Video Games: A New Way To Talk About Perfume And Art

Poke (24)

The delightfully curmudgeonly perfume writer Chandler Burr has recently been pushing the idea that perfume is art through his Museum of Art and Design exhibit, “The Art of Scent”. Is perfume art? I’m not convinced that the question is particularly important, but let’s be good sports and say it is.

The Art of Scent exhibit uses comparisons to visual art (paintings, mostly) to prove that perfume is also a legitimate form of art. That’s an interesting conversation, but it’s one that I unfortunately can’t take part in. You see, I know nothing about art history.Β Like most Americans in my age bracket, art education became optional after elementary school. (We did have an art requirement, but it was only one semester, and I filled it with a music class.) I have no idea what Chandler Burr means when he calls a perfume “post-modern” or “neo-brutalist”, and I suspect that I might not be the only one.

Maybe (probably) this makes me uncultured. Regardless, the fact is that I want to join the conversation about whether perfume is art, but I can’t do it on these terms. In the months since the “The Art of Scent” exhibit was announced, I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that comparisons of perfume to visual art may not be the most effective way to settle the “is perfume art?” debate.

So today I’d like to suggest another artistic medium that I consider more relevant to perfume: video games! Like perfume, video games are very much a commercial product. Video games aren’t intended for museum walls; they’re created to be sold to, and enjoyed by, the masses. Are video games art? This question haunts game developers and gamers alike. I would say that some are and some aren’t. There are banal shooter games that even the most hardcore Nintendork would decline to defend, and there are beautiful games like Journey, which boasts the first video game soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy. I believe that the same principle applies to perfume as well. I challenge you to tell me with a straight face that Chanel Coco Noir is art, or that Guerlain Apres l’Ondee isn’t.

Are the video games I play art? Probably not. I stick to childish adventure games (Zelda, Pokemon, Kirby). Do I enjoy the hell out of them anyway? Absolutely. Similarly, we all have a perfume or five that we enjoy even if it’s not exactly high art. For example, I adore Kai, a straightforward gardenia scent with zero artistic ambitions. We can talk about whether perfume is art all day, but it’s very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t have to be art for us to be able to enjoy it.

Do you agree that video games are an effective way to connect perfume and art? How do you want to talk about perfume and art, or do you even want to talk about it at all?


19 thoughts on “Video Games: A New Way To Talk About Perfume And Art

  1. Arielle, You make me laugh.
    I love the Is Perfume ART conversation. Frankly, I think my desk is a work of art, beautiful, functional, my escape, changes my emotions when I’m with it and redefined the way I look at my workspace when I got it. Thanks IKEA.
    Portia xx

  2. Nintendork! LOL! I’ve never heard that one before. Some perfume is art, some perfume is just craft and unfortunately, a lot of it is neither. Don’t ask me to define what the last group is, I’m not sure I can be that kind.

  3. I love the screen from Pokemon game, so funny and actually perfume related. I think Perfume is a form of art but it doesn’t suit museums or exhibitions. It’s more of a contemporary art that is created everyday just for example by mixing different scents in the city crowd

    1. I like this idea! Lots of great art isn’t meant for museums- for example, I firmly maintain that music belongs to summer outdoor concerts!

  4. Excellent article, Ari. Just recently Bones discovered the webseries Extra Credits, which argues very convincingly that video games can be art, and as I watched some episodes, I was also struck by the parallels between these two very different mediums fighting for greater respect. is an excellent place to start (and a bonus is how funny this series is).

    One game out there that caught my eye is Shadow of the Colossus. I’ve only watched my kids play it, but I’ll be the first to say the artwork is stunning and the soundtrack gorgeous as well. And I thought you’d be interested to know that Bones got Journey for Christmas from his younger brother, and my kids are trying to convince me I need to play it.

    1. Oh, Penny Arcade! If anyone knows about video games and art, it’s them. They’re a nerd institution at this point! So did you ever end up playing Journey, Dionne?? πŸ˜‰

  5. Hehe – I am afraid I don’t think I am of the correct generation to comment – I don’t even have children to consult, or a Nintendo playing pet, sadly. But good question! : – )

    1. Thank you very much, Vanessa! I think that Zelda desires to be a Nintendo-playing pet, for all that she walks on the keyboard while I’m playing πŸ˜€

  6. Ari, you’re trying to confuse us – an older generation (Vanessa πŸ˜‰ ): I thought Zelda was your cat… or is it a “childish adventure game”?

    I agree with Tatiana above: some perfumes are art, some are craft and most are neither.

  7. I tend to think of perfume as an art form, but more akin to design or the decorative arts and fine craft than the “pure” arts like painting, sculpture, etc. It’s art in basically the same way that fashion design can be, or video games for that matter. The boundary between “art” and “craft” can be very blurry. I used to work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and they have a whole department devoted to decorative arts, and there are whole arts organizations devoted to fine craft. A friend of mine works for one such organization, and when I’ve gone to exhibitions there, it gets me thinking about where exactly the line is between art and craft, and the best I’ve been able to come up with is that the difference lies in the possibility of function. For instance, a painting doesn’t have a function beyond hanging on a wall and having whatever effect it will have on the viewer. But an artist can make, say, a piece of jewelry that is designed to be just as conceptually expressive as any painting or sculpture or whatever, but it’s still useable as jewelry.

    As for Chandler Burr… I haven’t read a huge amount from Chandler Burr, but from what I have seen it seems like his attempts to match perfumes up with various movements in the visual arts feel a bit forced sometimes. I mean, I understand what he’s trying to do in legitimizing perfume as an art form. The same kind of thing had to be done with photography back in the day too, before people considered that an art form. I just don’t think that because a perfume was made, say, during the Cubist period that that perfume has anything to do with Cubism. Not that it can’t, of course, but perfume has had its own evolutionary trajectory, and I don’t see why that couldn’t be considered independently. I also take issue with his idea that for a perfume to be “art” it has to be synthetic, that perfumes made with only natural materials don’t qualify. It seems like an absurd distinction to me.

    Anyway, that’s my former art major 2 cents… or more like a dollar I guess πŸ™‚

    And Aroma Lady is awesome!

  8. Your comparison is very apt, I think, although the visual arts are also more subject to commercial influence than people like to believe. I must say that I am outraged by your implication that the Zelda games are not art!

    1. That little icon I got actually hurts my feelings. (Why yes, I do have tiny black eyes and big teeth.)

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