Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Arts and Sciences


This isn't about the arts and sciences themselves, but about being an officer in charge of the encouragement thereof. You don't need someone in this office who is a great artist, but someone who is a great officer. If someone couldn't be a good seneschal, he probably wouldn't make a good arts officer. A group that would fall apart for having a bad seneschal will probably survive a bad arts officer, but wouldn't you rather have a really great arts and sciences program in your group? People need information, example, encouragement, instruction, and attention. If you want better costumes in your shire or barony, which of these things would help most?

  • whining and complaining
  • bringing a costumer from out of town to do a workshop
  • shaming people
  • having prizes at every event for best new costume
  • giving trim and material away
  • giving costume books or patterns as gifts to newcomers, or officers, or as random door prizes
  • apologizing for the state of your group's garb
  • having show-and-tell arts meetings

Most people know already what won't help, but not everyone has thought of what will help.

How about this:

  • Prize For Best Costume Made For A Person Other Than Oneself or one's significant other.
  • Color Courts-The Barony of Caerthe (Denver) holds events with color themes. Since people make new costumes in that color, after a few years the most dedicated of them have a rainbow (plus black and white) of knockout costumes.

Have before-and-after shows. First or early costumes of pros, displayed beside their current finest. This will show people how far practice and observation can take a person. It could be used with armor, calligraphy, etc.

There is a section in the chapter on Royalty which deals with creativity. Please read it with arts and sciences projects in mind. Sometimes people in the Society are afraid to hurt someone's feelings by being too innovative. They look at what their predecessor did, at what the neighbors are doing, and they won't go much beyond that. Be brave. They're watching you, too.

Why are arts and sciences combined in some places and separate in others?

At one time, long ago, "arts" encompassed arts and sciences together. Then someone proposed that the sciences be separate, and was made corporate sciences officer. This was before good communications were standard in the Society, and so all over the Known World (all four kingdoms of it, I believe) people started to reason among themselves what the difference between arts and sciences must be. This reasoning turned to discussions, and some of the discussions turned into arguments. A few of the arguments turned into social brawls. Much was written, listed, and threatened concerning which specific areas of knowledge would be "owned" by which officer. There were science officers who would get angry because an arts officer reported on brewing. There were arts officers who resented there being sciences officers at all, and said everything was an art and the arts officer was doing all the work anyway. There were groups which already didn't have enough good officers to fill all the offices, so instead of having one bad officer they had to have two. Letters were written to seneschals saying "make your science officer report, and make your arts officer quit badmouthing your science officer." Not a season went by without a few pages in the newsletter (every newsletter, it seemed) being taken up by a debate over the difference between arts and sciences.

Since there was not one standard working definition in the entire SCA, and the guy who had started the whole sciences business had faded into the woodwork, I proposed to the board that Atenveldt be allowed to experiment with combining the office, and that if it worked out other groups be allowed to do it. The first time this came up in real-life public, I was princess of the Outlands (on a break from being Steward) and when the topic came up one of our principality officers was so angry at the very idea that we would so slight the arts and sciences that he stormed out of the meeting. (We're all still friends now.) I considered it to be a strengthening of the focus on arts and sciences to combine them, and to concentrate time on encouraging both of them, rather than fighting over what was which.

As time has passed, those areas which developed workable categories or definitions for arts and sciences are working well with separate officers, and those which never did are working well with them combined.

Corpora defines the offices this way: The Minister of Arts is responsible for fostering the study and utilization of historically accurate art forms, as well as those aspects of period culture related to their use. The Minister of Sciences is responsible for fostering the study of period technologies and philosophies, and their application to artifacts, both as used in the Society and as used in period. (VI.C.2.d-e)

I've heard the arts and sciences reports are all that keep our non-profit status.

That's a persistent bit of folklore which is based on a grain of truth and used to bully people into reporting every demo and workshop, even if the time spent reporting it is more effort than anyone put into the workshop. The SCA does need to show that it's providing educational activities, but perversions of this theme have been:

  • claims that every tournament or war has to have arts activities or we're not fulfilling our articles of incorporation
  • threats that if a group doesn't provide demos for non-SCA members they could lose their status
  • threats of lawsuits because people in a group were "just having fun" and not holding enough classes

That last one interests me a great deal, because I have been a teacher (and have been in school most of my life, as have most of us) and am a firm believer that things you learn while you're playing stick harder and longer than things you memorize out of a notebook you wrote in while someone was droning on.

Making a Viking apron per the instructions of one book, wearing it and finding that it was very impractical taught me more about that costume than reading five books. Other people were discovering the same thing all over the Society, comparing notes and ideas, looking at drawings, and figuring out that the slip of cloth down the front and back business just wasn't going to work. That was an educational activity.

When people make armor that looks like a picture and it pinches their arms, they learn something. When a shield made a certain way is too heavy to use, they learn. When they get hit where there's not much more than chain mail, they learn something that can't be learned out of a book. Being able to experiment with tactics with fifty real people with armor and weapons beats years of fantasizing, D&D and miniatures. That anyone could say that this is not educational is frightening to me.

The claim that we aren't being an educational organization if we're not doing demos is the insidious work of people who can't see the forest of our education for the trees which started as seedlings right here in the Society.

Here's What The Articles Of Incorporation State As The Purpose Of The Society:

  1. Research and education in the field of pre-17th-Century Western Culture.
  2. Generally, to engage in research; publish material of relevance and interest to the field of pre-17th-Century Western Culture; to present activities and events which re-create the environment of said era, such as, but not limited to, tournaments, jousts, fairs, dances, classes, et cetera; to acquire authentic or reproduced replicas of chattels representative of said area; and to collect a library.
  3. This corporation shall have and exercise all rights and powers conferred upon non-profit corporations under the laws of the State of California, provided that all activities shall be incidental to and in the furtherance of the purposes set forth in II.a and b. above.

The first part tells what we must do-we need to study and teach European Renaissance and medieval matters. The second part says that it's acceptable for us to have fairs, dances, etc, (which is more than just the feasts and tournaments generally described), and that we can spend our groups' money on swords, thrones, and banners, and on buying and printing books and magazines. The third part means, among other things which I couldn't tell you right off hand, that we can legally teach classes which are related to our area of study (calligraphy, dance) to the general public if we want, and charge money (which must go straight into the SCA's local account). We can be paid to do demos.


Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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