The telling of stories through visual art - or narrative art - has been around forever but is rising in popularity as a means for social-cause stories, rather than the more traditional depiction of daily life or events, myths and folklore. Some recent subjects I have come across are dementia, the value of friendships, and the environment, portrayed through paintings, mixed media, sculpture and woven art. 

The visual language of symbols, metaphors and archetypes are the main elements of the narrative art, designed to guide and engage the viewer in interpreting the story. More subtle are the metaphorical art mediums chosen, as well as colour, contrast, texture, movement, rhythm and so on. Art genres can range from painting and mixed media to sculpture and fibre arts, and may also include forms with both visuals and text, genres such as collage, journaling, book arts, cartoons and comics, graphic novels, mixed media.

And without the addition of a title or a few words, the story is not always clear to some. Words can be the prompt that assist the viewer in getting the picture, or message. And sometimes it's only after reading the artist's inspiration or statement that the story is unveiled - or partially unveiled.

But maybe that's what the artist intends - that it's up to us as viewers to use our imagination to fill in the blanks and reflect on the subject. Our experiences, knowledge and ideas all contribute to deciding what story the artist may be trying to tell. A bit of thinking may be required. The artist may want us to decide in what direction the story will go. 

Often a narrative is told not through just one picture, but through a series of pictures. Just as written works have many layers and elements weaving through several chapters, the same would hold true that multiple visuals may be needed to disclose the threads of a story. Consider setting, characters, plot, conflict, etc., all elements of a bigger whole. Of course it depends on how complicated and long the story is. 

My own attempts at visual storytelling have been somewhat successful. Perhaps my best one to date, shown here at left, is of this woman standing on the side of a road under a make-shift shelter, a mixed media piece using old fabric, paper, and cardboard, acrylic paint and coloured pencil. The contrast between the sari and the grays is an important visual element. Some assumptions can be drawn but it's the picture and materials combined with the title - "A Place to Call Home" - that I think suggests a story behind the picture. You be the judge. 

My goal is to make some narrative art for an exhibition opening in June 2019.  My challenge right now is to sift through possible stories and chose 1 or 2, then start thinking about how best to represent these stories through fibre art. 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you about narrative art you have created - or samples you have seen.  

Related story: Titling your Art


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