Okay, a controversial choice.
First, let's get this part out of the way. Is the above painting immoral, misogynistic, pornographic, inappropriate for teenagers (or anyone) or any other bad thing? For the purposes of this post and the following one or two posts I don't know and I don't care. Tonight and for the next few days I'm not interested in the probity of this piece. I'm just not. If that attitude itself annoys--if you think that that in and of itself places me on a particular 'side' or whatever, then go away. Go away right now.
If you're still with me, then let's proceed. The painting appeared on the cover of Eldritch Wizardry, published in 1976--the third and last of the 'regular' supplements to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
It was drawn by Deborah Larson. Who was she? No one seems to know. As far as anyone is aware she didn't do anything else for TSR before or since. None of the contemporary sources that I'm familiar with knows anything else about her, including whether she is currently alive or dead.
If anyone out there has any additional information on the artist, it would of course be welcome.
So, in this Friday post I want to make one basic observation about the piece and how it relates to 'OSR' art, as well as comparing it to contemporary 'establishment' (read: Hasbro) Dungeons & Dragons art. I may make a few other points in the following days.
Look closely at the painting. What is one of the things (perhaps the one thing) that most stands out about it? Think hard.
The central figure is wearing no clothes.
(See, this is why you read this blog--for the incredibly incisive, deep, spot-on and smart analysis that you can get nowhere else.)
But here's a serious point. Pre-3e Dungeons & Dragons art was crammed with art that featured completely unclothed people, as well as three-quarter unclothed people and half-unclothed people. There was a lot of nudity, virtual nudity or partial nudity.
Here are some examples:
|1978 1e Players Handbook: Shirtless Thief|
|The cover of the 1979 1e Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide:|
An almost naked Balrog clutches an almost naked woman.
|1989 2e Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 40: AC 9 Magic-User|
This phenomenon was partly due to the pulp roots of the game. But that's not all there is to it, as I'll explain in a moment.
Let's jump ahead to 2014. In the recently released 5th edition Players Handbook I counted 142 illustrations of player character types. Of those 142, here's the tally of, so to speak, visible body parts or sums of body parts, as it were:
Naked people: 0
Mostly naked people: 0
Half naked people: 1 (This was an extremely small representation of a shirtless Conan type attacking a Fire Giant or some such. The figure was so small I almost missed him. We only see him from the back.)
Bare chests: 0
Bare lower legs: 0 (I think)
Bare upper legs: 0
Bare shoulders: 2
Bare biceps: 1.5
Belly buttons: 1
Bare midriffs (without belly buttons): 1
Bare feet: 0
Knees: 1 (I think)
Bare elbows: Oh, I don't know, 3 or 4, if that.
Here's a typical example:
|A Well-Covered 5e Character|
That's really weird.
Is that a rejection of the pulp roots of fantasy? Of course. But it's also a rejection of 2,000+ years of Western art. Art is often about people. People usually inhabit, well, bodies. Therefore, bodies are often the subject of art. I'm not talking about sex per se here. I'm just taking about life. Bodies (sometimes partially, or more than partially unclothed) are, from the point of view of artists, just...interesting.
Though not for the artists (or their superiors) of 5e.
For perspective, I attend a Traditionalist Catholic Church--the sort of place that is often caricatured as being 'anti-sex' or 'anti-sexiness' or whatever. My wife was once yelled at by a fellow parishioner for being dressed in 'tempting and inappropriate' clothing (she was wearing a mid-length skirt or something). But you know what? There are a lot of naked or partially naked people in there. Jesus on the Cross is almost naked. Mary cradles her almost naked son. The cherubs are completely naked. Most of the saints have flimsy cloaks. And so on.
Hey, we might say again, it's life.
The artists of the 5e Players Handbook want their subjects to wear layers.
Current 'official' Dungeons & Dragons art seems to have this odd sort of problem with, well, 2000+ years of art history. Or we could say that it's uptight about the human body.
Original Dungeons & Dragons art and current OSR art did not and does not seem to have any such problem.
Is there more to it than just the matter of clothing? Of course. There is the matter of that completely boring and uninteresting, and totally minor side-issue...sex. I'll try to address that in the next few days. Stay tuned.