Art and VR

These are my notes on the “Art and VR” panel at the NYVR Expo, along with some some of my own thoughts interspersed. Rather than writing them up in paragraph form, I’m just presenting them here the way I recorded them.


VR is increasingly becoming recognized as its own medium, like painting or sculpture.

Artists, museums, and galleries are eager to share their experiences with VR, so it’s easy to learn and get started.

How does an artist with no tech experience get started in VR? Panelists recommended Tiltbrush, Masterpiece VR, Quill, and Blocks, with Tiltbrush getting the highest recommendations.

It’s important for artists to be mindful of not falling in love with the technology itself. It’s about the final art piece, not the tech, in the way a painting is not about which brush you used to paint it. [I’m not sure I totally agree this is a good analogy. It may be a good comparison when examining how the art is created, but the technology is still intrinsic to how people experience the art. Also, nobody talked about the differences in different VR platforms—for example, if you’ve used both an Oculus Rift and an HTC Vive, you know that the Oculus hand controllers are far more natural than the tv-remote-like controllers of the Vive. This is going to greatly affect how a user experiences a piece of art when interaction is required]

[There was some perfunctory talk of 360 video, but for the purposes of this panel, it seemed to be considered a separate space and wasn’t the focus of the discussion.]

Commercial VR art and Fine VR art are separate spaces with different considerations, different monetization models, etc.

Monetizing VR art:

  • The VR Art market is still very fragmented
  • Panelists recommended trying to get commissions from companies with big budgets
  • in the future, there will be specialized marketplaces for VR art, but we aren’t there yet.
  • some traditional artists have been using VR art to draw attention back to their traditional art.

How to show VR/AR art in galleries and museums?

  • Paintings and sculptures can be viewed by multiple people simultaneously, but VR/AR requires a separate computer and headset for each person.
  • How to scale this up, challenges of the cost of multiple VR workstations and finding enough room to place them in and allow the viewer to move around.
  • One panelist was at a gallery where the workstations were mounted to the ceiling and the headsets were suspended from above, which gets the tech out of people’s way.
  • Prices will come down, and Google Cardboard is a viable solution for many galleries.
  • One challenge is the face that people still don’t know how to use VR. Until VR becomes ubiquitous, you need someone at the gallery to explain how to use the technology to new users and make sure they have a good experience. (Thanks to Peter Decherney who told me several months ago that this was called a Trip Sitter, a role I have filled MANY times.)
  • Panelists (and audience members) stressed the importance of having a good first experience, and users who have to figure out how to use the tech and get the most out of it—and fail, have very negative experiences.
  • You also need someone to maintain the equipment, reset the hardware and software when necessary.

There’s a need for more community spaces where people can come together and create art together.

Audience member recommended the Virtual Painting group in Facebook

I was surprised that panelists seemed to be mostly talking about static VR/AR installations that only had viewers, but not art that would let viewers interact with it, which provides an additional set of challenges with space.

The future:

  • Additional interfaces: Leap motion, whereuse your real hands without special controllers. (this exists now, but has not been in wide usage as far as I have seen), Headset that detects intention from the user’s brainwaves (already in development)
  • Additional, finer dexterity and control when “painting” or “sculpting” in VR.
  • More art will viewed outside of museums (ie. in people’s homes). What effect will this have on museums and galleries?
  • Concerns about patents and intellectual property rights—how is money/copyright/ownership handled when a piece of art is created and viewed on proprietary software and hardware platforms?
  • How do we preserve the art and hardware/software platforms to allow authentic experiences in the future? The resolution, type of hand controllers, feel of a specific VR visor on your face, are an essential part of experiencing a piece of art. (Frankly, this isn’t really a future issue. Hannah Bennett, head of Fisher Fine Arts Library, is already dealing with this with other digital platforms. For example: if an artist creates an app that runs on a specific operating system on an iPad, how do we preserve that one that operating system becomes obsolete? What happens with the iPad disappears completely?)
  • “The body is missing in art,” a reference to the fact that currently most software shows the users virtual hands, but nothing else, and this has an effect on how people experience art. The body will become more prevalent in the future.

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