Thursday, December 15, 2016


I continue to stumble across posts about what a bard is or what a bard stands for ~ and sometimes I really feel that as a community we really ought to be past this now.

However, I think it is simply hard for people to wrap their heads around art being applicable to things.  We live in this strange, modern culture where art ~ at least, as we tend to see art ~ is a sort of distant happenstance that we use to fill up time when we are bored.

We're all so jaded ~ and for those who don't know what that word means, as I'm continually finding people now who don't, as the word has gone out of fashion, I'll explain.

To be "jaded" is to bored by the continual indulgence of something.  The word comes, not from the stone as some might imagine, but from a kind of horse ~ a cart horse, a horse that is worn out and good for nothing else.

So we do not, as a culture, go and see a movie any longer and walk away from it with our viewpoints changed or with our preconceptions shattered, as people felt once upon a time walking out of films like The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Graduate.  We get excited and hopped up about films that repeat precisely the same information as the film we was forty years ago, because we don't want those nostalgic, warm comforting things to ever, ever change.

Because we have moving pictures, we're barely aware of static art ~ unless it is porn.  We find ourselves in a museum every five to seven years, where we stare blandly at pictures for long, fruitless seconds before moving onto the next picture that fails to move us.  We're not caught up in such things; we need the picture to be lurid before it can conceivably shock or entice us, whereupon we either turn away or we fervently seek tens of thousands of like pictures, because a few is never enough to sustain our lust.  If the latter, then a single picture is lost in a sea, easily forgotten, easily deleted.

We cannot conceive of persons walking a thousand miles to stand in front of an image for hours, even every day for weeks, as they absorb and grow impassioned with every nuance of color, line or theme.  We cannot conceive of such persons changing their whole lives after such a viewing, becoming fervent believers, perhaps zealots, for a cause that now exists like a fire for them.  We never feel like that.  We mock those who, in this century, claim 'born again' status, knowing in our deepest, weary, contemptuous, cynical souls that such people must be deluded, deranged or merely stupid.

No rational person responds that way to words.  No rational person embraces ideas like that.  Rational people view coolly, then discard.

How can rational people find a place for a bard in a world that is mechanically designed with numbers, measurements, calculations and the very edge of living or dying on the knife's blade.  Bards?  Bards are for sissies.

It is nearly impossible for most people not to reshape the bard ~ or the 'artist' character ~ into something that would be relevant in our century, our technological framework.  The struggle is always to define how the bard measures up to the mage or the fighter, in clear, industrial terms.  A bard is a craft-making machine.  A bard is a communicator.  A bard is a pop star celebrity.

This last June and July, Dani Osterman worked on a month of posts relating to the bard in a hundred different ways, ending with this summation.  I'm still absorbing it.  Dani's take on the subject jumped me forward at least ten years of thinking on the subject; but I still haven't decided what to do with it ~ fit it into a sage table, somehow.  I've been deliberating on that for a week now.

I'm sure that the central key is not how the bard relates to the world, but how the world relates to the bard.  The onus is on the DM to presume the bard has talent . . . not for the player to be pushed into a place where they are supposed to invent talent that seems suitable to the game.  The art that a bard produces can be no more subject to the personal opinion of the DM or the other players (games where bards are expected to come up with poetry and actually sing it, because we're "role-playing") any more than a fighter has to justify the die roll associated with their sword.  It is the world that has to bend to bards having value, not the player to the world.

Measuring that, however, that gives room for passion and not just numbers and limitations, that's tremendously difficult.  I felt that Osterman was soooo close.  She may have it and I'm still damaged by so many arguments about the bard that I can't see clearly.  I know that building proper skills for my sage abilities won't be easy, nothing like as easy as they have been for other classes.  There's no metric in the real world for art having an effect on people . . . I think largely because by the time we began to develop behavioural metrics as a science, art had already begun its death spiral.

Yes, I said that.  We're all jaded, remember?  Whatever we say, I firmly believe that we're sliding into the same artistic dark age the Romans did; we're making the same mistakes, copying everything that is old, making it simpler, making it easier for the common people to understand, steadily rounding off all the edges and designing things so that they can be thrown together more quickly, more easily, more comfortably, even to the point of creating social mores that keep us from looking at anything that might "damage" our sensibilities, as if an ego can fall out of a tree and be crippled for life.

I don't worry, because it took three or four centuries for art to die completely ~ and it was helped along by a lot of really bad times brought about by a lot of really awful circumstances, far more awful than we can really imagine.  So this is a very, very, very slow spiral.  I won't see much change in it before I die.  Which is just fine.


Jonathon said...

This post is everything to me, for a couple of reasons. And I'm going to be going back over Osterman's blog because even just a quick glance is inspiring.

Experiencing great art, art that transports or transforms the audience, is what makes life interesting for me. I don't know that I agree with you that we're on an inevitable downward trend at this time - I think that there is still room for great art to be created and to move even large numbers of people, and I think that the very nature of that impact means that there is no such thing as a certain downward cultural spiral - but I can't argue against the idea that the increased commodification and commercialization of art has led to a dulling of edges.

