The Power of Story and How It Creates Meaning and Value in Life.
The other day I went to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
It had been years (probably closer to a decade) since I had been to the Albright-Knox (or to any art museum for that matter), and I wanted to spend some time with other people’s masterpieces.
I felt like I was in a rut and that I was seeing the same art and inspirations on the same platforms day in and day out.
I wanted to re-frame my thinking and step outside of my normal zone with the hope of creating new connections in my brain that might inspire my next move with my own art.
What’s interesting is that I found myself surprisingly distant and disconnected from the pieces in the exhibit.
As I walked piece to piece, my thoughts were roughly as follows:
– “Okay… A house with a person… Next…”
– “A portrait, cool… Next”
– “A canvas with a bunch of splattered paint… I could do that…?”
…That is, until I dug a little deeper and started looking into the stories behind the paintings.
The Power of Story
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
When I stood in front of this massive piece (95 1/4 x 157 1/8 inches) by Jackson Pollock (Convergence), I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I can do that… What’s so special about paint spatter?”
I had no connection to the piece and was judging it out of context.
That is, until I read the story behind the painting and found myself increasingly intrigued. This is what it explained:
After the horrors of World War II, the mood in the United States turned artists away from traditional styles and themes and toward a search for new ways to express themselves. As Jackson Pollock said in 1951, “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”
In the late 1940s, Pollock developed the technique for which he is best known—drip painting. He placed the canvas on the floor, stating, “this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.” His process became an illustration of critic Harold Rosenberg’s idea of the canvas as an arena in which the artist would perform, which is one of the reasons why Pollock’s method is also known as “action painting.”
The result was a combination of spontaneity and control. At first, Pollock said, he worked on a painting without thinking. Then, “after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about . . . I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc. because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”
The story changes everything.
Now it’s not just, ‘some drip painting‘ but it’s Pollock’s masterpiece that inspired a new form of self expression during incredibly hard and confusing times.
The story is the bridge that takes the raw elements of what’s being presented and gives all of those combined elements meaning; It creates that emotional connection that leads to an artwork’s value.
In their raw form, the elements of a work of art might be worth $50: paint and a canvas.
But when the elements come together and they are mixed with a story that touches people emotionally, those same elements can create a masterpiece that’s priceless.
What’s Your Story?
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown
Just like an art gallery filled with walls of out-of-context art might leave you unimpressed and disconnected, so too might rooms full of unknown people.
What I realized after spending time at the Albright-Knox is that coming to understand and fully appreciate art is essentially the same process as coming to fully appreciate and understand people.
After all, every person’s life is their own ultimate masterpiece and so many times we judge them out of context – without hearing their story that made them who they are.
…Heck! Many times we don’t ever know our own story and how we got to where we are!
It takes digging, reflection, and an open and honest mindset.
But without a story to share, you turn into just another painting on the wall that people might walk right by, leave unnoticed, or judge prematurely – as I did in the art gallery.
Don’t go unnoticed and don’t leave this earth without having shared your story – everybody has a story and it’s the process of sharing our stories that we are able to raise our understanding and frequency as a species.
And so I leave you once again with the question, what’s your story?