Stories in image:

Stories have been told by humans since we were first conscious enough to know ourselves, according to Barthes “there is not, nor has there ever been, anywhere a group of people without stories. International, transhistorical, across all cultures storytelling is just there – apart of life.” Which is a very simple summary of a very large topic which I am going to attempt to present as a discussion for my next assessment. However all i can see in this topic is how very true it is, for all that humanity cannot agree, we all imagine a world that isn’t the one we have, fact. The curiosity i have in this subject, the reason i picked it from a list, was ‘why?’, why do we have this urge to summarise the world around in stories, verbal or pictorial. (Also why did each of these forms become the basis of telling stories, why not another media?)

A few weeks ago I read a book called “The art of looking sideways”, written by Alan Fletcher, which is a “book attempting to open windows to glimpse views rather than dissect the pictures on the wall.” Meaning its a book of stuff, it has opinions, quotes, pictures and questions; it’s not an art analytical book, it holds ideas for different views into the art world.

The point is in “the art of looking sideways” there is short history of humanity. It says that “two millions years ago our ancestors were not mean, but by one million years ago they were. By then they had discovered how to make fire, fashion tools and create images.” Fletcher is criticising how we can be called human if we have no creative outlet. He goes on to give cases of artefacts-turned-mathoms of spears, colour and huts. Then he states the earliest known engraving is at least 135,000 years old, possibly double that. It’s a carving of around 70 bands of arcs and chevrons in animal bone, we don’t know why. The point is that someone made it, at some point, for some reason or other, but he decorated it with useless engravings, wasting time and energy for a pattern. Why do we do that?

Admittedly there are designs and patterns that have been explained from thousands of years ago; an animal rib with making to record the movements of the sun and moon from 12,000 years ago.

The most obvious type of storytelling we have, historically, that all seem to be aware of; cave art. Fletcher gives us another case, the first known discovery, where in 1879 an archaeologist found bison and horses on the walls. Which was swiftly dismissed as those at Lascaux nearly 60 years later, “‘Prehistorians’ insisted that primitive man was incapable of such creativity.” Obviously they were wrong, and like all people in power they fit the facts to their opinions not the other way round.

But then we can question the very meaning of the word “creativity”. After all no one human has the same inspiration, the same thought process, the same working style as any one else. Working from Fletcher’s passage on creativity, he claims,

Creativity is a compulsive human urge which demands more than ritual actions or routine responses, and is only valid when one is trading beyond experience. The word ‘creativity’ is frequently appropriated to enhance the mediocre or justify the mundane.

By which I took to mean that although every human being feels the need to create, it can never be just a day-to-day response or action; like brushing your teeth. It needs to have an emotion or urge behind it, it needs a reason, and the word ‘creativity’ is applied to situations that do not warrant the weight and potential ‘creativity’ gives any work of art. Fletcher goes on to comment that a “true creative act is something else. It produces something which never existed before. Whether of small consequence or amazing significance, it’s usually generated by a spontaneous insight.” While i can agree with the previous facts that not every work of art warrants the title, and the every urge to create is human, I cannot agree that true ‘creativity’ is, in essence ‘originality’. Namely because every work of art has something of another in it: Greyson Perry, in the Radio 4 Reith Lectures, stated “originality for those with short memories”.

Admittedly not every work of art is going to famous or inspiring, it won’t become the face for new world order, nor can it be guaranteed that it will be worth millions. But that is not the definition of a work of art.

I’m aware that this holds a lot of tangent material, however I’m planning on exploring every potential meaning or reading of every word applied to any art style, as the art world does not abide by have strict definitions to every word it uses. By which i mean that just because my research is under the heading of storytelling in art, does not limit me in any way: there is the question of why humans tell stories, how they began, how it evolved into our everyday literature, other medias that have developed, how the tradition of telling stories has evolved in art in particular, and why we keep it up today.


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