Artist as Story Teller

I heard a story on NPR the other day about this journalist, Paul Salopek, who is traveling the world by foot over 7 years and gathering stories along the way. The exact opposite to the book Around the World in 80 Days, yet seemingly just as crazy. What a wild and extremely fascinating idea! Clearly a journalist's job is to collect stories, but I think this is an innovative way of going about it - not rushing around to find the story but instead meandering and observing life along the way.  You can follow his stories here.

Most artists are story tellers, and I think their inspiration often comes from slowing down, taking time to smell the flowers or notice the color purple. For me, it's not that everything I see or hear goes directly into my paintings; rather, noticing the quality of light just before sunset in the late part of spring on my way home from the office, or the bird of prey that sits on a wire above the expressway every morning on my commute triggers something in me that makes me want to create.

I think my attention to detail and appreciation of beauty in the everyday comes from a childhood growing up in rural areas with limited electricity.  When I wasn't voraciously reading novels, National Geographic or World Book Encyclopedias (yes, I was a nerd), I was running around making up games to play. My family didn't own a TV or a computer until I was well into middle school, and I didn't get a cell phone (which I had to share with my twin brother) until I was 16.  So I had plenty of time to think and imagine things, something that has certainly affected both my world view and my art.  Of course, now-a-days I am all too often caught up in the fast pace of our tech-centered world, and I have to remind myself to slow down and find that centered vantage point of chronicler and story teller.

Which is why I like hearing stories like this Ted Talk by artist Shea Hembrey: How I became 100 ArtistsHembrey created a biennial featuring art by 100 artists from all over the world, except that all of the artists were personas that he created. Not only did he make multiple pieces of art in 100 different styles, but he also created back stories for each artist so that the concept behind each body of work was based on something to do with the artist's life experiences, interests or topics of exploration.  Now that is some great story telling!

Two takeaways from this fascinating project: first, Shea's criteria for the work that the artist must be able to explain the work to their grandma in 5 minutes or less, thus making it more refined and more accessible to the general public. I think this is extremely important in the current climate of overly-convoluted contemporary art. Second, that it have the three H's: head - "interesting intellectual concepts", heart - "passion and soul," and hand - "in that it would be greatly crafted,"  simple enough instructions that I, for one, hope to uphold in my work.