Friday 21 July 2023

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Art and Allegory: The Power of Visual Storytelling

Who doesn't love a good story?  Storytelling in art is as old as the human race itself. It's the caveman's version of Netflix. From the primitive etchings on cave walls to the intricate hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, humans have always had a penchant for a good yarn. And why wouldn't we? Stories are the spice of life, the universal language that connects us to each other.

Fast forward a few millennia and the art of visual storytelling continues. We traded in our cave walls for canvases, our chisels for brushes, creating remarkable religious paintings, like Michelangelo's awe-inspiring frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Historical masterpieces, such as Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' and Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People,' vividly narrate stories of bygone eras. Graphic novels and comics illustrate modern storytelling through art, with their unique art styles contributing to the overall mood and theme.

Installation artists like Yayoi Kusama and Christo and Jeanne-Claude have taken storytelling to new heights, crafting immersive experiences that delve into personal and societal issues. Street art and murals also embrace storytelling, as seen by Banksy's humorous, yet challenging spin on social and political matters. And murals serve as community biographies, sharing tales of history and culture, one wall at a time.

But why are we so drawn to stories in art? Well, it's all in our heads – literally. Our brains are hardwired to respond to narratives. Stories engage our emotions, spark our imagination, and can even shape our beliefs and behaviors. When we see a story in a piece of art, we're not just looking at it, we're interpreting it, connecting it with our own experiences and finding meaning in it.

And the best part? Stories stick. They linger in our minds long after we've left the gallery or closed the book. They're like a catchy tune – we may not remember the lyrics, but the melody stays with us.

So, whether it's a painting that takes you back in time, a comic strip that unfolds a gripping narrative, or an installation that immerses you in a new reality, storytelling in art has the power to move us, challenge us, and make us think. It's not just a tool for artists to express their vision, it's an invitation to step into their world and see a, potentially new perspective.

Let's take a look at three contemporary artists who use story to get their message out there…

Kara Walker, a true maestro of monochrome is known for her controversial exploration of race, gender and sexuality. Walker's black, silhouetted figures might seem simple at first glance, but they're anything but. Each silhouette is a chapter in the grim narrative of American slavery and racism. Her storytelling technique is both confrontational and deeply engaging, forcing us to grapple with uncomfortable truths.

Kara Walker, Slaughter of the Innocents
Kara Walker | Slaughter of the Innocents 2016

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist and activist uses a variety of media - sculpture, installation, photography and film - to comment on cultural identity, individualism and government oppression, particularly related to his home country of China. His installation 'Sunflower Seeds,' comprising 100 million seeds individually handcrafted in porcelain, is more than just a sea of hand-painted seeds, it's a commentary on mass production and loss of individuality. 

Ai Weiwei | Sunflower Seeds |The Tate Modern CREDIT: Photo: GETTY

Art Bite - The Tate bought, approximately 8 million (10 tonnes) of the individual sculptures, less than a 10th of the installation in China, but still the largest number of works of art ever acquired.  

Marina Abramović, the 'grandmother of performance art' doesn't just tell stories; she lives them. She uses her own body as a canvas, pushing its limits to tell stories of human emotion and relationships. For her piece, 'The Artist is Present,' she sat in silent stillness as museum visitors took turns sitting across from her. No words, no movement, just a shared experience, an example of storytelling at its most intimate.

Marina Abramović | The Artist Is Present 2012 

Despite their different mediums and themes, all three artists share a common thread, they use their art to tell stories that provoke thought and stimulate discussion. In doing so, they have made a profound impact on the art world and the many who have experienced their work.  For example …

Kara Walker's work has been exhibited in prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Her 2014 installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, 'A Subtlety,' drew over 130,000 visitors and sparked widespread discussion about race and history in the media.

Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds' installation at the Tate Modern in 2010 was a critical success, with The Guardian calling it a 'work of genius.' His activism and criticism of the Chinese government have also made international headlines, bringing attention to issues of human rights and freedom of expression in China.

Marina Abramović's 2010 performance at the Museum of Modern Art, 'The Artist is Present,' attracted over 850,000 visitors, with many reporting deeply emotional experiences. The performance was also the subject of a documentary, bringing performance art to a wider audience.

These examples demonstrate how each artist has made significant impacts in the art world and beyond, influencing public discourse and challenging societal norms.

To Wrap Up

Without context or an understanding of the narrative, it can be easy to look at works, such as those described in this article, and perceive them as 'just sunflower seeds' or 'simple paper cut-outs'. For sure, I've been guilty of such comments myself. But art isn't just about what meets the eye. Instead of a quick 'meh', let's ask, 'What's the artist really trying to say here? Is there something I'm not seeing because I'm caught up in aesthetic?' 

