The Digital Impressionists

For an artist in Paris during the latter part of the nineteenth century, everything hinged on Le Salon. If your work got accepted it would enhance your reputation and could even make you famous.

It almost certainly meant selling some pieces and making a living.

With so much at stake, inevitably competition was furious and the selection process stringent.

Until 1863, with the art establishment struggling to beat back the emerging Impressionist movement, the selection process went beyond stringent and entered the realm of sheer brutality.

Over 3,000 paintings were stamped on the back with the infamous red R for refusé and rejected.

There wasn’t an outcry or a backlash so much as total uproar.

Parisians were so outraged that the Emperor Napoleon III had to intervene.

He diplomatically granted the rejected artists the chance to exhibit at a Salon des Refusé.

Among the rejected, hung works by Manet, Whistler, Cezanne and Pissarro.

The scandalous hit was Manet’s Dejeuner sur l'herbe.

Although thinly veiled in classical allusion it was widely assumed to depict a couple of whores in the notorious Bois de Boulogne.

It was probably the moment when Impressionism began to eclipse Realism.

The growth of photography had rendered Realism obsolete.

It was old technology.

No one could paint as realistically as a camera.

Impressionism didn’t need to.

It was different.

It was new.

And where would art be without the next thing whether it’s soup cans or Super Mario?

Currently, Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man are on show at the Smithsonian.

They’re part of The Art of Video Games, an exhibit showcasing 40 years of gamer art, from Pong to Flower.

Predictably the show has intensified the “Are video games really art?” debate.

A hundred years ago it would have been “Is cinema really art?”

And fifty years before that, the same question was asked about Impressionism.

It strikes me as moot.

If the establishment in the form of the Smithsonian says video games are art, isn’t that enough?

More intriguingly, if the Smithsonian is today’s equivalent of Le Salon

Where is today’s Salon des Refusés.

It might just be Kickstarter.

Since its inception in 2008 Kickstarter has morphed from a source of funding for personal projects to a full-on game incubator.

The success of Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2 started a cash tsunami rolling with over $10 million funded to games projects since March 1 alone.

Kickstarter has become so successful as a game incubator, it has spawned copycat sites exclusively for crowd funding games.

While the imitators are playing catch up Kickstarter has morphed into a not insignificant source of venture capital fueling exceptional non-gamer creativity too.

The media were all over Pebble the smartwatch start-up that’s raised over $6,488,243 to date.

By some estimates Kickstarter will raise over $300 million this year.

OK, that’s barely seed capital by Silicon Valley standards, but significant funding to the rest of us.

It marks an evolution from personal to small business funding to venture capital.

Can’t get that meeting with Sequoia or Union Square - maybe you don’t need to when you can go direct and get funded anyway.

That works, until someone thinks up an even better model.

And they will.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

As they say in Paris.