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The subject of Euphemism in Vampiric Art

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  • The subject of Euphemism in Vampiric Art

    There's no shortage of artists in Vampire's world. The Toreador have them in such surplus that "Artiste" is one of the two major subcultures of the Clan. We also have multiple Clans/Bloodlines for whom Art could be considered more than a passing interest. The Daughters of Cacophony have their music. Mania (and monomania) afflicts three different vampire groups: Malkavians, Assamite Viziers, and Salubri Watchers, any of whom could center their obsessions around Artistic pursuits. Even the Tzimisce ply their hands to sculpture, though more often to flesh than clay. None of this even talking about the number of Kindred who, individually, have a passion for Art, even if their particular lineage doesn't encourage it.

    Yet this creates a problem for the Cainite artist. Their Art provides a valuable avenue for exploring the vampiric condition. Their passions, their obsessions, their fears. What they value, what they despise, and what they would love to preserve even half as long as they figure they'll unlive. Yet that preservation can become an issue if these pieces of art end up surviving long enough to be seen by mortals. There is the Masquerade to consider; a Toreador can be only too revealing of her Art, if its nature could imply something of the subject (or artist) that vampires would rather not reveal. Few Kindred would ever tolerate even the most brazen of artists sculpting or painting a figure that openly bares sharp, vampire canines, for instance. Perhaps they would in modern day, when the grisly and the vampiric are less taboo among mortals. Nonetheless, Kindred are reticent to advertise their nature too overtly, and would have developed deep-seated anxieties about it that are not so easily cast off.

    What I see as the obvious solution to develop in-universe would be the use of Symbolism and Euphemism. The artist does not come out and directly address the themes of undeath, ageless ennui, or the act (nay, unlifestyle) of blood drinking. She must coach such things in metaphor. Implying rather than intimating. Suggesting rather than stating. Some vampires would even consider it, not just a mark of discretion, but of skill. To properly capture the essence of an idea, while remaining coy about it. The ability to hide such themes in plain sight would be valued in Kindred Art circles; the standard upon which all "proper" immortal artists are measured. (And, naturally, this theater and obfuscation among "established" art standards make those instances where Cainites portray their themes in a frank and brazen manner all the more shocking and powerful. Toreador Antitribu must get up to this a lot.)

    Getting around to the point of the thread, if you were a vampire artist, how would you convey such themes metaphorically? What symbolism would you include to seem innocuous to the kine, but obvious to Kindred? What are the Euphemisms in vampire art?


    I'll get the ball rolling: Vampires don't like to show the two fangs sticking out of a figure's mouth. It's too obvious, and immediately draws attention to that which they would hide. To suggest the fangs, then, a figure is depicted with two fingers pressed to the lips. With just enough space between the fingers to imply the separated fangs.



  • #2
    This is a thing that might vary, depending on the clan. Say, a gargoyle represents a Nosferatu, except when it actually represents a gargoyle. And people who hate the Tremere air brush images of them onto the side of a stoner's van.

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    • #3
      One could invite a writer/journalist to a seedy hotel room in San Francisco and tell him your entire story, including intimate details of the first Toreador to establish a Domain in the portion of New France along the Gulf Coast. He would then write it up as if it were a work of fiction, but to those "in the know" it is a gossipy tell-all masquerading as mere genre fiction.

      That is, put the label "this is fiction" on nearly anything, and the kine will believe it.

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      • #4
        Also there is the issue that many of the symbols that kindred would use don't translate for mortals. For instance a simple painting of a living room with sunlight coming in through the window wouldn't raise an eyebrow for mortals, but it would be painting of the stark contrast of haven and final death for cainites. Other than fangs and obviously blood feeding, there isn't much that would translate for mortals. There is plenty of messed up art in the world, even from centuries ago, and what ever a vampire artist would make that threatens the masquerade would have to far surpass all of those real world examples of disturbing art.

        Now I will admit that this is my own take on artists, but they are ruled by their passions and given to flights of fancy. Neither are traits that lend themselves to allowing a vampire to survive decades, if not centuries of kindred politics, the jyhad, and most of all keeping a low profile. Clans with high artist concentrations will probably have a high turn over rate due the artists getting killed by some one else or going full drama queen and greeting the sun. The side affect of this will be that few vampiric artists will have the same touch stones as the rest of vampiric society.

        Out of all the ways a vampire could get outed by art is probably by something like what was shown in the movie Queen of the Damned. You had a vampire who enjoyed painting and kept doing a self portrait in what ever the current style was. Each painting could there for be scientifically dated and thus draw attention to the fact that the exact same face shows up in almost a thousand years worth of paintings. Except even then you can make the argument that all the paintings used the same statue as their model over the past millennium.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Thoth View Post
          Out of all the ways a vampire could get outed by art is probably by something like what was shown in the movie Queen of the Damned. You had a vampire who enjoyed painting and kept doing a self portrait in what ever the current style was. Each painting could there for be scientifically dated and thus draw attention to the fact that the exact same face shows up in almost a thousand years worth of paintings. Except even then you can make the argument that all the paintings used the same statue as their model over the past millennium.
          Or that each painting was an artist copying the subject of a previous artist. It's not unknown in the art world for the same scenes or figures to be painted over and over, simply because it's become a "thing" in artistic circles. The pre-modern equivalent of fanart.

