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Art as Story

details from 3 narrative artworks art as story featured image
Art as Story 3 details

30 MARCH, 2023


We, as a species, are addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.                       

Does Every Picture Tell a Story?

First of all, of course, this is a rhetorical question. Secondly, I apologize for the Rod Stewart reference. It just kept popping into my head, though I'm not really a fan. I have, in the past, written posts about visual storytelling and narrative art, so follow the links if you're interested. I think they're both pretty good, if I do say so myself.

However, this post is not about that. I'm frequently asked about the meaning of my artworks. This isn't surprising, because the imagery in my work tends to evoke some type of narrative. Unlike a minimalist abstract, for instance, they definitely look like they have a story to tell. Consequently, people are curious, and I get a lot of questions. Mostly, it's things like, "What's inside the eggs?" or, "Is the bird helping her?"

Usually I prefer not to give them specific answers. The meanings of my pieces are open-ended, and I like to allow the viewer to bring their own viewpoint. This way, they are participants, and eveyone's story is equally valid.

My Own Stories

But, just for a change, I thought I would share some of my own stories. Just because they come from me doesn't make them in any way definitive. What I think of when I look at them isn't necessarily any better than what someone else thinks. In fact, I often find that when told by a viewer what they see in a particilar work, I actually like their interpretation better than mine.

Also, I should mention that some pieces don't fully reveal their story to me. Some lend themselves to narrative more readily than others. Specifically, the ones without human figures or animals may not tell a story (to me) so much as they create a feeling or mood. Then again, occasionally I make one with figures whose meaning isn't clear to me. These are the ones that I have the most trouble finding titles for.

mysterious girl with flower head in post-apocalyptic landscape
The Visitor, monoprint with mixed media, 16 x 12 in

Art as Story: The Visitor

The Visitor is one of those I mentioned above. It's a bit of a mystery to me, and I'm not even really sure about the title at this point. I see the setting as post-apocalyptic, with the crumbling observatory and spare landscape.

Perhaps the little girl is a time-traveler, or she may have come from that distant galaxy to bring a message. Her flower-formed head indicates she is aligned with nature, so to me she symbolizes hope. I've already been asked about the footprints. All I can say is that I thought it would add another layer of interest and mystery. You'll have to answer that for yourself. That's about all I have for this one.

"Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately connect us."                   ~ Robert Redford

 "It is Story that heals us, that shapeshifts us, that saves us."

monoprint artwork of moon moving in front of the sun

Luna Eclipsing Helios

This one doesn't really have an extended story, either. It feels to me like an illustration of an indiginous-type myth, personifying the relationship between the Sun and the Moon. Since a solar eclipse would probably be a particularly strange and frightening event, the story could offer an explanation of why this occurs.

For example, only at certain very special times, the Moon dominates the Sun, blocking out his light. Luna rises up out of the sea (water is her element), reminding the animals and people how powerful she is. At the same time, paradoxically, they are also reminded of how much they need the light of Helios. Without his light, the plants wouldn't grow, and the animals would not survive. It is a story of cosmological balance.

a little girl and two birds care for eggs with seeds inside


As is often the case, the story of Caretakers developed as I worked on this companion piece to The Visitor. You may have guessed that these pieces both started as parts of the same unfinished work. Again, the background has a dystopian feel, and the crane was already there from before. I also wanted a human(-ish) figure in it, but nothing seemed right because the trees didn't leave enough room.

This is called NOT planning ahead, combined with changing your mind about the meaning part way through. Sometimes, I think art-making is more about problem-solving than anything else. Do you ever feel this way?

I finally decided on this little flower-headed girl standing on her toes on a rock, carefully holding - something. But what? In past works, I've used eggs as a symbol of renewal/rebirth. Imagining them as magical containers for precious sprouting seeds seemed perfect. So, I added two more, still connected to their trees, as they're not yet ready to plant. I added the ibis to balance the composition, and so that each seedling has its own guardian/caretaker. Again, the overall story is one of hope in the face of desperate times.

             "Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text by the human brain and 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual....Images act like shortcuts to the brain: we are visual creatures, and we are programmed to react to visuals more than to words."

the snow queen face in profile in a winter landscape

The Snow Queen

I'm including The Snow Queen here, even though the story is not my own. This piece is an homage to the strange Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which helped to inspire my fascination with art as story. (If you're curious about this long and complex tale, follow the link above.)

Dulac illustration from The Snow Queen- woman with two polar bears
The Snow Queen illustration by Edmund Dulac

Illustrations for this story have been some of the best of the genre. Through the years, it has been illustrated by many great artists. There are two, however, that made me gasp in amazement, and totally stole my heart.

This is the cover of the version illustrated by Edmund Dulac, one of the very best of the Golden Age of Illustration artists. I highly recommend checking out any of his work; the fairy tale pictures are exquisite.

The Snow Queen illustration Vladyslav Yerko

Another favorite illustrator of this story is Vladyslav Yerko. He is a contemporary Ukrainian artist whose work is of the highest caliber. The exacting details and jewel-like colors in his paintings are a true joy to the eye.

I've really enjoyed sharing my stories with you, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them. If you have other ideas about what these works say to you, I would love to hear them!  In the meantime, I wish you peace, love, and art.


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