Art as Storytelling
We are all familiar with the lone artist stereotype. The struggling creative living alone in a garret. Creating out of a desperate need to express themselves or communicate a vital message that humanity must hear.
The rebellious non-conformist outsider. The outcast of society. Because artists are different. They are ‘special,’ they ‘see’ things. They are on the verge of madness and dream outlandish dreams, more powerful and terrifying than the dreams of mere mortals.
And it is due to their tenuous hold on sanity, that artists must live alone. Who in their right mind would want to live with an artist? Forever leaping up with moments of “Eureka!” and frantically splashing paint around. Then, later, slumped in the depths of despair over a bottle. All artists are borderline alcoholics too, you know.
This is the picture society generally paints of the driven, almost maniacal artist figure. Largely based on the eccentricities of Victorian artists, particularly Vincent Van Gogh, this stereotype is long outdated and needs to be changed.
This is not to say that many artists are not eccentrics. Most actually cultivate a persona of foibles and quirks. It is uniqueness that stands out, after all. For some, this comes naturally.
It is also not uncommon for creatives to suffer bouts of depression after ‘birthing’ artwork.
There are also “Eureka!” moments; sometimes even in the bath, or at dinner with friends, or at other inconvenient moments… inspiration can’t be rushed.
And it is not uncommon to get so caught up in the process of painting that a few stray dabs get out of hand. The energy of flow takes over and, well, better stay safe and wear an apron…
Are we maniacs? Fanatics? Perfectionists maybe. Sitting for hours drawing a highly intricate knot work pattern my not be everybody’s idea of pleasure. But the end result is worth it.
In fact, many artists are probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum.
But, although artists dream, their dreams are no more extraordinary than anyone else’s. it’s just that creatives are trained to remember dreams better. Artists look for inspiration in their dreams…
“Seeing with the eyes of an artist” is a skill. It is something that is either intuitive (then you are a born artist) or must be learned. For most artists, it is learned though long hours copying still life setups or old masters.
Are we all rebels? Well, many creatives are not comfortable with the status quo. In fact, most individuals I know are unhappy with it. Not only artists. Politics are a mess, the economy is unstable, technology is insidiously taking over our everyday lives, and there are conspiracies everywhere.
This may be largely because people have more access to ‘information’ about these things due to the internet…
So, we can all see the world’s not perfect. But creatives can articulate it better. Just exactly why is the world the way it is? And if we did this or this, maybe our world would look like this.
The creative mind uses imagination to conjure up “what if…” scenarios. These are visual cues which can be assimilated into the collective consciousness of humanity through the label ‘Art,’ and used to change our thinking about the way of the world. Art changes us. And by extension society, eventually.
At least, that’s the hope.
Artist in society
In society, artists can appear no different to you or me (not surprisingly, since I am an artist and whoever reads this is more than likely one too). But, an artist in the street, can appear to be an everyman (or woman).
Anyone trying to make art in the type of world we live in must either be very rich to start with or have a part time job to fund their art. Or, alternatively make such good art that it sells for a fortune and you can live off it.
This latter scenario is much rarer, because in order to become a ‘famous’ artist, one has to learn the basics first. That takes time, money and patience. Lots and lots of all three. Over many years.
People like to tell you there are shortcuts. I used to think these was a quick fix for most anything. But the quickest way is still to just do the work. The easy way is almost always too good to be true.
An artist might be one of those faces you see every day behind the till at a supermarket (like myself) of an office worker or delivery driver. If you are lucky you will find a creative outlet for your talents in your day job in some shape or form (I bake bread and cakes in the instore bakery on occasion). Or if you are even more fortunate your job will be in the creative industry itself (such as a gallery assistant or stage hand).
But, what this all boils down to is the need for money.
They society we live in, for good or for worse, requires us to make money to live. (which is why, unless you live off grid, out in the wilderness, growing your own food, it would be very hard for you to be a rebel as well). We may not enjoy having to spend most of our days when we would rather be creating, working for someone else, but that’s how it’s got to be.
For now. Until we change the world…
The other side of ‘Art’
The other side of art is, of course, illustration. And illustration is fun!
All the skill, perseverance and patience of art are still required to illustrate, and the key word here is ‘illustrate;’ for, by using visual storytelling to bring a scene to life, the message you are needing to tell shouts louder than ever.
So, what is the difference between art and illustration?
Consider the message: the damage Man is doing to the environment.
Consider two paintings I made on that subject. One is a surreal canvas which I would call ‘Art,’ the other is a digital illustration.
The tear drop eye, falling on the surface of the earth surrounded by greenery, is striking and bold. It is almost abstract in its simplicity.
The boy flying the kite confronted by the tiger-headed lily, is innocent and fun, it is a moment of magic in an idyllic world where clouds are fluffy and white, the sky is bright blue, and the grass is very green. This is an image of desire and escapism. But is also allows us to consider:
· How Man uses the energy of the wind now and how He once did.
· How tigers are a staple of children’s stories and how they are dying out.
· How genetic engineering tampers with our environment and this hybrid plant/animal may yet occur.
· What our own reactions to such creatures might be.
The difference here is in the story.
When we escape from the everyday world, by entering an imaginary one (whether through art or any other media), we suspend disbelief, even just for a moment. Long enough for an image to register, or a story be told.
By suspending disbelief, we open ourselves up to possibilities. By opening up to the vast realm of possibilities which exist in our imaginations, we allow fantasy to enter into our lives. If only briefly. Within the confines of the story.
And stories permeate our lives. From the time when we are children, we are all told stories. We continue to tell stories as we grow up. “You wouldn’t believe what happened on my way to work the other day…” etc.
It is a part of the way we think.
If a message is contained within the relatively ‘safe’ confines of a story, we accept it. We believe it, and, if it is good enough (or sometimes even if it isn’t) it can become ingrained in our group consciousness, to resurface in new form, with new characters. If a story is worth telling…
Sometimes art masquerades as storytelling; sometimes illustration takes on the character of art. There is often overlap. Definitions are fluid.
It is the story that matters. The message that must be delivered.