Sister Karia pulled back the riffler from the stone, standing back. She was almost done. Sweat dripped down her neck and back in what felt like streams but her hands were dry, the tools sure in her hands. The statue stood before the priestess, chunks and shards of white marble littering the floor around the goddess.
It wasn’t the Goddess of course. Just a representation of her, carved into white marble. Sister Karia had travelled to the Ayilkin Barony to pick out the piece of marble to be used, touched the great white slabs excavated from the earth. When she laid her hand upon the piece of marble just brought up the day before, she knew it was the one. Carefully they had loaded the block onto a cart and she and the other priestesses had brought it back to the Temple of Holy Mystery and set it up in her workshop.
For the better part of the season Karia had worked on the sculpture, alternating between her duties to the younger students, teaching them the history of the representation of the Goddess in the Valley. A few icons and sculptures had been brought from Haran when the church had split all those generations ago but most of the representations of the Goddess in the Valley were made here, with the Valley’s fiber, wood, stone and metal. Karia had studied and researched the evolution of the Sacred Daughter in the art of the Holy Family and how it it had changed during the War of the Four Sects, the changes in the instruments used at the altar, the differences in how the Goddess was represented. No longer was a small, jeweled cup used to represent her at the table, but a large chalice or bowl, carved in alabaster, silver or marble, all by itself.
Sister Karia had made chalices as a younger priestess but now she felt called to make the statues that graced the temples. This was her third, and easily her best. The folds in her garments looked like they would sway in the breeze if someone opened the door and the veil the Blessed Mother wore over her wavy hair looked sheer, though it was made of the same material as the rest of the statue. The Goddess’ serene face gazed down at an angle Karia knew would have her looking over the congregation once it was set up in the temple. The hands seemed warm and inviting. Sister Pia of Tyeskin was sending the cloth that would be draped over the carefully crafted hands, dark fabric embroidered with sacred symbols, lines of holy text. And then the stone goddess would be set up in the temple.
But for now she was here and she seemed so…alive. Karia stepped back and stared up at what her hands had just made, her heart swelling with emotion. For a breath, Kiala felt as if the Goddess herself was standing in her workshop with her, smiling mysteriously at her. Karia placed both her hands over her heart and thanked the Goddess for the opportunity to bring Her beauty into the world and to her people.
It’s such a short word in many languages. Yet it’s such a big idea.
One of my favourite things to do when I’m back in New York City is visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a little kid my school often took our class on field trips there and as an adult, I still love it. I love the Japanese garden, the Classical statues of Rome and Greece, the Medieval icons, the suits of armour. But my favourite will always be the Ancient Egypt exhibit. Seeing the sarcophagi, the funerary dolls, busts of individuals long gone, walking into the tomb. Rows of hieroglyphics impeccably painted onto walls. Jars filled with things ranging from carefully crafted perfume oils to the organs of a long-dead king.
The skill executed so long ago in the name of beauty. Whether it was made for religious reasons, personal reasons, paid for by a patron, meant to commemorate an important event. Whether it hung on a wall, stood in an atrium, graced a temple, played over a crowd, held liquid or helped keep a room warm while telling the history of the people. Art is one, huge idea but has been used for many reasons over the years. Some people think art that falls under the utilitarian scope are ‘crafts’ but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any less skill or time.
Art is an important part of culture. There are so many different kinds of art, so many mediums. It captures our senses, tells us about the people who made it and can evoke emotion from us, telling us about ourselves.
Art is a HUGE subject to talk about. I can’t even get into all the issues, intricacies and controversies surrounding, permeating and making art. Which is why it is perfect fodder for gaming. From the architecture of a sprawling temple to the great stone monuments of the country’s leader, to the songs people sang as they washed clothes. These are all the little touches that make life less boring, enriching life. Art and imagination go hand in hand, with imagination comes possibility and hope for the future. Art lasts longer than its makers frequently, a type of permanence beyond genetic copying and pasting. Non-biological extending of the self into one’s environment.
So why leave it out of your campaign?
The making, displaying and finding of art provides ample opportunity for GMs and PCs to explore cultures and get into lots of trouble. Every art object in a museum was found and brought back (or stolen from, depending on who you ask), every piece has a story, every design was influenced by something else. All the game’s a stage and all the PCs merely players…
- What is considered ‘art’ in this culture? What mediums are acceptable? Widely used?
- Is the art made also utilitarian? Or is it for display only? A mixture of the two?
- Is there a distinction between ‘folk’ art and ‘fine’ art?
- Who makes art? How are artists seen by the population? Is being an artist a ‘profession’ or is it something people do alongside other things?
