being an artist

My initial reason for doing this piece was to see what The Sims says about what being an artist is like. My rules for play were to spend as much time as possible painting, which is the only option available in the game which would commonly be associated with art, not to say that playing the piano or cooking are things that are outside the contemporary art world, but I think within the games own logic this was the only way of producing objects to be sold. I did not consider any of the creative options for having a job a viable option for this play-through since I wanted to live out a life of producing my own objects and selling them, not having a salaried job with a regular schedule.

I stopped my play after an hour and twenty-five minutes because it became clear that I was sustainably making enough money to live comfortably solely off of selling my paintings. The prices of paintings were directly related to my sim's creativity skill level (which built up whether you choose to paint, play guitar, play piano, or write), starting at 3 and then peaking at 166 simoleons, the name for the in-game currency. For reference: the painting easel cost 250, making a typical single-serving meal at home costs 10, a computer costs 999, and my bills ran from 188 to 234. The answer to this question would be different if the sim did not start out with enough money to comfortably buy and furnish a house, had eternal, perfect health assuming they kept their basic needs met, and that they had to do no labor to sell a painting besides finish it.

The more interesting, and less straightforward, question then is "What kind of life can you live as an artist in The Sims?" Like any simulation game, The Sims works by abstracting real-life systems into quantifiable relationships. When playing the game with no cheat codes this game is primarily about how to balance keeping your Sim alive, happy, and healthy through daily activities like eating, sleeping, showering, going to the bathroom, seeing friends or lovers, and having fun, having the money to buy food, better household items, and pay the bills, and having extra time to build the skills necessary for better performance, like higher selling paintings or more satisfying food, and job promotions. The appeal of this game is that it doesn't impose any one of these activities as the telos of play, it is indifferent to whether you are trying to reach the top of your career latter, seduce as many people as possible, or start a conventional family. By selecting a specific goal, like being a painter, the other aspects of the game become barriers to spending time on achieving your goal. If the sim's moods are sufficiently low, for example they are really hungry, they will refuse to do most things that don't satisfy that need. This seems innocuous, most of us don't particularly relish the time we spend having to go to the bathroom or going to sleep, but this also includes loneliness. In playing to be a painter I struck up relationships with the two default neighbors because they were convenient and only invited them over to satisfy my need for social interaction.

I was able to complete one or two paintings most days. No matter what my creative skill level was a painting took the same amount of time and would only be one of 3 images: a photorealistic wedding portrait, a Mondrian copy, and an expressive portrait of a woman. The selling prices are completely determined by the skill level, that two paintings appear identical has no bearing on their simoleon value. The only other way to produce different images is to rotate the camera view, which can only rotate 90 degrees keeping the scene at a downward, diagonal. This flips the image on the canvas horizontally. When the sim sells the painting it disappears suddenly, celebratory music plays, and the sim cheers and does a little dance. I've still never sold a work of art so I imagine this must be an accurate feeling.

In recording my play and annotating my purchases I became aware of different scales of time at work, particularly between the time of the video recording (also the irl time I was playing) and the cycle of days in The Sims, further confused by the mechanic in the game which allows you to fast-forward time to skip over activities that are time consuming and uneventful like sleeping or painting. There is also one cut in my recording since I did not do this playthrough in one sitting. These varied and syncopated senses of time echo in other spaces, for example the casino with no windows or clocks, the workday that seems to drag on forever, or the social media feed that compresses an endless stream of thoughts from now and the past into a single timeline. Creating these paintings involved real labor from me as work that I did over a period of time. Obviously this labor is of a different nature than making an irl painting, or of programming the game to make the painting, or of building the components and assembling the computer to run the game, but it is labor nonetheless. Making these paintings was an act of creativity.

(2018, 2020, 2021)