VR Sketch

From Canvas to 4D: How VR is Disrupting the Art World

When most of us think about virtual reality, video games, festivals, and advertising often come to mind. Fine art? Not so much.

However, virtual reality is starting to make the transition from commercial aesthetics to art, and the results are groundbreaking. Just like how VR and AR are revolutionizing the tech world, it’s causing big waves in galleries and museums. And while there are some skeptics, one should remember how new mediums like photography and film were initially scorned, and operas had the power to cause riots in the streets. Additionally, work by prominent artists and expert commentary suggest it’s much more than a gimmick.

Read on to learn about the ways VR is disrupting the art world:

Real-world journalism in 4D

Lest you think that virtual reality is confined to hokey sci-fi creations, look no further than classically trained artist Tom Christopher. He studied with the noted California artists Lorser Feitelson and Ward Kimball, and he initially got his start in a courtroom drawing for CBS News. “Taking this approach to the streets, I observe and record with sketchbook and camera an economy of line and expressive color to tell the story.” he said.  This approach, which made him notable through his expressionist NYC paintings, remains stronger than ever with his virtual reality work.

Working alongside students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, his VR art begins on the streets of the Bronx. It begins with sketches of locations, which is then translated through his expressionist lens using Google Tilt Brush.

The result is more steampunk than Ready Player One; a juxtapose of old-school drawing and emerging technology. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “virtual reality’s first heyday was in the steampunk era.” Victorian Era artists used to make plaster copies of famous sculptures. Nowadays, artists are creating original works that hearken to Blade Runner – a combination of the old world and sci-fi future. Tom Christopher’s VR art, for instance, allows users to move around pressing ancient typewriter buttons, so they feel more in control and connected to the scenes, and makes references to his traditional approach to the groundbreaking.

Creating an immersive experience

The New York Times now regularly advertises VR stories with phrases like “put yourself at the center” and teases experiences like “embedding with Iraqi forces.” Similarly, art, they point out, “gains further meaning by pushing media to the limits of their capabilities.”

VR can do just that, by allowing a user to get immersed in an artistic world in a way that a painting or sculpture often can’t. Just take a look at Art Basel’s Hong Kong, the renowned branch of their exhibition that features VR. Marina Abramović’s Rising addresses the effects of climate change by transporting viewers to witness rising sea levels.

Artists don’t have to resort to shocking effects, either. Tom Christopher’s art creates an immersive, yet abstract experience that transports the user to a Bronx street corner or the New York Botanical Garden. Instead of looking at the scene from oil and canvas, users can “walk” around the world. Jump to one corner and you’ll see a real-life Souvlaki merchant, albeit with mesmerizing colors and expressionistic effects. Jump to the next scene, and you won’t only see a car – you’ll be transported inside to a woman ignoring the cabbie’s incessant chatter about pizza.