history of the term 'fictive art'

I started using fictive art in 2001 to describe a certain kind of work I had long been fascinated by, including many of the pieces featured on this site. In the summer of that year,  Lise Patt (director of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry) and I were thinking of proposing a panel for the 2003 College Art Association conference on the kind of work featured on this site. Although we knew what kinds of works we wanted to discuss,  we didn't know what to call them.  Initially we threw around such phrases as "whole world projects" and "the art of deceptive fictions," all of which are problematic. When one of us--we no longer remember who--came up withe fictive art, one of the first things we did was look around at whether and how the term was already in use. It was, but only marginally and in a quite different sense from how we intended it.

"Fictive art" is most often used in the context of literature as a substitute for the word "fiction" or the phrase "the art of fiction". For example: "What makes this novel so important as a work of fictive art is..." etc. In literary criticism, fictive art is essentially a term relating to techne: it addresses the author's skill at creating a narrative fiction: "The fictive art of so-and-so is of a very high order."

In these cases, fictive is a simple modifier of the word art that focuses attention on  limited aspects of the writer's craft. In the sense that I am using the term fictive art, however, it is a compound noun defining a class of works that bear certain hallmarks. The term references primarily those aspects of a work that have to do with something being feigned and also with its being an act of imaginative creation.  It also signals that fictive art is ontologically complex with respect to its truth value and its actuality.  Literary works that are put forward as fiction are usually understood to be grounded in truth or reality but not to be making claims that undermine the work's overall status as fiction. Works that make stronger truth claims are tagged as nonfiction. As a corollary, works purporting to be nonfiction that later get "outed" for their misleading truth claims do not revert to the status of fiction-- they are thereafter labeled with such terms as fraud or hoax. A prominent feature of fictive art works is that they are difficult or  impossible to place squarely in any of the three classes defined above (fiction, nonfiction, fraud). For more on this subject, see the fictive art topic.

In 2003, I wrote this preliminary overview of the chief features of fictive art: "They all involve heavily elaborated imagined worlds that include an intricate narrative embedded partially in text and partly in visual imagery [I would now add: and partly in actual objects]. They announce themselves to be, and ask to be treated as, realities in their own terms rather than simply as fictionalized versions of "the real world." Many include evidence or traces of absent subjects who turn out not to be missing at all in that they never existed outside the artwork; thus, they participate in a kind of virtual or creative indexicality. They often appear to have come into being accretively, to have grown up in stages or segments, and give an impression of open-endedness, as if they could be expanded indefinitely. They are created not so much to express something about the culture in which they exist as to address the culture directly using a broad spectrum of accepted conventions of discourse. At the same time, they tend to signal, more or less clearly, that they are not precisely what they are initially taken to be.

In other words, they all exist in the complicated terrain that [Wolfgang] Iser defines as lying between the real, the fictive, and the imaginary.1 I believe that fictive art is emerging as a major category of Western practice, and that with the rise of computer games in particular we are going to see more and more works that don't just represent worlds, but exemplify worldmaking as part of art's ongoing critique of what we call "the real world."


2001: In August/September of that year, I drafted a call for proposals for a CAA panel on fictive art, which read as follows: "Growing numbers of artists are deliberately combining textual and visual strategies to produce works that straddle the boundary between art, fiction, and history (Kahn and Selesnick; Fontcuberta; the Hokes Archives; Codex Seraphinianus; Myst). Reflecting Elaine Scary's distinction between the made-up and the made-real, these "whole worlds" rely on a wide variety of fictive strategies and authenticating devices including the cultural authority of the photograph, the museum, the encyclopedia, scientific research, etc. Many recent fictive art projects are computer games or exploit the role-playing potential of the Internet. We invite artists to present their work in this area and critics, historians, anthropologists, and others to address such questions as: What accounts for the current explosion of this kind of work? What are its chief historical antecedents? How does fictive art manage to keep reality in view even while overstepping its bounds?"

2002: "Film as Fictive Art" : a reference on the web to a college course of this title. This appears to be a usage more in line with that employed by literary scholars; that is, film as a form of fiction.

2003: The CAA panel on Fictive Art that I co-chaired with Lise Patt included the following speakers:  Lenore Malen (on the New Society for Universal Harmony); Christiane Robbins (on Blue Screen MOTO); Beauvais Lyons (on the Hokes Archives); Eva Mantell (on decorated television screens); and Griselda Pollock (on The Secret Life of Cornelia Lumsden).

2004:"Fictive Art/Imagined Spaces: Textual Constructions of Art and Architecture in Sixteenth-Century Italy" : a panel of the Renaissance Society of America. Usage unclear from context.

2004(?): a reference on the web to "Sci/fi and Electronic Art: from Fictive Art to Cybernetics to Time Travel" as part of the subject matter of a course in "Culture and Technology" at the University of Technology, Sydney. Usage unclear from context.

2004: "a fictive art gallery": describing a software-based virtual art gallery with 34 "spaces" in a scientific paper on environmental psychology. Appears to be using "fictive" as a substitute for "virtual" (i.e. unreal).

2005(?): "Fictive art may be defined as a conspiracy between artist and audience, their secret agreement to create in the world a new reality." Found at http://anbat.toonzone.net/bb/eyewitness.html in 2005; posted no earlier than 2000.  Usage unclear from context, but may align with this site's usage.

2005: "precursors to fictive art in new media": title of an entry on Joan Fontcuberta in the 'fictive' archive of a blog run by Maria Miranda and Norie Neumark. This usage is similar to ours; however, Miranda and Neumark appear to use the term to focus primarily (perhaps exclusively?) on photographs that exploit the so-called truth effect, rather than to frame a larger category of practice.

  1. See Wolfgang Iser, The Fictive and the Imaginary