These pieces are stories, commentaries, and dialogues that invite us to see the world from a different perspective, perhaps one we may not want to consider. In my experience as an artist and a human, I've found that what I try to avoid usually evolves into the most transformative. Engaging with art goes beyond appreciating the artist's vision; it's about the effect the work has on us, stirring something deep within. Every story has the potential to change even a sliver of our identity.

If you can relate to the influence stories have played in your life, whether positive or negative, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.  And if you enjoyed this article, please share the love.

Have a great weekend.    


Kara Walker | Slaughter of the Innocents

Kara Walker 

Ai WeiWei | Sunflower Seeds

Ai WeiWei | Sunflower Seeds at The Tate

Ai WeiWei and the Sunflower Seeds

Marina Abramović's | The Artist is Present

Marina Abramović's | The Artist is Present, Moma

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling. 

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Show, Don't Tell: The Artist's Guide to Keeping Secrets

Monet, Les Nymphéas - Musée de l'Orangerie

This article delves into the fascinating concept of the 'Show, Don't Tell' principle, creative expression, and Monet's final chapter.

In the realm of creative expression, there exists a captivating concept known as the 'Show, Don't Tell' principle.; It may sound like the name of a sex tape but, it's actually a technique used in various forms of storytelling, including writing, filmmaking, and visual art.  This technique offers the audience an immersive experience, allowing them to delve into the story and its characters through actions, thoughts, and emotions, rather than mere factual descriptions. It adds drama, sparks intrigue and keeps us eagerly hooked.

Consider, for a moment, the experience of reading a mystery novel—a fun exercise in piecing together clues and solving a puzzle. The author, skilfully conceals the culprit's identity, ensuring we remain in suspense, craving for more.  They present us with a series of events, characters, and clues, inviting us to connect the dots and unlock the secrets within.

Here's How It Works in Visual Art

Instead of telling you what to think or feel, artists give us visual clues, colours, shapes, and symbols to show us an interpretation of the world.  They tease and tempt us, creating moods, stories, and ideas, leaving us to ponder their deeper meanings. 

Like solving a mystery, the process of discovery speaks directly to our emotions and imagination, creating a personal and unforgettable experience.  The more profound our emotional response, the more lasting the memory.

By 'showing' rather than 'telling', artists can engage their audience on a deeper level, urging them to actively participate with the artwork and craft their own interpretations - the more imaginative, the better.  For artists yearn to fuel our creative sensibilities, inviting us to become co-creators in their evocative narrative.

Let's now turn our gaze to some examples of the 'Show, Don't Tell' principle in visual art:

From left to right: Dali, The Persistence of Memory 1931 | Pollock, Convergence 1952 | Rothko, Green, Blue, Green 1969 | Banksy, Show Me The Money 2005

  • Impressionism: This movement was all about capturing the fleeting impressions of light and colour in a scene. Instead of telling us what to see, artists like Monet and Renoir offered a new way of looking at the world.

  • Surrealism: Surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí immersed us in bizarre, dreamlike imagery to give a glimpse into the subconscious mind, left open to the audience's interpretation.  What does a melting clock mean to you?  The answer lies within your imagination.

  • Abstract Expressionism: This movement was all about conveying emotion through colour and form. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko showed their inner feelings through their art, beckoning us to uncover our own emotional baggage landscape.  Digging into the emotions of Pollock or Rothko would require another post or two!!

  • Street Art: Street artists like Banksy use their art to comment on social and political issues. Banksy shows us a number of perspectives on these issues, that include humour and poignancy.  They challenge us to question, to reflect, and engage.

Our own interpretations may prove more exciting and memorable than the artist's original intention—and that's perfectly fine. Trust me, I'm an artist!

Exploring Monet's Approach 

Now, let's take a deeper look into Impressionism, specifically Oscar-Claude Monet (14 November 1840 - 5 December 1926).

Monet, Waterlillies (1910)

A couple of weeks ago my brother and I visited Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, home to 8 of Claude Monet's outstanding Nymphéas (Water Lillies).  Each panel stands tall at 6.5 feet (1.97m), and hangs on the curved walls of two egg-shaped rooms, covering an expansive surface area of 2,153 square feet (200 m2).  The ensemble is one of the largest monumental achievements of painting in the first half of the twentieth century.  