- Who trains artists? Are there schools for art? Is it taught by important members of society? The most qualified and talented?
- Is there a view that art takes talent or that it is something to be learned through practice?
- Is art tied to any other aspects of the culture? Religion? Beliefs? Politics?
- Do people collect art? Where do they house their collections? What kind of art is worth collecting?
- What is considered beautiful? Are bodies portrayed realistically or symbolically in art?
- What kinds of symbols and motifs are used in art that the people of this time and culture would understand? How have these symbols evolved over the years?
- The PCs are sent to recover art pieces stolen from their temples during religious wars several decades ago. With only a few clues as to where the important pieces might be, they must travel through a foreign country in order to retrieve them. Who sends the PCs to retrieve the pieces? Does the government of one or both countries know about their mission? Who is supporting them? Who is against them? Where are these pieces located? In private collections? Museums? Locked away in church vaults? Accessible only to royalty?
- When a substance used to make traditional art in the PCs’s culture is found to be a key ingredient in something the population at large would pay money for, organizations and individuals more powerful than their village can handle swoop down to take what they can. The PCs must protect the supply that they have and try to convince those who want what they have to go elsewhere or at least not harvest it into extinction. What is the substance? What do the PCs use it for? What do the outsiders want to use it for? Does everyone in the village feel the substance should be honored and protected? Are those coming in to take it aware of the significance of the substance?
- When a plague sweeps through the countryside, the local church vows to construct a monument of great size in honor of the deities if they are spared. When their region is miraculously spared, the village must make good on their oaths and the PCs are recruited to gather supplies and encourage other people to assist in the building of this future wonder. What kind of monument is to be built? What temple specifically made the vow and what does their deity represent? What kinds of supplies are needed? How do villages that suffered the through the plague feel about this? What are the consequences if they do not succeed?
- When a local artists wishes to honor the PCs for their exploits, they ask them to sit for an art piece. The manner of the piece means they will have to be available to model for quite some time, taking them away from their adventures. The PCs must deal with staying in one location for longer than they’re used to. What is the town, village or city like? What kinds of things do they get into while they are bound to the town? Is the artist easy to work with? What would it mean to be preserved in a piece of art like this? What kinds of things are they missing out on by taking on this opportunity?
- While packing up the famous lacework of a deceased lace maker for an exhibit, one of the PCs discovers a cache of strange art objects hidden among the belongings. Unlike anything made in their region, a very sparse diary implies the objects were found by the now deceased and that better records and more art objects are stashed elsewhere. If they can decipher the clues, the PCs can have it all. What are the hidden objects? Why did the lace maker hide them? Are the PCs related to the lace maker in any way? Does the life implied by the journals match up with the one known by the public? Why did the lace maker hide the clues? What were they hoping to accomplish by hiding these things?
- Every winter solstice the main temple of the country holds a contest for the funniest play in the hopes of drawing the sun back to the sky with the laughter of humans. The PCs are all actors in one of the plays and must deal with competing actors, being away from home, writers under pressure and churches hoping to win the big prize. What is the big prize? Do the PC have anything to gain from the contest? What are the other actors like? Does the competition go beyond what happens onstage?
- When the head of the government commissions an art piece to be made by the most skilled artist in the land, they are horrified when the finished piece is revealed. The PCs are sent to find the now missing artist and bring them back, presumably to be thrown in jail for crimes against the leader. When the artist is found, they claim no malice. What are their reasons for presenting the head of the government with such a controversial piece of art? Do the PCs bring them back? Where do their sympathies lie? What is controversial about the piece of art?
- When their people and culture are being forced from their land, the PCs must protect an individual who holds the secrets to one of their cultural arts and their few students. What is the cultural art that is dying out? Why are their people being forced out and where are they running to? What will it mean if this cultural art dies out?
- Are you an artist? What kind of art do you make? Do you consider it art or is it considered art by others?
- How do you feel about art? Folk art? Fine art?
- Do you have a favourite artist or piece of art?
- Do you find looking at art to be edifying or culturally important? Or a waste of time?
- Are there forms of art you find to be ‘less than’?
- Do you try to understand the art of other cultures or time periods?
- Do you consider art to be valuable? Would you ever accept payment in art? What kind of art would be acceptable payment?
- Do you think ancient art artifacts belong in museums or should they be allowed to remain where they’re unearthed?
- What do you think the imagination is? Is it divine? Species specific? Only expressed through certain mediums? A bunch of nonsense?
What say you? And while we’re on the subject of art, guess what?
I’ve got an announcement to make, kind of related to art. You can check it out HERE.