postheadericon Does Poker Exist in Fine Art?

Poker Art is something that poker fans may enjoy collecting, and the industry is large enough. Anything from Super Mario chip art to stylish monochrome photographs with titles such as Gunslinger and No Chance, are being produced. With no nuance to entice the eye of a connoisseur it is primarily commercial products.

What the serious poker player – with an eye for the game’s complex aesthetics – may have a general interest in whenever he is not busy challenging a worthy rival is poker in art: but does good art exist which is significantly related to poker?

Despite its immense popularity, worthwhile references to the game in art are rare and some admirers cherish them with the elite pride of the devotees of some wonderful esoteric practice. Poker in music, to my knowledge, features mainly in modern compositions, but there does not seem to be much possibility for its expression in sound. The more successful efforts are usually accompanied by video, and these are restricted to MTV clips. There are many songs which reference poker, but these offer mostly a half-hearted solace, composed by well meaning fans or even by poker pros that are not necessarily great with words or music.

Poker-inspired artwork in music that is the most significant that I am familiar with is The Card Party: Ballet in Three Deals which was first danced by Balanchine’s American Ballet Ensemble. It is one of the rarer curiosities poker admirers might want to see, with music by Stravinsky who also enjoyed poker as a pastime, it is more fanciful than accurate in representing the process of playing cards.

The most obvious example in painting form is Cassius Coolidge’s series of Dogs Playing Poker. Nineteen commercially oriented paintings using anthropomorphized dogs was the order in which these were a part of. It is not even the paintings which are iconic so much, these days, as the general concept of canines around a table in a dimly lit club smoking cigars.

In fact, many works of art tend to stylize poker and card games in general, blending them with fantastic themes. The most obvious example would be Alice in Wonderland. One of Alexander Pushkin’s most popular stories is The Queen of Spades which concerns a player desperate to learn a card trick he had heard about from a friend. The story begins as realism and culminates as a sort of card-game horror: the man is so desperate to learn the secret from the old widow guarding it that he threatens her with a pistol (unloaded), unintentionally causing her to die of fear. At the funeral, her corpse opens its eyes and glares at him; then her ghost visits him at his house and discloses the secret. In his first game afterwards the man doubles his possessions. He plays another, but though he knows he was holding an ace, somehow, he appears to have played a queen and lost everything. He is then committed to room 17 of an asylum, raving: Three, seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!. For the film buffs, there is a BAFTA-nominated 1949 British adaptation fantasy-horror adaptation of the story by Thorold Dickinson.

Though not necessarily more accurate, poker tends to be criminally realistic in film, from Cincinnati Kid to Rounders with Edward Norton and Matt Damon. Rounders did moderately in the box office but because of its decent depiction of the playing process it has become a cult film. Martin Scorsese gave us a memorable sequence in Casino, three years earlier, where by means of a hammer and De Niro’s poker-face threats a young pair of con poker players are expertly detected and deprived to cheat in any near future.

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