January 11, 2011

5 Tips For Living Like A Modern-Day Bard

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What do you think of when you read the word bard? A stage actor? A poet? Shakespeare? Most dictionaries define a bard as a Celtic composer and reciter of poetry, specifically one who commemorates the deeds of heroes or patrons. In 16th-century Scotland, people used the word -- which has its linguistic roots in Gaelic -- as a derogatory term for roving musicians. Fortunately, Scottish author Sir Walter Scott helped rescue the word from this negative connotation. Check out his poem The Dying Bard...it's really not as depressing as it sounds.

"And where is the bard shall give heroes their fame?"
Today, I like to think of a bard as any person who creates art, specifically art that commemorates culture, history or a particular experience. This definition allows for a higher level of inclusiveness,  as anyone -- even you -- can be a modern-day bard.

1. Create
Come up with a new riff on your guitar;  write a poem, story or joke; make a sketch or a painting; cook a new, unusual meal. Bardic creativity shouldn't be limited to producing verse about employers and warriors. The point is to be putting something out there, actively participating and contributing to culture; not sitting back, listening and observing culture. You should be baking the cake; not just watching Buddy the Cake Boss baking cakes on TV.

2. Create Creatively
If you're a painter that loves Da Vinci's style, you can use some of his techniques to enhance your own unique creations. But if you produce a painting of a woman that is identical to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa -- sure, that's pretty amazing -- but you haven't created creatively: you've regurgitated an existing creation. To be a modern-day bard, you need to add something new to the world's cultural archive, even if that something new commemorates something old.

3. Diversify
Expand your bardic horizons by pursuing different modes and styles of creation. If you are an accomplished haiku poet, try writing a silly limerick (hint: use a Massachusetts place-name as a starting point). If you always cook family-style Italian meals or Irish stews, explore a cuisine that is more foreign to you,  like Thai or Indian. If you are an accomplished painter, try experimenting with charcoal drawings, or better still, go outside the realm of fine arts and learn a musical instrument -- or several.

4. Bard for Business
Few people are able to support themselves financially as professional bards. For the rest of us, bardic activities should be supplemental, recreational activities, which we can pursue on the weekends or during our lunch breaks. Unfortunately, some people abandon potentially helpful academic and business opportunities in the pursuit of idealized bardic lifestyles, only to end up broke. I like to think of the traditional Celtic song, The Wild Rover, as a story about a bard who had a poor business-sense. At the end of the story, the protagonist has wasted all of his money on alcohol and must beg his parents to let him move back in with them. What a bummer.

"I'll go home to my parents, confess what I've done
And I'll ask them to pardon their prodigal son."

5. Share Creations With The Masses (Or Don't)
If you don't feel comfortable putting your original songs up on MySpace or putting your original artwork up on Flickr, don't. The notion of keeping your bardic creations private is especially relevant for people whose creations are perhaps a bit risqué or otherwise at-odds with a particular corporate culture or business community. Instead, share your creations with family members or a few close friends. While this limited sharing will not allow for a global cultural impact, it can still effect your familial and private cultural circles. In addition, the act of creating creatively in itself will be beneficial, as it gives your right brain -- the creative, imaginative brain -- a workout. During one of these bardic, right-brain workouts, you may even find yourself thinking up a new, brilliant business strategy or marketing idea.

Further Reading:


  1. Nice to be followed by a real Bard and from Boston no less. Very nice website I will look forward to reading and being inspired by, even though I'm a Saxon. I read a lot of Bernard Cornwell who is no fan of Bards, but that's what they do is embellish profoundly.

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