          Really, the big issue that would come up is if art historians examined the paintings closely, and realized that the pattern of brush strokes were consistent across hundreds of years of paintings. Forget having the same subject, they would realize it's the same painter holding the brush.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by Bluecho View Post
            Really, the big issue that would come up is if art historians examined the paintings closely, and realized that the pattern of brush strokes were consistent across hundreds of years of paintings. Forget having the same subject, they would realize it's the same painter holding the brush.
            Thankfully that level of specialty requires the art expert to have studied a lot of the same artists work for comparison. Even with relatively well known artists there are usually only a couple experts in the whole world who could do that level of identification. Even then there are examples of forgers who can copy brush stroke technique well enough to fool experts.

            Where things get interesting is if the artist left a finger print in the wet paint of several paintings. While it might be possible to forge a partial print using something like a "two bristle" brush, the fact that finger prints weren't really a thing people thought about until the last century and thus wouldn't be thought of being important to forge would raise some eyebrows.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Bluecho View Post
              I'll get the ball rolling: Vampires don't like to show the two fangs sticking out of a figure's mouth. It's too obvious, and immediately draws attention to that which they would hide. To suggest the fangs, then, a figure is depicted with two fingers pressed to the lips. With just enough space between the fingers to imply the separated fangs.
              The idea is good, but I'd suggest using slightly other symbols - using the fingers means you have an often unnatural-looking required arm position that may not fit with the rest of the picture. Instead, pretty much any two parallel vertical lines near the head could be used: uniform cords, armour ornamentation, tie patterns, jewelry,...

              Originally posted by Thoth View Post
              Also there is the issue that many of the symbols that kindred would use don't translate for mortals. For instance a simple painting of a living room with sunlight coming in through the window wouldn't raise an eyebrow for mortals, but it would be painting of the stark contrast of haven and final death for cainites. Other than fangs and obviously blood feeding, there isn't much that would translate for mortals. There is plenty of messed up art in the world, even from centuries ago, and what ever a vampire artist would make that threatens the masquerade would have to far surpass all of those real world examples of disturbing art.
              While that is true, there are essentially two different kinds of Masquerade breaches: blatant ones that alert everyone and more subtle ones that can point hunters in the right direction. Breaking the Masquerade in a way that everyone recognizes will indeed be difficult with art, but a commissioned portrait that depicts a ruler as a monster of the night would more than likely raise eyebrows among some people whose eyebrows should best remain unraised.

              Originally posted by Thoth View Post
              Now I will admit that this is my own take on artists, but they are ruled by their passions and given to flights of fancy. Neither are traits that lend themselves to allowing a vampire to survive decades, if not centuries of kindred politics, the jyhad, and most of all keeping a low profile. Clans with high artist concentrations will probably have a high turn over rate due the artists getting killed by some one else or going full drama queen and greeting the sun. The side affect of this will be that few vampiric artists will have the same touch stones as the rest of vampiric society.
              Considering that there's an entire clan with a perpetual anger management problem and another one that comes with a serial mental illness, I really don't see "artistic mindset" as a problem.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Cifer View Post
                The idea is good, but I'd suggest using slightly other symbols - using the fingers means you have an often unnatural-looking required arm position that may not fit with the rest of the picture. Instead, pretty much any two parallel vertical lines near the head could be used: uniform cords, armour ornamentation, tie patterns, jewelry,...
                I never intended to say that the two fingers were pointing down from above (which indeed would require the person to twist their arm unnaturally), but rather UP from below. Like a more casual pressing of one's fingers to the lips, just with the two spread apart slightly enough to convey the hidden meaning. It's a more naturalistic pose, and one that mortals would mistake for seduction.

                I'm not actually suggesting that vampires would make fang gestures, that would be weird. The two fingers being there are all is the key.


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                • #9
                  There could be Toreador who pride themselves on being able to reveal enough about vampires as individuals to inspire living artists without revealing them as an endemic supernatural threat.

                  The Camarilla might have persuaded a lot of its members that explicit portrayals of the kindred condition are not only dangerous, but vulgar. "Looks like one of the edgelords of Montréal has painted another frenzy." "Do you think the paint might be real human blood? ["pretends to be shocked" meme gif]". Whereas to Toreador Antitribu familiar with Camarilla art, that's analogous to censorship for children.

                  This reminds me of Requiem's Daeva clanbook. It features quite a few examples of media for and by kindred like zine articles and comic strips that are more instructional than anything else, but also excerpts of a trashy action novel with concept art for a film about some sort of ninja/secret agent vampire. And the notes speculate that the author wrote himself in, by name no less, as a deuteragonist and the protagonist's casual, occasional lover.
                  Last edited by Spencer from The Hills; 03-16-2019, 04:05 PM.

