This is Red Dead Redemption 2. And this is a landscape painting of the American west. Here’s another. Rockstar has said that their game
wasn’t inspired by these paintings. or anything else for that matter. But you don’t have to look hard to see
more than just geographical similarities. And there is a reason for that. But we need to start at the beginning. The Hudson River School of Art was an
artistic movement started in the 1800s in the Hudson River Valley. It was known for depicting
uniquely American landscapes. so, naturally, it was started by an immigrant:
Englishman Thomas Cole. Cole’s detailed depictions of wilderness
reflected a very British philosophy of nature: the sublime. The sublime isn’t beauty, per se. Rather, it highlights nature’s irregular
forms and tremendous, frightening power. Cole’s paintings were ‘realistic,
’but not necessarily accurate. He painted what he called a
higher style of landscape… This is Wendy Ikemoto, the Associate Curator
of American Art at the New York Historical Society. Landscape was not used to represent a particular
place but to carry allegorical meanings. So, for example, sunrise and sunset, fall foliage, all of that would be used to
symbolic effect, to carry a narrative about the rise and fall of civilizations. Other Hudson School artists took even greater
liberties with their landscapes, like in this depiction of Native Americans in Wyoming… that becomes Kansas just by
removing the background mountains. Decades later, Rockstar North’s artists
did kind of the same thing: the landscapes in Red Dead Redemption 2 are
composites of an idyllic American wilderness, rather than an exact replica. After Cole’s style caught on, a second
generation of artists rose to prominence, and many of them looked beyond the Hudson Valley to the West. Frederic Edwin Church, Cole’s one and only pupil, along with Albert Bierstadt, a German explorer/painter, and Thomas Moran, who’s paintings helped
Yellowstone become a national park, would eventually broaden the movement’s subject matter well beyond the Eastern United States. And it wasn’t just the geography that had
changed: Church and Bierstadt in particular were involved
with an artistic movement called Luminism, named for its use of light. Luminist artists were artists who focused
on atmospheric effect. So the subject, you could say, of a luminist
painting is the light itself, it’s the atmosphere. The ‘Luminists’ of the Hudson River School
used light to accentuate natural forms, to lend a heightened, ethereal air, … or to create a greater sense of depth. as in Solitary Oak, by Asher B. Durand. You see that he is depicting the background
mountains in light values… whereas everything in the foreground
is of dark value. That difference in value combined with differences
in scale were used to create an illusion of depth on the flat surface of the canvas. This use of light is also critical to achieving
the sense of scale you get from the landscapes in Red Dead Redemption 2. Just like in the paintings, the foreground
is depicted in dark values, while the background is depicted in light values. In both cases, the artists rendering these
places were trying to capture how we see light in the real world. These second generation Hudson River School
painters also incorporated natural weather and atmospheric effects into their art. Take this famous painting of the
Rocky Mountains by Albert Bierstadt. Look at the way the clouds cast shadows, leaving
pockets of bright light and overwhelming darkness. It makes this painting look alive,
like a moment frozen in time. Red Dead 2 was designed with a similar approach,
using light, weather, and atmospheric effects to create a more immersive environment. In fact, immersion was a big part of
the Hudson River School movement. These were not meant to be polite paintings,
they were meant to invade your peripheral vision, so that it felt like you were
stepping into the landscape, so that the landscape felt immersive. These painters wanted the people who saw them
to feel like they were there. Which is why so many of these paintings were
absolutely gigantic, some of them approaching 12 feet long. This was also one way to convey the monumentality of the western american landscape. Church and Bierstadt traveled the country
showcasing their works to thousands, charging a quarter a head. Many viewers would actually take
opera glasses to view his paintings, and take a journey through
the various elements of the work, with a key in hand, pointing
out the various key elements. Another way to look at it: these were
paintings that needed a Prima guide. But yhen customers bought a chance to view
these big paintings, they were also buying something else: a fantasy vision of the West. Which goes by another name: Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny, of course, was the widely held 19th
century belief that it was the divinely sanctioned and inevitable destiny of white American
settlers to spread across America. and paintings helped to not only form, but also to perpetuate that ideology. The Hudson River School presented
the west as something divine. Holy temples of nature. Gardens of Eden. An untouched work of God, just waiting to
be put to good use by American settlers. These paintings didn’t just document a feeling: they aided and abetted it. One important thing to remember about art
in my opinion is that it is not a passive reflection or document of history, but it is rather an agent of history, and the connection between the Hudson River School and Manifest Destiny is a prime example of that. Asher B. Durand’s “Progress” provides
one of those examples. On one side, Native Americans are depicted
as hunter-gatherers in a wild, unkempt forest. On the other side are white settlers,
who have tamed the wilds and carved out trails for their wagons. And in the distance, they’ve built a railroad: the ultimate sign of progress,
and a common motif in this genre. Other artists of the era simply
pushed Native Americans aside… and weren’t subtle about it. And that’s if they were depicted at all. Manifest Destiny was the reason
white settlers felt entitled to the West, and it was the justification for the forced relocation and genocide of Native American peoples. Red Dead 2 does not ignore this. But even as it portrays them sympathetically, it still leaves Native Americans as a side story, part of the white main character’s redemption arc. The fact that the game presents Native Americans this way is a reflection of how enduring this image of the West is. From paintings and books, to movies and tv, it became the image of the west most Americans knew. And Red Dead Redemption 2 can’t
avoid telling the story of the West that still lives in our public consciousness… A story that was dictated in part by the Hudson River School. It doesn’t matter that the game wasn’t
literally based on these paintings. It doesn’t have to be. Because when we think of the American West, this is still what we think of.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. I think that a story about the Native American experience during this period in history will have to be tackled by someone other than Rockstar.

