Hey, What’s the Story?


Cosmos, 10 x 10″ Acrylic on Illustration Board

“Looking is the end of a painting in my view. If you want a message, go read a novel.”

– Douglas Atwill

First of all, my apologies to those who read my blog for my absence over the last few weeks. I won’t go into the tedious details of the motivation for that truancy – let it suffice to say that many things contributed and not all of them are resolved. But my intention is to saddle back up and rejoin the fray.

The quote above raises the issue of whether a piece of art should tell a story. Much artwork does and many art instructors teach that it must (or at least should). My exploration of non-objective art (such as the example above) has led me to question this view. This type of work doesn’t seem to tell a story or have a message for the viewer. Perhaps the viewer will compose a story in their minds inspired by some aspect of the piece, but I think that in truly non-objective work, this would be pure self-indulgence.

So does a piece like this simply lack some dimension that artwork that tells a story has? Or is it replaced by some other equally compelling quality, perhaps by the very absence of a story? Is the viewer freer to engage with other characteristics of the piece, such as design, color, texture, etc. that may be otherwise secondary to the story?

Are there examples of this dichotomy in other art forms? I think about stream of consciousness novels, such as On the Road [Kerouac] where the story is obscured or not there at all and the focus becomes elements at least one level removed from story or message – emotions, language, character, etc. Or contemporary classical music without a melody or even a recognized tonal scale. Can you think of other examples?

I don’t think that this type art is deficient compared to pieces with storylines or melodies – I think it attempts to elicit a reaction from the viewer (or listener) using different methods and may, in fact, be able to touch us in unique ways.