I suspect that the brain still records aspects of it as a real experience.

So, there *is* value in these virtual items. There is value in the time that skilled artists, musicians, scripters, and builders put in to create these items. There is value in their creativity and ingenuity. There is value in their efforts to market them.

The great thing about manufacturing virtual merchandise is the same benefit software publishers enjoy -- practically nil incremental costs. There is no additional cost to sell a second -- or third, or fourth, or fifth -- copy of that virtual gown. Yes, there are still marketing costs and rental expenses, but no additional manufacturing costs.

Do creators recover their costs in creating these virtual items? Some do, but most don't. Second Life attracts a lot of artists and techies. The competition is fierce. As in real life, the more skillful the creator, the better they fare.

A Whole New World

Second Life ( is not a game.

It has been categorized with MMORPGs or massively multi-player online roleplaying games, but it is not one. It is massive, it is multi-player, it is online. But it is not necessarily roleplaying, although it has that. And it is not itself a game, although it contains many games.

SL is, technically speaking, a virtual reality environment. Instead of calling it a game, some people have referred to it as a platform, a tool, a virtual space, a parallel universe. Someone even jokingly referred to it as a country.

But conceptually, what SL is depends what a person brings in-world and expects to get out of it. And the range of those skills and expectations are as diverse as the people in it.

This blog is a study of the world inside Second Life, specifically the business world and what I learn about it. It is a study of the industries that are coming into SL from the real world, and the industries that are emerging exclusively inside SL. At the same time, this blog is also a study of the people who inhabit Second Life, who they are as consumers and as providers.

One thing is certain, however: Second Life is a phenomenon. This virtual business world has the potential to dramatically change the real business world.

It's only a matter of time.