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.

8 responses to “Hey, What’s the Story?

  1. I will come back later to comment, but for now I want to say that I am VERY happy to see you back here, Bob! Missed you very much!
    And a first emotional impression of this painting: IT IS GORGEOUS!

  2. Welcome back to the blog world with this exciting piece! I see a battle raging in the skies (having a decidedly metaphoric sort of brain which is not in the least analytic). Wings and feathers flying, and even a sword being brandished. A celestial battle of the Gods perhaps? They probably had a heated argument about how this stimulus package will turn out and started using their magical forces to duke it out.

  3. From me too — welcome back! You had me wondering for a while there…

    As to your question about the story, I would venture to say a piece such as this (which btw I really like) conveys a much more interesting, insightful and expansive story than what might typically qualify as a story by some more limited definition. The difference is, it isn’t a story you are imposing on the viewer, but a story you are inviting the viewer to co-create. Don’t see that as self-indulgent. More like self-discovery.

    Atwill’s quote is provocative. But perhaps he sets up a bit of a false dichotomy. Looking may well be the end of a painting. But who’s to say looking is not also the beginning of a painting? A beginning… and a million stories follow.

  4. I too, am happy you are back in Blogland. I was beginning to wonder…Is this a new painting? I enjoy the flow of the elements. I think of “cosmos” when I see this.

  5. Jude- You’re right, “self-indulgence” was a self-indulgent phrase and I’m OK with “self-discovery”. A more positive spin…

    This painting is part of a new series tentatively titled “Universal Meaning” which I think has several overlapping implications. I’ll be posting more of these very soon.

    Leslie – We must be on the same page since I titled this one “Cosmos”…

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