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Taking Inventory: Painting

A picture is worth a thousand words. Please read my words anyway!

Bonjour, bonjour mes amis! Gather round and prepare yourselves, because today we will be delving not into caves, dark forests, the Nether or the End, but somewhere far scarier: the world of art. Mon dieu! Have your brushes and berets at the ready, because our item of the week is the painting! (“This guy does know that France isn’t the only country with artists, right?” - Upset artists from all over the world.)

Paintings in Minecraft are decorative entities, up to 4x4 blocks in size, which sit on the wall and make you think deep thoughts about life. Why do creepers explode? Why are there zombie pigmen but no regular pigmen? Why are Minecraft’s melon blocks square, but the slices curved? Can Endermen jump? What do chorus fruits taste like? Why doesn’t anyone want to discuss art until three in the morning with me?

Paintings were added to Minecraft in the Indev phase of the development of the Java Edition, and were originally made from eight planks around a block of wool. Later the planks were changed to sticks. At first there were only 19 paintings, but now there are 26 – enough for a sizeable in-game gallery.

Almost all of the paintings were created by Kristoffer Zetterstrand, a wonderful Swedish artist who often integrates videogame-inspired elements into his surrealist works. Minecraft’s paintings are based on real-life paintings by Zetterstrand, who also did the work of turning them into pixel versions.

Paintings can be placed on the side of most solid blocks. When you place one, it’ll check to see how much space it has around it, and then a random painting of that size or smaller will appear. If you don’t like the one you get, you can always remove and replace it until you get one that matches the artistic concept that you were aiming for.

Humans have probably been painting since before they were called humans. Most cave paintings date from the Paleolithic period (25,000–8,000 BCE), but some are much older or much younger. Researchers studying the Gabarnmung cave in northern Australia found that the oldest rock art there was produced more than 28,000 years ago, but the youngest was less than a century old.

Earlier this year, a study claimed an age of 64,000 years for one of the oldest examples of cave art in Spain. That’s 20,000 years before humans arrived in Europe, so it must have been created by Neanderthals. Engraved shells created by another of our humanoid predecessors, Homo erectus, dates as far back as 500,000 years. But just like with video games, experts disagree on whether these engravings can be properly classified as ‘art’.

It’s thought that painting was first developed for utility – they likely existed to show how to do something, or where something was. Some believe they were also used in ritual – that animals were painted to “catch” their souls and make them easier to hunt. Some even think that they were used as calendars. Since then, art has fragmented into many different strands – from sculpture, to industrial design (the shape of a chair, for example), to photojournalism, to “fine art” – which is appreciated chiefly for its aesthetic, imaginative or intellectual content.

Today, art is a huge industry which feeds into many different parts of society and was worth about $63 billion in 2017. But mostly it’s still about making beautiful and meaningful things, so if you’ve ever tried to make your Minecraft house and its surroundings look a little nicer, or thought carefully about what colour you’d like your herd of sheep to be, then you get to call yourself an artist. Sacré bleu!

Duncan Geere
Written By
Duncan Geere

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