Stories we tell . . .


I’ve been asking myself about “art stories” lately. Those are the stories artists are supposed to tell about their work. “Tell the story of your painting. Literally. Tell the story next to your painting, on your website, on Instagram, on Facebook.” We hear it over and over again. And I get it. A story can help someone understand the thoughts and emotions behind your painting. But I’m starting to wonder if telling those stories puts limits on how a viewer experiences an artwork.

I recently completed the first in a series of paintings that will focus on human hands. A friend gave the painting a look, then asked me, “What’s the story behind these hands?” I didn’t tell her. I invited her to take some time with the painting. I wanted to leave the painting open to a variety of interpretations. She asked me if the hands belonged to a man or to a woman. She asked me whether the hands were praying or calmly folded. As she looked and as she pondered these questions, I could tell she was forming her own story about the painting. Wonderful!

This is why I’m wondering about “art stories” lately. I’m wondering what’s lost when the artist tells the story. And I’m wondering what’s gained when we let a painting stir up its own story in the viewer, a story that reflects the viewer’s own experiences and questions.

I’m looking forward to continuing to work on my human hands series. And I’m looking forward to discovering how my audience will interpret the paintings for themselves. Of course, if you need a hint to the story I have in mind, you can ponder a painting’s title. That might give you a glimpse. But first, ponder the painting itself. Ask questions of it. Experience it. Enjoy it. That is my wish.

 Share your experience with me. I would love to hear it. 




Jan ArbogastComment