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Society and Art: Using Anthropology of Art for Worldbuilding Sci-Fi and Fantasy

July 6, 2017

 

 

An old gnome sits back in his rocking chair. His eyes are closed. The sound which many other people dub 'bellowing' comes from his gnome radio. “Pha!” he dismisses. “That's true art!”

 

Continuing in the series about using Anthropology to worldbuild, today I'd like to focus on the anthropology of art, the artists and the art forms of your culture.

 

Art is creative expression. Society and culture may put more or less emphasis on art and their artists. Even those who are considered 'highly cultured' may value certain forms of art over others.

 

For instance, in Japan they produce lovely paintings and this art can be found in elaborate tattoos on certain individuals. They're frowned upon, seen as symbols of crime but were the same art produced on a canvas, it'd be praised for it's intricacy.

 

Cultural Aesthetics

 

What one person considers beautiful and another ugly can have a lot to do with culture. People can deviate from what the rest of society likes or dislikes but many cultures tend towards a particular look, sound, etc. When we listen to certain songs, words and language notwithstanding, you can often pin-point, “Oh, that sounds like Middle Eastern music.”

 

So one thing to give flavor to your world might be to get some idea of what kind of music the culture gravitate towards? Do your werewolves like howling death metal? On the same token, what don't they like? How would an outsider describe their art styles?

 

Art Support

 

Some societies think of art as a waste of time, something rich people with nothing better do. Before the Yuan Dynasty of China, artists weren't considered as highly as they were during and after, creating an artistic boom. What changed? Mongols were in charge during the Yuan Dynasty and they brought with them an appreciation and art from all over their massive empire. Artists were supported and coveted.

 

Some governments prize their artists. They pay for writers to write instead of it being considered a wasteful hobby.

 

Your culture in your worlds may prize certain kinds of art and artists over others. They may also have varying degrees of how much support they provide artists. Do they treasure them and not make them have to work other jobs, or is it something they do on their own?

 

The Taboo

 

Some artists love to push the boundaries, force others to think, to question themselves. These are the fringe artists, the Japanese Tattoo artists, the death metal singers, the potters who sculpt upside down. (Livin' on the edge there. Thought I'd throw a crazy example in.)

One question that might help define what's popular is to figure out what kind of art is taboo and why.

 

There are also unspoken cultural connotations with artistic elements. Black, in American culture, is usually seen as dark, negative, bad luck, sometimes representing evil. This may not be the case for your culture. Maybe they bleed green and see that as the color for darkness and evil because it reminds them of blood.

 

 

Questions:

 

Describe the kind of music that would be considered 'popular' by your culture's standards?

Are there certain colors that are preferred?

What art is considered edgy and/or taboo?

Why is it considered edgy/taboo?

Are there colors that are avoided?

What would your culture think of your music?

Does the government support artists?

Are certain artists considered more important than others?

What kind of artists are considered the celebrities of your culture?

 

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