One of the key approaches of The Virtual Space Theory is to provide an interpretation of the visual arts which would reconcile the apparent rift between old media and new media. Such reconciliation is achieved by proposing a wider context which seamlessly encompasses the old as well as the new.
The technological developments of recent decades and their effect on visual media can easily give the impression that everything has changed: The creation tools are different, the means of presentation are different, and the visual language is different – not to mention the differences in values and subject matter. Accordingly, new theories have increasingly been developed in an attempt to understand the nature of these ‘new media’. From this perspective, older theories of art that were based mostly on the medium of painting seem practically outmoded, archaic, and irrelevant.
The Virtual Space Theory proposes that while the new theories of visual media are of course valid, they are still a matter of choice. That is, if one wants to understand recent developments by using the mindset of older theories, it is actually possible to do so. What is obviously missing for doing that, however, is the availability of an adapted version of these principles which would successfully also incorporate the contemporary vocabulary and phenomena. Such a proposed adaptation is exactly what The Virtual Space Theory is about, as fully elaborated in the book The Architecture of Virtual Space.
The Virtual Space Theory, as its name suggests, surely approaches contemporary topics such as virtuality, digital technology, and the latest visual media – yet it does so by relying heavily on the traditional approaches to the arts. The Virtual Space Theory is founded on the writings of art theorists such as Ernst Gombrich and Erwin Panofsky, who clearly represent the classical tradition of European art between the Renaissance and the early 20th century. Such a choice of references may seem peculiar to someone who is versed in the contemporary art discourse, which considers itself free from these older mindsets. And yet, a careful review of the old principles proved them to be surprisingly useful for understanding the latest media as well.
Let us look at a couple of straightforward examples to demonstrate the point. From a contemporary view of art, a painting such as Il Guercino’s ceiling fresco Aurora would initially seem to have nothing in common with current trends in visual media, to the point of being perceived anywhere from inaccessibly remote to downright boring.
Similarly, a film such as Tron Legacy (the upcoming sequel to the original Tron from 1982 – one of the first major films to employ digital techniques), when seen from the point of view of the classical tradition, might very well be suspected of superficiality, irreverence, and a lack of substance.
From the point of view of The Virtual Space Theory, however, both of the above examples can be understood along the exact same set of principles. These examples may obviously differ in their artistic intentions, production techniques, or forms of presentation, yet they also have much in common: Both of them generate an experience of space where in fact there is none (and as well populate it with their own idea of a hero on a two-wheeled vehicle), and both provide a physical object in the physical world through which to give access to this created space. In terms of The Virtual Space Theory, they are equal in that they both result in the creation of a virtual place in virtual space.
Such an observation, along with further observations that stem from The Virtual Space Theory, is the direct consequence of having a single overall model for understanding all forms of pictorial images – free of the constraints of various periods, mediums, techniques, or purposes, as well as the respective theories that come along with them. Thus, by introducing a wider context that is common to both the old and the new, The Virtual Space Theory allows the old to be revealed as fresh and fascinating, and the new to have depth and merit.