Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Bard and Three Paths

I hope everyone wants to read about the bard for a while.  I'm going to be discussing Dani's content on the bard ~ not to disparage, but to tailor the information there for my world, specifically.  In general, this is what I expect everyone does with the content I create; I think it a healthy, useful way to apply ideas to a game world while at the same time personalizing our play.

As Dani did, I suppose I should talk about what music is like in the 1650s . . . but not the actual 1650s, she's completely right on those points and, being an expert, I don't dispute her points.  But my 1650 is not the real world, so I feel free to fudge on a lot of points.  This isn't new.  My world has no guns, though those were common in 1650.  My world also has knowledge of numerous chemical elements that were 'discovered' until the 1700s.  In fact, for chemistry, arguing that mages would be more diligent than their real-life, non-magical counterparts (and given that they're getting help from supernatural beings), I established the year 1800 as the measure for how far chemistry had progress (without, of course, allowing advances associated with gunpowder, munitions and other military sciences that I replace with magic).

We can, then, establish 1800 as the upper limit of musicology, also ~ and all the other arts besides.  Therefore, we can have the elevation of music to a supreme art form (at least, as near as Mozart gets, if not Beethoven) . . .  and at the same time, discount ballet as an option, since that did not really get started until after 1800.  I simply despise ballet, but we don't need to go into that now.

Like Dani, I feel we can propose three basic fields for music . . . and for many arts, both in and out of Europe:

  • The first path is, as Dani suggested, the folk performer.  These are creators who have as their primary audience the average groundling, as they were called in Shakespeare's day.  Being unsophisticated, artwork must be, for these people, a visceral experience ~ that is, affecting their inward feelings, essentially the 'gut.'  Artwork of this type can't be the sort that people have to think about in order to enjoy it.
  • The second path would be the contemplative performer.  These are creators who have as their primary audience themselves ~ and because of that sophistication, these are artists who would tend to produce something new.  Dani refers to this as the 'court-supported professional,' but many of these professionals had a great deal of trouble getting supported by a court and had to live in poverty and distress, hoping to find someone who would serve as a minor patron before a court would give any notice.  This kind of life is much easier in Arabia, Persia, India and Indo-China, as the climate and the institutionalization of begging in both the religion and the vast numbers of poor mean that an artist can more easily live a subsistance lifestyle than in Europe (or Japan and Northern China, for that matter).  In any case, the second path is naturally investigatory and intellectually compelling, as the artist is rarely satisfied with things that are purely gut-wrenching.
  • Finally, the third path is religious.  Not in the sense, I think, that Dani described. J.S. Bach and many others were something more than merely good church musicians, they were also deeply impassioned about their belief systems, being nearly clerics in their fervor or zeal.  Certainly this can be argued vehemently for many Eastern artists, who fanatically continue into this century to pursue fanatical artistic expression on a level that leaves the ordinary Westerner positively baffled:  .  Bards on this path have as their primary audience the gods ~ who do not mind that the art being created is fleeting, numbingly repetitive or obscure in the extreme.

I have been thinking that a bard needs to determine their primary artistic expression.  In retrospect, however, the choice of audience is critical for the artist to be expressive ~ and in determining what is the nature of that expression.  Furthermore, the effects of the art produced must also descend from the choice of audience, knowing that what can be done to move a group of patrons at the local roadhouse is quite a bit different from what can be expected to move the gods.


Aleksandra Ivanovna said...

This is excellent. This solves the medium-specific problems I am wrangling with right now. Perfect. Stolen.

Jonathon said...

I think the question of audience for the third category of bards might end up being complicated. An artist can be creating art to glorify god and directing it at a mortal audience - art as proselytization or as religious instruction. Do you think that's a meaningful distinction, or do you feel the primary audience would still be the gods in that situation (as the art is, if it is to do its job, still meant to celebrate/describe/glorify them?)

Alexis Smolensk said...


It is an interesting question. I want to send you at a fellow named John Romer, an archeologist who turned a documentary star in the 80s and 90s. His approach to the art-as-religious-purpose is covered excellently in his Testament series (found in 28 pieces on youtube) and in part by his fully available Byzantium, the Lost Empire. You can spend a lot of time with those two if you have the interest.