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                  • #10
                    I suppose I should contribute more to this thread I've made.

                    It's so obvious as to be basic, kindergarten level symbolism, but I imagine more than a few Kindred exploit the color red.

                    Scenes can be shaded in red. Sunsets become popular for Kindred artists, as it allows them to splash crimson everywhere and not be considered gauche. Moreover, there's the added symbolism that comes from the fading of the day, and transition into night.

                    As an aside, sunsets are liable to have positive qualities in vampire art, being symbolic of rebirth and awakening. Meanwhile, a sunrise is a portent of death, ennui, and (paradoxically) purification.

                    Red clothing is liable to be popular motifs. There are two ways to examine the use of red clothing, when it comes to "hiding" vampiric themes. Red could symbolize the vampire herself - a being for whom blood is the most important element - and thus any vampire figures in a painting might be the only ones permitted to wear red, or to be surrounded by red. On the other hand, blood is associated with vitality - it "is the Life", as it were - and so other Kindred artists might consider it a grave error not to put mortal figures in red, while pale, bloodless Cainites are dressed in white or black.

                    Another aside: Auspex shows the auras of mortals in vibrant colors, while Kindred are washed out. It wouldn't be unusual (especially among Toreador, for whom Auspex is in-Clan) for mortal figures to be rendered in vivid hues, while Kindred figures stand in muted tones. Unless the artist deliberately portrays a Kindred figure in full colors, to convey an impression of being full of life and living energy. This might occur with a victorious figure, or one who has achieved an emotional fulfillment that makes them feel alive again.

                    Returning to clothing, it can almost seem like a cheat - a cliche, even - to depict a vampire figure standing or sitting over a recumbent mortal figure, the mortal's neck wrapped or draped with a red shawl, tie, or handkerchief. The meaning is obvious, especially if the normally pale vampire figure displays a full blush of life, and has some red object in her mouth (rose petals, an apple, even the end of the red shawl).

                    Speaking of, red objects are a no-brainer, though different objects have their own symbolism. A tomato corresponds to "blood as sustenance" - something to be consumed - whereas an apple has that, plus the added symbolism of Seduction and Revelation. Red meat has a similar connotation to the tomato, though with a predatory edge. A number of birds are red - the Cardinal, Robin, Scarlet Ibis, male Tanagers, even in muted tones for some Finches - and birds have their own plethora of meanings, both individually and as a class of animal. There is a freedom inherent in the creatures...unless the bird is caged. Following along with the color-coding above, a caged red bird could either indicate a subservient Ghoul, or a Kindred in thrall to another vampire. If a Toreador exhibits a painting of a sad, caged red bird, they may wonder if the childe chafes under her Sire's control. Is the painting a cry for help?


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                    • #11
                      I could see the auspex use pushing in other directions. Namely that the visual texture with auspex is far more precise and clear. Thus a mortal would need a microscope or magnifying glass to perceive the careful brush strokes or the intentionally textured chisel use. Even if the art was of a normal subject, the techniques used would set it apart.

                      Alternatively you can have layered art, like a painting that has a few different layers and it takes something like auspex or CT scan to parse out what each layer is.

                      Of course there is always the "Velvet Buzzsaw" route for Giovanni artists who can use necromancy in interesting ways with art objects.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Thoth View Post
                        I could see the auspex use pushing in other directions. Namely that the visual texture with auspex is far more precise and clear. Thus a mortal would need a microscope or magnifying glass to perceive the careful brush strokes or the intentionally textured chisel use. Even if the art was of a normal subject, the techniques used would set it apart.

                        Alternatively you can have layered art, like a painting that has a few different layers and it takes something like auspex or CT scan to parse out what each layer is.

                        Of course there is always the "Velvet Buzzsaw" route for Giovanni artists who can use necromancy in interesting ways with art objects.
                        Now I'm imagining a painting whose color choice depicts one scene - this being the obvious meaning - but the brush strokes hiding an additional scene that only someone with enhanced senses could reliably pick up.


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                        • #13
                          A kiss on the neck or any other sensual place would be a good euphemism for vampiric activity.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by fuzzball6846 View Post
                            A kiss on the neck or any other sensual place would be a good euphemism for vampiric activity.
                            And if we're going a little more chaste than that, a hand kiss with the palm turned up would be considered an unusual stylistic choice, but would remind vampiric viewers obviously of feeding from the wrist, often in a blood-bound relationship.

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                            • #15
                              My own opinion about this is that vampires who follow the path of Humanity will shy away of expressing vampiric themes at all costs, since their art will quickly become as soulless as they are. Instead they focus on human themes, to stay in touch with their humanity. This is the reason why so many Toreador keep a mortal "muse" around, and will violently refuse to give them the Embrace no matter how much they claim they "love" them. Art is essentially a human thing, the most human thing to be honest.

                              Sabbat vampires, on the other hand...

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