The Virtual Salon

All this talk about Salons and blogs got me thinking about the role of virtual worlds in all of this. Ultimately, most of the learning that occurs in virtual worlds is informal and social in nature; people from different cultures and backgrounds with a common goal, idea, etc. get together and talk. Apart from the fact that you are interacting with an avatar as an avatar, the interaction itself is very similar to everyday learning in RL. In the same way that Salons of the enlightenment were dubbed “informal universities for women,” virtual worlds are well poised to become “informal universities for everyone.”

Une soiree chez Madame Geoffrin, 1755


For example, I am always amazed to meet people in SL who have learned English solely by interacting and communicating with others in the virtual environment. Also, many artists in SL have no formal art training in RL or even consider themselves to be artists in RL. I have also found that virtual world communities can act as communities of practice, where an expert scripter will volunteer his/her expertize to other members of the group by teaching them new skills and/or by directly contributing to their project. What is interesting, and highly relevant, in my opinion, to the objective of this blog, is how our virtual identities bleed into RL to transform our RL cognitive structures. While the face of the Salon of yore has drastically changed, the concept has not. As social creatures, we continue to seek understanding and knowledge through informal, social means. What do you all think? How do you think you all learn in and from virtual worlds?


Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

15 thoughts on “The Virtual Salon

  1. I have always felt this too. A couple years ago I was going to write my Thesis in Art History comparing SL to Paris of the 1920’s and Gertrude Stein’s Salons. Instead I got my degree in Studio art and eventually did an installation performance in RL/SL of the same idea. There is a video of it filmed and edited by Draxtor

    I really enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing!

      1. Awww thanks Vaneeesa. Yea it was a lot of work. Took months to put it together. Then it was over and now I am lost…LOL Well kinda. I am going to do another RL/SL performance with Gracie/Kris in a couple weeks. It is more personal but I think is important in the idea of identity. I will let you know the specifics when I get them worked out 🙂 Thanks for a great blog. Very relevant and important posts!

        1. NO WAY! First off, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of your work. I’ve never gotten the nerve to IM you in SL, but I want you to know that your 1000 avatar project was an inspiration to me and gave me the focus I needed for my dissertation. Secondly, I love Gertrude Stein and have been toying with the idea of writing a blog entry on her and her version of the “salon” (which, in my opinion, resembles the Salon-as- blog much more than the Salons of the enlightenment). If anything, I’m glad I agreed to Vaneeesa’s offer to put my stuff out there only to have had the opportunity to chat with you! Keep up the excellent work; you’re an inspiration to us all!!!!!!

          1. Thank you so much Kat!!! I would love to check out your dissertation when you are ready to share it 🙂 And definitely friend me in SL. I haven’t been in as much lately but am still doing the art thing there. I am also on FB if you are there, I use my RL account for SL too, Kristine Schomaker. I follow Vaneeesa’s amazing adventures there also 🙂 Especially as pertains to performance art and the artworld. I love to keep in contact with all the wonderful ideas inspired by virtual worlds and art in general. You guys who are the writers are the inspirational ones. I wish I could write like you…LOL I guess we all have our own outlets of self expression. But I am definitely envious of the talent that you have. Sometimes I think of going back to school. But then I rethink that and say Nah. I need to get a life…LOL Have a great week!! Hope to catch up with you soon!!

            1. Thanks so much Kris!!!!!! Trust me, you have nothing to envy :). If you ever have the time, I would love to interview you for my dissertation, especially seeing how your projects on identity in SL relate to my topic. Have a great week as well!

              1. Oh wow, I would love to help with your dissertation. I am free all day tomorrow, Wednesday the 4th if you are free. Or I’ll actually be home today after about 7pm slt. Not sure where you are located. My email is Let me know what is good 🙂 Have a great day!

                1. YAY!!!!!!! I can’t tonight, but tomorrow sounds good – let me know what time works best for you. BTW – I’m in Florida 🙂

    1. I just created the time to watch this vid and it is really wonderful. I love the basic notion of Paris in the 20s. well done, beautiful.

  2. An insightful and very “meta” post Kathleen. Yes, I agree on all the informal learning ideas, and I’m fascinated by your idea of “artists” who never thought (or dared) to be one IRL, but now experiment ISL.

    Is the “art” of Photoshop any of the many things people do with it? Or is it in creating the platform itself that will then play out in myriad, often unexpected, permutations?

    Is the “art” of chess the fun in the park or Fischer or Kasparov? Or is it in writing the rules of the game and then letting them play out in a billion different experiences?

    When you enter Second Life and make something, who is the artist? The typist? The avatar? Philip Rosedale?

    As Joline Blais & Jon Ippolito so incisively ask in their book At The Edge of Art, when you break the rules of the city, by following the rules (game design) of Tony Hawk Pro Skater or Grand Theft Auto, are you a transgressor? Or a conformist?

    And please tell me I didn’t just call SaveMe Oh an insightful artist again.

    1. I agree with you Vanessa. And you ask a lot of great questions. Here’s just one little thing I want to introduce into this. I know a woman who is a mother, studying to become a social worker in real life and while she loves music, she isn’t a DJ. Her real life is hectic but she’s been DJ’ing for over five years and she’s good at it.

      Once we were talking about guys who come to SL with big, moose avatars and say “I’m the same as I am in RL”. We laughed because we knew a couple of them IRL, and I said it’s just role play. She agreed but when I asked if she considered that she’s role playing a DJ, she was very upset. To her, she was a DJ.

      My friend might be good at it IRL, but a lot of people in SL find confidence to do things they are afraid to do IRL.

  3. I like the question “How do you… think you learn in and from virtual world?”

    I’ve seen people change in Second Life for the good. And I’ve been told by several people those good change carry into real life. The reverse is true but the magnitude is even greater I think. This is all subjective but I’ve experienced these changes with people I’ve been close to.

    The thing about Second Life that transformed me was the sense that I could leave real life baggage behind. When I was a mid-level technology exec, I lived a life with little time for anything but the job. SL gave me a chance to leave all that behind and just be a woman, and even just be a girl again. In fact, I know a lot of people who feel like they are back in high school.

    So, what could possibly be the point in this? I know I enjoy the opportunity to be free of all the burdens of real life and while that may not be the universal experience, it is there for many.

    And why do we learn? I believe most people believe they are good and they feel their environments make them something they aren’t. In Second Life, people can role play (don’t ever try to tell them that’s what they are doing, btw) the kind of life that lets them be who they believe they are. So, back to my original point, this can have a very positive effect on them in their real life. This is anecdotal and process is a mystery to me, but I have seen these things happen.

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