Visually Speaking: Here’s to The Storytellers

Anna Horsnell

Performing artists perform. Whether through song, dance, or acting, performing artists can move us to tears, or move us to the beat, and at the heart of it all lies a story. Live performance can be very sensual. We see and hear and even feel the performers as they carry us into their world. Maybe we let go and for the moment lose ourselves in their story. We’ve been sharing our stories for a very long time, from ancient legend to more modern documentaries and drama. We recognize these things and they connect us.

Visual artists, well, visualize. Be they film-maker or painter, sculptor or photographer, they communicate remotely through the artwork they create. The visual artist does not need to be present for the interaction between art and audience. The art itself must tell the story.

Step into a local gallery. Don’t overthink. Just do a visual scan of the artwork on display and see what catches your eye. Now step in front of that particular work and have a closer look. Take a few minutes to really get familiar with the art. What first attracted you or caught your attention? Is it the colour, the subject, the size, maybe just a feeling? Has that changed with a closer look? Check out the label identifying the art including the title and name of the artist. Sometimes the subject is obvious, sometimes not so much. Perhaps the title of the work spells things out, tells you where or what or who. Perhaps the title simply points you in a general direction, a suggestion. Perhaps the artist leaves interpretation wide open; you are free to follow your own imagination. Now. How does the painting (or sculpture or photograph) make you feel? Is it uplifting, peaceful, disturbing, mysterious, challenging? Is it holding your attention and maybe even leading you in a certain direction? Whether the art is realistic or abstract, you may find yourself building a narrative, picking out things you identify with, or things that intrigue you and pull you closer.

Go a little deeper. Ask the gallery manager or person on duty for some assistance. What can they tell you about the artist? What can they tell you about the artwork itself, how it was created? Do they know any interesting background? Explore. Sometimes the artist has actually provided a statement about a specific artwork or body of work explaining the inspiration and intention. Sometimes you find your whole perception of the work evolving as you gain more information, more of the story.

The next step can be fun. Do another scan of the gallery artwork and pick out a piece that challenges you in every way. Something you might not give a second glance, something that puzzles or even disturbs you. Step a little closer and go through the same process. Ask the same questions and see how things change, or shift in another direction. How does your initial opinion change as you learn more?

Visual art invites you into the story from the very beginning. The artist is speaking to you through the artwork, sharing their ideas, their thoughts, their relationship with the world. The art itself is the conversation. Sometimes you have to work hard to understand. Sometimes impressions or understanding come easily. Sometimes the connection just isn’t there and that’s okay. Simply being open is enough. The artist asks no more.

Next month, The Grapevine will highlight visual art, some of the people who make the art, and some of the places you can find their art. The world is slowly emerging from a time unlike any of us have experienced before. The storytellers are ready with performances and artwork that connect us all.

Image: Local singer-songwriter Hughie McDonell, taken by Bruce Dienes, and provided courtesy of the author.