Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Art and Roleplaying (Part Two)

Let's start by defining our terms, shall we?

I'm sure there are dictionaries out there with very clever and concise definitions of what Art is, but I'm going to stick with my personal definition of the term and leave the finer points to the pedants. This way, you know what I'm  talking about when I say Art. 

For me, Art encompasses several things:
  • Craftsmanship. The very word "art" suggests not just craft, but fine craftsmanship (which is why I think a lot of people are intimidated by the word in the first place). The work must show some knowledge of what constitutes proper technique in its construction, although we can leave aside considerations of what is "good" at this point. This implicitly includes knowledge of the field to which the work belongs -- that is, a novel should show that the novelist understands what a novel is expected to include and acknowledge these expectations, comment on, or subvert them in some way. 
  • Content. The work should be about something, with a layer of meaning that is implied by its surface but not explicitly spelled-out.
  • Audience. For it to be art at all, the work must be intended for an implied audience. 
I think that in defining art, as I have noted above, you must leave aside considerations of whether the art is "good", because these things are by their nature subjective and changing. And it's worth mentioning that there are things which meet the definition of art without a notion of longevity -- art does not need to be immortal or part of some vague notion of "canon" to be art. Many things that are unquestionably art -- dance, theatre, and some kinds of visual arts -- are intended to be experiences that are constrained in time and place. If you weren't there, you might not be able to say whether something was Art or not, but your non-participation doesn't mean the Art did not exist in its moment in time. 

Aside: Is a play (or, say, sheet music) Art on its own, without the performance to breathe life into it? Certainly; but it's a different thing than the performance of the same piece, which includes not just the "voice" of the original creator but the other artist-participants (dancers, actors) involved in bringing it to life. You can certainly take it on its own merits, but performance Art comes to life on the stage. 

Notice that the audience is a requirement of art - at least for me. At its heart, Art is all about communication and sharing with other people. The majority of Art, I would argue, is about the artist sharing their ideas with the entire world and not a narrow audience of intelligensia -- even if one doesn't pick up every nuance of meaning in the dialogue, Shakespeare is something that anyone can understand. Romance and murder most foul and dirty jokes are pretty much familiar to every human being on the planet. Good Art is accessible because it is designed to be shared, and while some Art may be more challenging than others, it is not meant for exclusivity. Art is, as some have observed of roleplaying, a conversation between the artist and the audience.

So what does this mean for roleplaying?

To be continued...

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