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Searching for Stories

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

Go to sleep to find the answer. Or, Let your mind rest.

For the past three to five to ten years - maybe more - I've been searching for a story. I've been searching for it like there's one story, or at least one process that will help me find stories. Sometimes I'm trying to draw them, sometimes I'm trying to write them in order to put drawings next to them.

The closest I get to the scent of it is in symbolic tales, like fairy tales or Native American stories, and occasionally in the well written New Yorker article about states of mind, or family, where some theme hits a chord of recognition. I log the story or article, sure - like a dream you think you'll remember along with its meaning and then it dissipates immediately as though fleeing remembrance - that I'll know just how to draw the meaning of that story later. I catch the tail wisp of its smoky trail but I'm yet to capture it.

Something in the symbols of the fairy tales - the deep sleep needing love's kiss, the evil parental figure, the dark woods - seems to allude to a key that will unlock the meaning, but it never does, somehow we feel the pool is deep but when we step directly into it, the muddy waters barely glance an ankle.

The process of searching for the story I've found closest is to follow the sense of mystery and questioning in a story. If I look at an image I've made, and feel my mind grapple to invent a story, this seems good, that I'm on my way if something evokes. Am I only wanting the process of searching for a story?

What elements must exist in order to evoke a reaction from the viewer? If there are some recognizable elements overlapping, if there is some visual beauty that makes us feel elevated spiritually, while also holding our attention, known in writing as narrative transportation but also a visual focal point that we can relate the elements of the piece to, akin to a cast of sympathetic characters or plot pivot, we may believe we're seeing a story, and try to find its meaning.

In fact, visual art isn't suited for true narrative. The closest it might come are the Indian miniature paintings or 14th century gothic layering of time vertically, giving visual plot points and cues to reference a written story not pictured. But without that text outside the painting, a viewer might not understand the story. I remember the painting by Goya, Saturn Devouring his Child, evoking a strong and frightening emotion. Along with Goya's war reportial drawings and etchings, which told a story somewhat.

What I can't figure out is why I keep asking a question that isn't clearly related to the paintings I'm making. Why do I keep studying story and making paintings that are mysteries with hints of symbolism, that may not clearly refer to anything? Am I creating dead ends that evoke without a narrative, giving a visual art imitation of written narrative? Am I actually searching for a way to depict story, and story itself if I use this abstruse approach? Or do I need to approach story from the land of dreaming, so that I can keep my unconscious mind out of the way, that left brain that keeps saying, explain the meaning of the symbol, instead of letting the story come out through the overlapping layers of the story.

Yes, that's it.

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