While we're talking about the impact of the larger environment on art, by the by, something just occurred to me to throw out there for you: the effect of curation on art's impact. I was recently on a vacation in Prague, and the way that the national galleries there were arranged blew me away and made me view the art I was seeing very differently than I otherwise might have, providing context that I lacked but which deepened the experience for me considerably. Great works stand on their own, but sometimes - often? most always? - the audience can be given new appreciation by knowing more about what the artist is responding to (artistically, politically, religiously) or how the artist came to the process of creating it.

The second reason, of course, is that I've been pondering in the back of my head what Ibrahim really wants, and if that deep desire is to be the next Rumi then having mechanics that address the real effect of art on those who experience it, beyond in-the-moment bardic performance type mechanics, give me room to make that a reality if he can survive and gain enough experience.

Jonathon said...

I suppose that the fact that I am recently valuing curation and knowledgeable presentation of artistic works (and I am speaking of visual, verbal, audio, and all other works here) so highly might be evidence for the fact that artistic appreciation may be on the downswing - we're not expected to know the context for ourselves any more.

Even so, no one knows everything.

Hmm. Wondering now if there is a tension between art education and art curation; the more of one there is, the less the other is needed?

Tim said...

Jumping off what you said, Jonathon, I think great art has this incredible capacity for revisitation and reconsideration.

Any time I've ever visited my relatives in the Netherlands, inevitably there's a day where we go to a museum to see some Dutch Golden Age art, and as much as the process of viewing art has turned into this slog of tourist corpses being ground through a museum's hallways, occasionally I discover somewhere quiet or calm with a bit of space to contemplate things, even looking at art I've seen before. Suddenly, details pop up and colours shine differently, and there's a sudden transcendental experience of beauty from some new piece that didn't mean anything before, just thanks to the passage of time and experience.

It's also fascinating how little control we have over any of that interpretation: both as artists and as art viewers. What means something in one period will become distorted and adapted to suit new views or ideas, but art isn't prescriptive: it doesn't need to follow one person's interpretation. A bard creates something and then it runs wild and speaks for itself, and unless we establish organizations to keep that work alive (or, depending on your interpretation, comatose) it will live in the public consciousness, call attention to itself for some time and then eventually be forgotten until a new person (say a Neoclassicist) comes along and is struck by it in some new way.

kimbo said...

Your post brings to mind the Joyce thing of proper art (causing aesthtic arrest, silent pause in awe) in contrast to improper art (elliciting desire or disgust, and presumably jaded indifference).

One direction of game thought could be the short or long term affect (psychologically speaking) in indiviuals exposed to the artwork. Not just spell-like effects but transformational impact at a individual and community or group level. Perhaps in a similar way religious relics were percieved to have.
Inspiring, promoting, enhancing, eroding vilifying cultural practices or values. Attitude to authority, to quality of work, to other groups, to trade, religion, war.

If the artwork is powerful enough its affect resonates at different resolution to PC interactions, at societal level or somesuch.
Art (of the improper variety) as propaganda,
Or as conversion to some higher value.

(would a 1st level bard be more appropriately name a Hack)

Ps Alexis, are you aware of Jordan Peterson (clinical psychology prof Univ. Toronto)?
Has some good stuff on youtube. Maybe your cup of tea. Has created some controversy for standing up to bullying.

Dani Osterman said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Alexis.

As a musicologist, I am enmired in the discussion of how art interacts with people, and it's a complicated discussion.

And in this context, where we need mechanical representation of art's effects, the discussion gets weird. Or rather, it means that our worlds need to get deeper.

If we want to talk about art affecting national character, we need to have a systemic framework that represents that national character, discusses patriotism, counter-patriotism, identity politics, and accounts for the sub-altern. The mechanical effects of what I've presented are hamstrung by the lack of such a construct.

I think that kind of problem might be where the challenge lies, Alexis - rather than operationalize art, we need to operationalize a whole bunch of cultural and political values that art can then influence.

Also, I use she/her/hers as my pronouns. Thanks!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Pronouns corrected.

Mike said...

Hmmm Didn't realize there was still such confusion around the Bard. I believe the comparison to modern day art and artists is because that is what people know. Those who haven't read much history don't realize how important the oratory arts were, especially among the upper classes. Even amongst heroes, the Nordic peoples had a high respect for someone who could ad lib a poem. Not surprising as don't a lot of D&D Bard ideas really seem to be about the skald.

Archon said...

To be completely honest this doesn't ring true to me. The entire idea of fandoms, as they stand today seems to be exactly what you are talking about - people, dedicated, to a greater or lesser degree, to a work of art, and trying to understand and replicate or change or act on it. I think that there are plenty of people who still do those things, and just because they aren't doing them for paintings doesn't mean that art it dead. It just means paintings aren't fashionable or popular right now.

Many people are jaded, yes, but not everyone. And quite frankly, it seems to me that this was always the way. Was there really a time when people who cared about art and idealism really outnumbered those who just wanted to get the job done?

Maybe I've missed your point. If so, can you enlighten me?