Artist as Protagonist

A recent episode of In Our Time focused on the Japanese artist Hokusai, and the discussion turned to Japan at the time and Hokusai’s place in both the artistic community and the politics of the time – he apparently had a good relationship with the Shogun. It made me think of the artist as a protagonist outside the changes to a nation or culture but who can be a lens to view that.

I’ve had a few false starts with these kinds of stories, originally inspired by the movie Painted Fire (Chi Hwa Sun – not See Uhn as the announcer in the trailer pronounces it). This was a movie by Im Kwon-Taek, who is the finest Korean director bar none in my opinion, and starring one of Korea’s greatest living actors, Choi Min-Sik. The difference was that while the character of Jang Seung-Up was also an entré character for the politics of that period, he did not have the self-awareness or the savvy of Hokusai – at least as the one is portrayed in the movie and the other in the podcast. I think both would be interesting, with Hokusai much more of an insider and Jang much more of a rebel.

Guy Gavriel Kay used this device in his Sarantine Mosaic duology – Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors – in which a mosaic artist is plucked out of the settings version of Italy following the fall of its Roman Empire and whisked away to Sarantium – the stand-in for Constantinople. Crispin, the artist-protagonist in this story, is a mixture of the two. He’s not as worldly as Hokusai and not as wild as Jang Seung-Up.

All that to say I think the device would be a lot of fun to play with, but I would need a story in which it could work. Further, I think the character could work really well in a story-centric RPG in which the artistic ability might be useful in some abstract way. Were I to play one, it would definitely be much more Jang Seung-Up, with a large helping of uncertainty and confusion that people actually care about what he’s producing.

By the way, on the day this is published (11 Apr 2017) there are still a few more days on the Sword’s Edge Kickstarter. Head on over an back it if you haven’t already. Thanks!

You can find the “Hokusai” episode of In Our Time here.

You can find information on Painted Fire here and the trailer here.

You can read about the Sarantine Mosaic here.

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