How would you paint a “Raging Volcano” or a “Secret Garden”? What if the only available colors were red, blue, yellow, and black, and the only shapes were squares and rectangles? You might respond that you can’t. It’s that hesitancy to creatively dive into art without fear of getting it right that Cleveland-based developer Jarryd Huntley wanted to examine in Art Club Challenge.
“Art is subjective, it’s something you own,” Huntley told Hyperallergic. “And what better way to tell someone they can than showing them through a game? It doesn’t feel like you’re learning art, but by having to complete a few challenges, a lot of people are very happy and surprised with the art they’ve produced.”
Art Club Challenge, the debut title from Polytundra studio, was recently released for iPhone and iPad. The mobile game was conceived at a Minimalism-themed game jam, and was part of last year’s Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade.
There are a few different ways to interact with the game. One is “Story” mode where you start as a beginning art student, progressing through principles of composition that must be solved like puzzles to move on, while “Challenge” mode has specific themes you work on, with some concrete prompts, like “A Hot Air Balloon,” and others more open to interpretation, such as “A Robot Friend” and “An Ancient Dragon.” “Free Paint” allows players to use the game’s tools to paint anything. All the stages are accompanied by jazzy music that keeps the experience chill.
A gallery features art by fellow players, to compare how others have tackled the same tasks. Although only four colors are available, and the blocky shapes force Mondrian-esque forms, this gallery shows how creatively people have played within these limitations. “People will approach the art a little more like a puzzle initially, ‘how can I make this without green?’,” Huntley stated. “I think the art turns out to be more interesting in the long run.”
Similar to Michael Shillingburg’s Super Sculptor!, in which you pile neon tubes, televisions, waving arms, and other objects into wild assemblages, and Strangethink’s Joy exhibition, where you use paint guns to make psychedelic color fields for aliens, Art Club Challenge uses the mechanics of gaming to show that art making doesn’t have to be perfect to be pleasurable. I don’t think I have a career ahead of me in abstract art, yet I did enjoy how the story mode gradually introduced ideas like white space and a balanced canvas to reveal larger concepts of art. Ultimately, Art Club Challenge isn’t about making masterpieces (indeed, the limits of the game make that rather impossible, unless you are in fact Piet Mondrian), it’s about making art more approachable.
“Something I’ve noticed in doing research for this game is often times people only do things they’re good at,” Huntley said. “Which might sound a bit silly, but I think sometimes we forget we can do things for the sake of enjoyment or for ourselves.”