Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Are Roleplaying Games...Art? Part 1 - Exposing My Bias

I admit I'm biased on the topic: Are RPGs... Art?

I grew up in a house submerged in Art. My parents constantly exposed my sister and I to theater, museums, opera, ballet, sympathies, etc. I grew up around all types of fine art.

My dad was an art teacher. He started with teaching art at San Francisco State, but after his 40+ career had taught every grade from kindergarden to college seniors. I learned calligraphy before I was taught cursive in school. I was throwing clay pots on a wheel before I was trusted in most stores to handle anything expensive. He has a love for the finer things in life, and for him art is definitely a part of that.

My mom was no slouch. My mom taught elementary school for 40+ years - though she had almost majored in architecture. Where she really shines is spending the last 10 years of her career in the CA Dept of Education, as the arts consultant and an arts advocate. She passionately pushed an agenda for the Arts to be put back into schools. Her platform:
  1. for those people focused with STEM and standards testing - students with the Arts in their curriculum routinely tested higher than those without the arts and STEM should be rebranded as STEAM
  2. for those concerned with mental and emotional health - those students with the arts in their curriculum routinely showed less issues of discipline and exhibiting depression 
  3. tied Arts curriculum to economic results by bringing in professionals - from scientists and engineers at Microsoft and Google to entertainers and artists from Hollywood and studios such as Lucasfilm and Pixar, all advocating how important creative thinking and the arts are to their industries
  4. worked to establish comprehensive standards for Visual Art, Music, Theatre, and Dance to have the arts be as rigorous a course of study as math, reading, and science
  5. Arts Education means having teachers in the school teaching the arts as a scope-and-sequential curriculum with possible support from artists in the community throughout the year, rather than ONLY visits by artists from the community for a few weeks out of the year
Beyond establishing WHY the arts were important and what the arts needed to do to be taken seriously as stated above, my mom constantly felt like she had the conversation on "WHAT is art?"

My mom loved using this definition:
“Art is not a thing — it is a way.” Elbert Hubbard,  Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers (my mom would pull a quote from a book about teachers).

Maybe it was rebellion against my fine arts upbringing, but as I developed my own aesthetic my own tastes ran extremely pop, low-brow, and geek. My own art expressions were decided more modern and of the street. I love comics and movies. I still read comics electronically today, and I'm such a movie-whore that I have no problem going to see a flick by myself. I feel like we are currently living in a Golden Age of Geek for entertainment. In Sacramento CA in my twenties I ran a "street" gallery in a warehouse showcasing graffiti and found-art artists, with noise bands during shows (where I also lived in the office section without heat and a shower converted from a toilet).

I also consider myself as an artist in several mediums. Most of my energy goes into the visual arts. My favorite is illustrations. I've sculpted, painted murals, and freelanced in graphic design and layout. For writing, I've written poetry since puberty and participated in lots of spoken word open mics. I've had short stories published in local papers. I love to write, and feel its emotionally cathartic. I've acted in theater. I did double time as both crew and cast in plays throughout high school and into my twenties. I've designed and built play sets. I did dabble in music, yet haven't played the piano or sang in a choir for over a decade. Don't ask me to dance. I enjoy dance, but you might not enjoy watching me do it.

And I roleplayed a lot from 11 years old to now some almost 30 years later. Roleplaying for me has scratched the same creative itch I have with acting and writing.

My aesthetic and roleplaying has always confused my parents. But what has helped is my ability to explain Art and what makes it relatable. The person might not agree, but they usually at least end up respecting the work. What I think is one of my strengths is not my own artistic tastes or endeavors, but the fact that I can usually articulate WHY something is art, even something I do not like myself. And since I do not usually give enough credit usually to where credit is due - this is largely because of my fine art up-bringing by my art teacher dad and my art advocate mom.

So I have a VERY positive relationship with art. Art is something that I find very familiar, comfortable, and a large part of my self identity. It might be my bias, but probably due to my background, it feels natural to look at RPGs as art.

It might be my bias but I can't wrap my mind around people who flat out claim that RPGS are NOT Art. It is hard for me to not react with the feelings that there are one of three possibilities:
  • they are simply anti-art, do not have a positive relationship with Art, and calling RPGs art puts a bad taste in their mouth - it's an emotional defense reaction
  • they are anti-intellectual and feel like calling RPGs art is putting on airs - it's a cultural defense reaction
  • they do not have the same definition for art as I do, thus why they do not see rpgs as art - it's an intellectual response
I am hoping by writing these blogs, people will come forth and shed some light on why they do not consider RPGs art.

And that gets us to our next post:

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