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Telling Stories with Art

Art that captures the imagination tells a story that an audience gets to envision, and it is up to the artist to choose the point in the storyline, the perspective, and the action to help to guide that story. The story may be fiction or nonfiction, and it can evoke any emotion so long as the I opt for the right color and detail to depict it.

The storyline does not have to be traditional. It does not have to depict the climax of a war or the signing of a treaty. It does not have to be chronological. In fact, a very climactic story may be more poignant if it is depicted from a part in the story that is completely removed from the climax. For example, a painting of people going about their regular business on September 11th just prior to the terrorist attack may evoke more emotion than a photo of the tragedy itself. A story of a baby being born is preferably; not a painting of the birthing process but rather the excitement before or love afterward. The point is, the climax is not really what must be shown but rather what it changed. The storyline is what makes the story relevant, and it is up to the artist to decide at what point that relevance is revealed.

The perspective can also add interest to a story, and it can be an unexpected surprise. It may be a bird’s eye view of something that most people could only see from a horizontal perspective. It may be the perspective of an outsider, which is a very different perspective from the person doing the action. Pieter Brueghel painted an excellent example of perspective in his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. It appears to be a landscape with a farmer plowing his field and a sea in the background. There is a very small splash in the sea, and this is supposed to be the mythological Icarus falling to his death because he flew too close to the sun and melted his wax wings. The splash would not be recognized without the painting’s title, and this perspective from the view of people going about their everyday lives while this significant event was happening is a surprise in the story. It brings relevance in the idea that the subject was Icarus, but he is hardly visible in the painting.

Action is also a way to tell a story, and action can depict emotion and set the tone for a story. For example, hand positioning can depict the emotion of the subject. Even a simple action, such as Mona Lisa’s smile, makes the audience make up a story about her. It makes people wonder why she is smiling in the way she does. Body language can tell a story maybe better than a smile or a frown. The story must unfold and cannot be blatantly presented, or it will not draw curiosity. Artists who want their work to tell a story should be mindful of storylines, perspectives, and action in order to make the story come alive for whoever views it.

I hope you enjoyed this months letter, until the next time we visit…

dei gratia,

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Milessa Murphy Stewart

The best paintings create a story. My stories have happy endings.

Milessa was born a big city girl in a dry, desolate area of Texas where the only trees she saw were mesquite and the only things to climb was her horse. She remembers a lot of brown but that did not stop her from dreaming in beautiful, bold color. She paints in a playful and visual style.