Fundamentally, the religiously motivated creator strives to produce as Religiously Precise an artwork as can be managed, encouraged by the knowledge that once the work is created, the work's affect upon all others will come from the 'truth' that is depicted. In making Crecy Cathedral, for example, we're not making the "artist's impression," but a rendition of God's Word, made manifest in stone. No image, no brick, no space in the cathedral is left to the artist's whim; it is all carefully measured and obtained from outside the artist ~ with a sense of spiritual guidance than inspiration, in the way that the Bible is described as having been written by God through the hand of man. In game terms, then, the religiously motivated artist is seeking revelation, the divine disclosure that calls for some creation to be brought into existence.

How to play this? Not sure, yet. But I feel that from the sources I quoted, I could begin to build a set of amateur abilities to start, then elaborate upon them.

Alexis Smolensk said...

effect, not affect. jeez.

kimbo said...

Alexis, in your world are there places of natural power, or being sacred or holy not necessarily referenced to religion?

Perhaps the 3rd category of artist seeks to (or in effect) create such a space through connection to some divine/infernal source, via the artwork and the interactions between viewer/listener and artwork. Artist experiencing part of the divine in its creation. And the divine being experiencing something during interaction between art and human.


Alexis Smolensk said...


I think I'd have to argue that it was a combination of clerics, druids, bards and the intended agenda of the gods that make places of "natural" power. At some point, we can imagine that the field of Stonehenge is simply a field . . . but a god produces a revelation in the soul of one being, who proceeds to lay the groundwork for a place of power that, a thousand years later, will seem to have a "natural" existence.

I don't want to step on your phrasing, but where you say "the artist seeks to create such a space" you're off the mark. The religious artist seeks to OBEY; the GOD seeks, not the artist. The artist is ordered, the artist then performs, technically not creating but rather rendering something that already exists, perhaps in another plane of existence, perhaps only in the God's mind. Artists who "seek to create" are those of the first and second paths.

Jonathon said...


Thank you for the links! Looks very interesting, and I'll be digging into those over the next few days.

kimbo said...

Ah yes, the essential distinction i agree. I would imagine such an artist not necessarily realising what they are creating until its done if even then.
Something else ... what would the effects on the artist be in the completion/performance of the art?

Thank you for these post btw. Thought provoking.


Mike said...

Excellent ideas!

I believe bards get short shrift in most games. Bards ARE the social media of their time. They are Radio, TV, Movie and Internet combined. A Savvy ruler uses, bread, circus and bard. :) So to churches. Even if you have monotheism, churches are going to compete for worshipers and prestige. The first type seem to me like present day rock stars, the second more akin to obsessed movie makers.

I can see each type adventuring for their own reasons, the first as a roustabout, looking for coin and good times, and those adventures make for great songs. Also chicks dig it. I can see this Bard having the more fighting and thieving skills.

The second, in pursuit of the perfect song, the perfect ballad, one must have direct experience of epic deeds. Adventure as the necessary grist and suffering for art. I can see this Bard as having more attunement to the magical side, as they believe that music in its highest form is true magic. They want a song that is not just enchanting or conjures visions of another place in the intellectual sense, but the actual sense as an Enchantment spell (e.g. pied piper) or Illusion spell.

The last type, art in the greater glory of god. That one's harder. I can see these types also pursuing magic, but more the kind that can soothe the savage beast as well as as adulation that bestows blessings upon the worshipers. This type might adventure more in the service of some religious goal or to bring comfort and support to those who do so. They may also view themselves as missionaries, smiting their foes and spreading the message through their song. Not better way to convert (or secure donations to the church) than through song to a grateful populace.

Alexis Smolensk said...

The problem, Mike, is that you've described three adventures ~ and all three that give the fighter, the mage and the monk nothing to do. This is D&D. We make thousands of different adventures, not three, and we make PARTY adventures, not single-class adventures.

Whatever a bard is, it has to dovetail with the other classes ~ and we have to think of the bard that way. The reason the bard gets short shrift in adventuring is because people running the bard approach it as you just have: me me me me me me me. That's how those three adventures you describe strike me.

Moreover, as an artist myself, I can assure you that no art is ever "pursued." The work is conceived, then it is worked on and worked on, for a long time, with much misery and doubt, until it is done. The perfect song isn't "out there," it is found inside ~ it doesn't require adventuring, it requires time, effort and faith. It can be done on a bar stool as easily ~ or with as much difficulty ~ as upon the mouth of a volcano.

The trouble that bards face isn't the perfect song (or art of whatever design), but the MONEY to make it happen. Funny, that's the same motivation the ranger has, the illusionist has and the assassin has.