  2. The range of Polygon's writers is amazing. You guys can upload a 15 minute long descent into madness itemizing the Castlevania monsters in order of fuckability and then immediately turn around and put out a serious video essay on the role of art in both game design and the propagation of Manifest Destiny, and be equally sincere in both. I was very skeptical of the direction you guys were gonna take after the McElroy exodus, but you guys have really turned this channel into something special. I'm excited for more.

  3. Finally, Bierstadt is getting some recognition. He’s one of my favorite artists of all time but it seems like nobody ever talks about him despite how breathtaking his art was.

  4. This is such a wonderful video. Thank you for putting the time, effort and research into this mini art history lesson and tying it in so wonderfully with RDR2's landscapes.

  5. Graphics of this game will be the best graphics till 2-3 years. No game has this types of landscape like graphics. So fucking beautiful!

    Edit: After scrolling down a little far down, I saw most of the comments didn't have any replies. It's fully non-toxic.

  6. Clayton, the depth of the analysis is incredible. I’m super impressed. And the music choice legit made me tear up. Excellent work!

  7. THANKS CLAYTON THIS IS SO GOOD!! I love art history and I love seeing how art influences and reflects history, and of course video games can be counted as art, so it’s cool to analyze them through the lense of art history!! (This video really played to all of my interests, thank u)

  8. Absolutely love the video you ended up making something not very interesting into something I got myself invested in, that’s a feat in and of itself but it’s also crafted beautifully fantastic work keep it up!

  9. The scenery of RDR2 gave me more of an Ansel Adams vibe. Adams took black and white photographs, but the shots in the game very much reminded me of his work.

  10. I've taken multiple classes with the curator they interviewed and it took me back. I loved her lectures, especially in the early American art class I took with her that included Manifest Destiny and the Hudson River Valley School. While watching the beginning, I had already started reminiscing about the trip she took us on to see some of the scenic views that inspired the Hudson River Valley artists. Her explanations in these videos were as poignant as they were in class and I'm really glad she volunteered that information to give context for the argument of this video.

  11. What I don't understand is why people feel like RDR2 somehow neglected the Native American experience when the story comes from a clear-cut historical context and perspective. Just like for the American settler, the Native Americans were an obstacle on their grand mission, the same way in RDR2, they are a side objective for an outlaw in the American West, but they still do exist and have their place in the world.. And as many have noted, they were portrayed in a realistic and fair way. I feel that it doesn't call for an examination on the game's lack of Native American perspective.

  12. I see some parallels being drawn here that don’t entirely exist. Such as saying that rockstar used dark values in the foreground with light values in the background to create a “sense of depth” while this is simply how light works. It’s not as if rockstar made it so that everything close to you is darker and that statement in the video came make it confusing. I think both the art displayed and the game draw from the same place and therefore look the same.

    As far as native Americans being a side story in the game it is not so. One of Arthur’s friends during the entire campaign is a Native American and it is the native Americans who show Arthur that there is a broader perspective than to simply worry about one’s own “plan”. It’s arguable that the native Americans make Arthur who he becomes by the end of the game. Of course like any open world game the player can decide if they agree with this view or not and the experience of the game will end up telling you something about yourself.

    I appreciate the information about the art but I think the approach of this video is simply creating something that isn’t there.

  13. This was a very interesting and well produced video; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wonder if the indigenous people expanding from West (Bering straits) to East would be considered similar to Manifest Destiny?

  14. it doesnt seem like the points made here are solid.. seems vague and kinda pulled out of thin air just to bandwagon on the popularity of rdr2… although rdr depicts a 1900 usa so there are bound to be some parallels to the art of (about) the time

  15. Yea why is it surprising they painted something real and rockstar used the same thing you can't call that intellectual property polygon

  16. I like Rockstar games but say that they not have inspiration by art or films is pretentious. How many gangster and action movies have inspired GTA? Is not a shame to say that they have get inspiration from what was made in past to create something new and different. Every progress use this way.

