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.┬áLike 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?