What's the Story?

By Walkup, Nancy | School Arts, March 2006 | Go to article overview

What's the Story?


Walkup, Nancy, School Arts


Telling stories is one significant way we recognize meaning in our lives and our relationship with the world around us. Storytellers throughout time have been revered in many cultures and serve a number of functions in societies. They pass on their culture's traditions through narratives--telling stories of the past, preserving tales of heroes, myths, legends, and fables, and predicting the future.

Storytellers may entertain, inform, or educate their audiences through oral dramatic interpretations, written narratives, or visual images, but they all fulfill the basic human need to believe that life has meaning and purpose.

It makes fine sense that many artists describe themselves as storytellers. Art tells stories that students can interpret, and you can tell engaging stories about artists' lives. Students can tell their own stories through works of art and write them down or tell them, too. Even young children can tell you stories about their artwork that you can record or write down.

If you are not averse to role-playing, you can bring artists to life for your students by impersonating an artist. For example, I once posed as the American folk painter Grandma Moses for a first-grade class. The students were happy to suspend disbelief as I told them tidbits of "my" life.

Engaging stories make the artist real and memorable to students. Anna Mary Robertson Moses (Grandma Moses), for example, lived for 101 years, through Abraham Lincoln's presidency, two World Wars, and the invention of flight. Her work was discovered in the window of a drugstore, and she thoughtfully took jars of her jams to sell at her opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City!

You may want to pick an artist you resemble or just not worry about physical similarities. I have also impersonated the African-American outsider artist Bill Traylor.

Bill Johnson, author of Understanding What a Story Is, suggests that a good story is one that "carries us on an engaging, dramatic journey to a destination of resolution we find satisfying and fulfilling. …

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