|Electronic pickets lurked outside the Online Gallery. As I tried to log on for my shift, a tall bearded figure grabbed my shoulder, and the wallpaper changed to a huge Sunflowers crossed out in red, like a road sign.|
This is one of my oldest stories. I've long been interested in art, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites and the Surrealists, and this story is set in a virtual-reality landscape based on famous paintings. The Pre-Raphaelite realm is a static tableau; Dali's realm is mobile, full of burning giraffes and stilt-legged elephants tottering along the endless beach.
The story begins with the rather clichéd element of the characters becoming trapped in this virtual reality. I can only plead forgiveness on the grounds of being a novice writer. One editor who rejected the story was kind enough to say, "I was pleased to see this neatly avoid the usual implausibilities of trapped-in-VR stories", so I did at least succeed in presenting a fresh take on the over-familiar premise.
Yet making a virtual landscape from famous paintings is just one way that classic art can be reappropriated for modern use. The story also mentions "style templates" that convert photographs into pictures in the manner of dead artists: so you could have your children depicted in the style of Millais, or your wife remodelled as one of Rossetti's "stunners". Once an artist's style is computerised, it can be applied to anything — the story title "Cut and Pastiche" implies that it will be as simple as today's "cut and paste" keyboard shortcuts.
It's easy to recycle the past. Old art is public domain; dead artists don't demand to be paid, or object to having their work boiled down into style templates. And art history has already decided who the geniuses and old masters are — you can't go wrong if you decorate your home in the style of Vermeer or Van Gogh.
Yet where does this leave new artists? How can they compete with dead geniuses? How can today's talent earn any money, when the art of the past can be pastiched and remixed for free? Naturally, opinions vary. But some artists resent the situation enough to hack into the virtual Pre-Raphaelite world, and subvert it into something very far from the original paintings....
"Cut and Pastiche" inevitably has some beginner's flaws — if I were writing it today, I probably wouldn't use virtual reality as a setting. Nevertheless, I think that this story has some meaningful things to say about the way art is produced and consumed. The piece isn't bad for an early effort.