  17. This is a nice vieo and i love RDR2, but as a realism painter i just gotta point out that the landscapes in the game and these paintings bear similarity in light and atmosphere because they are both trying to replicate reality, and not because one is inspired by the other. You could maybe argue that the layout and scenery were inspired by wild west art, but rockstar stated this isnt the case. They probably traveled to places such as colorado or texas and took photography of the landscapes and used that as reference. This is a good kind of video to make, but id consider rewording or changing the intent.

  18. 5:30 uh "white" Americans- – Here you have an Asian woman, in a position of cultural power who has obviously benefited from everything white people contributed in order to create America, condescendingly telling all you white devils to be ashamed of yourself instead of fucking discussing art…I love RDR2 but when it comes to its depiction of the one native tribe in the game it is absolutely guilty of the bigotry of low expectations – the game literally treats them the same as it treats the only child in the game, if you cant see a problem with that, than you are as racist as this woman telling you all about the nasty white men that created these beautiful works of art and built the society that allowed her the position to judge and criticize it all.

  19. You managed to turn something so apolitical into a white people shitfest, even the most hardcore communist propagandists would be jelous

  20. Great video, but history isn't black and white, but shades of grey. There were atrocities carried out by both sides Native Americans and American settlers, just as there were great things done. You had passive tribes and aggressive tribes, just as you had settlers who wanted to live in peace with the natives and settlers who didn't. It was a terrible clash of cultures just like when the spanish went into South America up into Mexico.

  21. I’m an artist, and I actually learned something here today. RDR2 is my favorite game ever created, just for the extreme, and exaggerated landscapes.

  22. Great video. Thank you for pointing out the obvious and speaking about the injustices my indigenous ancestors still deal with.

  23. It’s funny that moderns mock the idea of “manifest destiny” as a pinnacle of evil whitey delusion. Let’s not forget that the manifest destiny came true. They weren’t wrong in the end. Whitey did conquer the west.

  24. This game is a beautiful art piece! There are so many ways we can connect it to the American South in literature and cinema as well. They mix beauty and the grotesque accurately

  25. What were they trying to get away with by saying they didn't take "inspiration" from things like this? Are we to believe that this is all just pure original work? Yeah the fuck right. Even Tolkien was inspired by things in the world & from history when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. What a bunch of fools. They should be proud to admit their inspiration came from art like this, not fucking fake it.

  26. Honestly, you're being a bit disrespectful. Native Americans were typically portrayed as wholesome, honorable and innocent. At worst they were portrayed as fearsome warriors. Whereas (ashcan's) urban culture was portrayed as depraved and foolish, but also vibrantly multicultural. You can see a bit of that in San Denis and Blackwater.

  27. This is one of those rare instances where someone is talking about a niche interest of mine and I get to sit in a corner and circle jerk about the same subject.

  28. Polygon, 5:18 : "Which goes by another name…"
    Me: "Romanticism!"
    Polygon, 5:20 : "Manifest Destiny."
    Me: "FFS POLYGON! I can't even like pretty paintings without you calling me racist!"

  29. What I got from this video:

    1. Rockstar artists use the same light and value techniques as any other artists did to create landscapes.
    2. Rockstar writers focused their main story on whites instead of focusing on the native Americans.

  30. Thank u for making this video!!!! I am an art history student and was so pleasantly surprised to find it on your channel. If this were a longer format it could be so cool to follow up with some contemporary indigenous artists who make work in response to settler-colonial art history. If anyone is interested I recommend Kent Monkman especially because he specifically paints in this style as a critique and also it's gay as hell. Michael Farnan, Lori Blondeau, Adrian Stimson, Dana Danger, Nadia Myre, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Coco Fusco are some other favs too.

  31. Native Americans and their struggle is a huge part of MAIN story in this game, they show up as early as the end of chapter 1 and has an exntensive dialogue dedicated to them. They show up throughout the game several times. One of Arthur's best friends is a African-Indian American, he got a lot of development. The reservation story is the final act of the campaing. Saying that they are a side story is just not true.

  32. Isn't it Sublimely interesting that Rockstar did not intentionally emulate this kind of art, allegedly, yet it reached similar conventions when attempting to emulate real life? Strong argument for gaming as art right here.

  33. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. What a load of nonsense .Sorry but despite this contrived essay there is no significant connection between Rdr2 and Huson river school. Visually rockstar "did not look to art or film". Rdr2 is a composite ideal landscape just like most video games .Rdr2 does not exclusively use foreground shadow which rather is dependent on dynamic weather. The reason native Americans are a side story is because the story happens to be about white outlaws which historically existed (Duh). Not because Rockstar is somehow motivated by the resurrected spirit of manifest destiny to view native Americans as ancillary. Oh and At 1:45 You say "DECADES latter rock star Norths artist did the same thing". SERIOUSLY? Wth dude. We are 2 decades in the 21 st century Lol smh . Seems like you used the word decade instead of century latter because you thought this ridiculous premise would sound less far-fetched .Well sorry but it does not stand up to even a casual analysis .

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