Due to its aniconic culture, itÂ´s hard to find plastic artists in the Realm. Most of them are gifted or dilettante Dragonblooded, thinking themselves above the restrictions imposed upon others. Finding works of art is just slightly easier, but they are mostly limited to the private collections of eccentric Dynasts, a memento from some Dragons-forgotten Satrapy.
But every culture searches art, some way to express itself, and Realm culture is not different. The ban on iconic art has been a boon for abstract art, like geometric decorative designs, "tribal" tattoos (which doesnÂ´t really correspond to any real tattoo tradition, least of all to one belonging to any specific tribe) or flower arrangement and tree trimming (as flowers and trimmed trees and bonsais arenÂ´t icons, they are acceptable to the Immaculate Order, and thus make a popular form of decoration).
But, above all, the most respected artform in the Realm is literature. From theatre, to poetry and novels, no other nation in Creation has such a rich literarry tradition as the Realm. And we are not talking just about the work of bored Dynasts or Patricians: theatre is popular in the cities for all but the poorest citizen who canÂ´t afford it, and folk tales abound in the countryside. Although not universal, literacy is relatively widespread, at least among the more well-off classes, making it possible for a thriving book market to exist in the Blessed Isle.
But... What do people in the Realm read? Or listen, as it may be. Well, any literary form that exists in Creation is probably present in the Realm, although if only as an exotic curiosity (the "Deathcries of Kazemor" is an example of that: an anthology of the long, overly dramatic and florid funerary poems that made the eponymous Western Satrapy famous). But, of course, we have to highlight some examples, among them are the following.
-Theatre. Theatre is popular in the Realm, and we can safely distinguish between two different styles: plays and declamations
Plays are proffesional theatre. There is a great variety of styles, from puppet-shows (decried as vulgar and even tasteless, but there have been some respectable writers and actors which started or even based their careers on puppet shows) to almost wordless ballets. Except in the smallest, most improvised plays, it is almost impossible not to find some musical arrangement, may it be background music played by a hidden orchestra, or chorus songs. Right now, the style thought of as the most refined one is minimalistic, with few dialogue and fewer props, letting the combination of music and acting carry the emotion and story, but probably the most popular style is more related to opera or musicals, with a strong influence of choral music.
Declamations are amateur theatre. It is not acted, but read aloud, mostly in private gatherings, in which each person reads the lines of a specific character, with one of them reading the narrator lines (although in some groups, the one reading the narrator part rotates, or is the one which read the last character). Most declamations use the script of plays, but a few are written specifically for declamatory theatre. Some groups even play with no script at all, improvising as they go, with pre-selected characters, sometimes even the characters from popular shows or books.
-Mystic poetry. This is one of the most characteristic styles of Realm literature, and some manifestations of it are famously decried as blasphemous. Mystic poetry is a kind of intimate, religious artistic expression, hard to understand due to its rarified language, obscure references, and esoteric connotations, It focuses on spiritual and religious aspects and sublime experiences, although some are allegorical, teaching moral lessons, or even serving as political satire. But the most controversial aspect of this tradition is its erotic undertones, sometimes describing the connection between nun and Dragon as something that, once you remove the abstract metaphors, can only be understood as sexual unions.
-Folk tales. Of course, the Realm has folk tales. What may be particular about the Realm is that it is one of the few places in Creation where folk tales are sometimes thought as literature. Some writers have recopilated folk tales from all around the Realm (and some times appropriated foreign tales with no reference to their origin) in widely circulated books, mostly focusing on the ones which can be used as fables, teaching moral lessons to children and adults alike.
As you can imagine, folk tales arenÂ´t really different to tales from other nations, although there is less influence (or at least, positive influences) from gods, spirits and Anathema, and when there is positive supernatural intervention in the story, it is always from a Dragon, a Dragonblooded, or, some times, from a god or sorcerer who mends her evil ways due to the actions of a pious citizen of the Realm.
But there is a tradition of folk tales that you wonÂ´t see in any book, mostly because they are hated by those on power. These are the "Clever Lin Tales", "Clever Lins", "LinÂ´s Heads" or other variations upon that name.
Clever Lin Tales have always the same formula. Clever Lin is the protagonist, although who she is changes from story to story. She is almost always a woman, but as Lin can be a menÂ´s name too, it is sometimes a man. She is always of a humble origin, but the specifics change. She may be a nun, a retired seamstress, a bandit, a young servant, or even a prostitute. She meets a Dragon Blooded, a Patrician or some other powerful figure, they have a brief interaction, some bitter reflection about the way society works, and she ends dead, due to offending the powerful figure. ThatÂ´s the reason they are sometimes called "LinÂ´s Heads", as the most popular ending is "And thatÂ´s how Clever Lin lost her head". These are bitter, acid tales, wrapped in humour so they become more palatable, but always with an undercurrent message: if you talk about what is really wrong, you will end like Clever Lin
As a closing to this little essay, I think we can have one of these Clever Lin Tales, popular in a town on the Akemi prefecture
Clever Lin was working on her inn, when a rich traveller arrived. By the jade weapon on his belt, it was clear he was a Prince of the Earth, and he expected to be treated as one. Rudely, he sat, and ordered salmon. He ate the salmon, but it was so delicious and good that he felt ashamed, and called Clever Lin
"This one was fantastic. The best one I have ever eaten. Why, I have to ask you, how much is it?"
Clever Lin smiled
"Two koku, my lord"
The Dynast blinked, confused
"Two koku? ThatÂ´s real expensive. ItÂ´s really salmon so rare on these lands?"
To that, Clever Lin laughed
"Oh, not, my lord! Salmon is plentiful here. What it is really rare is a Dragonblooded who wants to pay!"
And thatÂ´s how Clever Lin lost her head