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.