Upon entering the first room, I was immediately struck by the darkness of the paintings. This was unexpected, as my previous encounters with Monet's work, whether at Giverny, MOMA in New York, or in numerous books, had always been characterized by their vibrant light and vivid colours.  Could these dark, beautiful paintings be a reflection of Monet's inner sadness? 

Monet began working on the Water Lilies series for the Musée de l'Orangerie in 1914, a year marked by personal tragedy.  In 1911, he lost his second wife, Alice Hoschedé, and in 1914, his eldest son, Jean. Alice had played a significant role in Monet's life, providing him with emotional support and caring for their children.  His grief was profound, and his art became an indispensable medium for navigating the depths of sorrow.  As the last surviving Impressionist, Monet was also mourning the loss of his dear friends and fellow artists, especially Renoir and Cézanne.  Could the dark palette of the Water Lilies be a visual testament to these losses?

Monet's eyesight was also deteriorating, and after initial refusal, he underwent cataract surgery in 1923.  Post-surgery, he struggled with cyanopsia, a condition where everything appears to have a blue tint.  Frustration and self-doubt plagued him during this period, leading him to destroy some of his earlier works. However, by 1925, Monet's vision improved, and he was able to resume painting.

His postoperative works retained the impressionistic focus of light and colour but also exhibited characteristics of abstract art.  In other words, up close, we see heavy brush strokes, dabs of colour, and seemingly abstract shapes.  However, as we step back, something magical happens - our brains piece together the puzzle of abstract elements and the shapes and colours take on new meaning. We gain a glimpse of a tranquil pond dappled with water lilies and lush foliage. This departure from a more realistic representation gives us opportunity to put our own slant on what we see and feel. 

And so, how does the story of Les Nimphéas (Water Lilies) for Musée de l'Orangerie conclude?  The contract, signed between Monet and the French government on 12th April 1922, stipulated that he would donate the Nymphéas series of decorative panels to the French State.  But Monet wasn't ready to hand over his cherished creations.  He was a perfectionist and never fully satisfied with his work so the handover was repeatedly delayed.  Georges Clemenceau, a close friend of Monet and the Prime Minister of France, expressed his frustration.  He wrote, 'You are well aware that you have reached the limit of what can be achieved with power of the brush and of the mind.'

Undeterred by Clemenceu's letter, Monet continued to work on the 'Water Lilies' until his death in 1926. It was only after his death that the paintings were finally installed in Musée de l'Orangerie, where they remain on display today in the arrangement that Monet had envisioned.

To Condude

In conclusion, artists channel their emotions through their chosen medium. The darkness surrounding Monet's Water Lilies may not have been a conscious decision but rather a natural expression of the sadness and loneliness he experienced during those final years. This poignant example exemplifies the 'Show, Don't Tell', principle in art - where emotions and experiences are conveyed through visual elements rather than explicit descriptions.

As we reflect upon the 'Show, Don't Tell' principle in art, let's not confine its relevance solely to the realm of artistic creation. Instead, let's think about how it plays out in our own lives.  This is where the expression, 'art imitates life' is a good example of that very idea.  Are we adopting the 'Show, Don't Tell' principle without being aware of it?  Do we rely too heavily on being understood while leaving vital sentiments unspoken?  This type of non-verbal communication can often land us in the soup.  While a touch of mystery can be alluring, hoping others can figure us out, without any kind of explanation is an ambitious pursuit.  

We don't have to lay all our cards on the table, but recognising the importance of clear communication—a dialogue that bridges the gaps between our hearts and minds, allows us to craft deeper connections and understanding.  The 'Show, Don't Tell' principle teaches us the value of nuance, the power of visual cues and subtle gestures that speak volumes.  Knowing when and how to embrace it can, not only nourish our creative souls but enhance our relationships and daily lives.

I hope you found this article informative and entertaining.  If you did, please share the love by clicking on one of the share buttons below.  And please share any thoughts, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.  


History of the Water Lilies Cycle  

Why Monet's Paintings of Water Lilies Are So Iconic 

How To Read Paintings: Monet’s Water Lilies  

Claude Monet “Water Lilies” – Impressions of Monet’s Water Lily Art  

The Effect of Cataracts and Cataract Surgery on Claude Monet 

Saturday 8 July 2023

A Mini Tutorial: Creating a Painting of Powder from the Arcane Series 🌟

I love the Arcane series on Netflix! I've watched it multiple times and fell in love with Powder – she's just so cute. 

A while back, I created this painting of her, and I thought it would be helpful to share a mini tutorial on how I did it. 

In this digital painting tutorial, I'll provide a step-by-step breakdown of the process, accompanied by a video so you can create your own Arcane-inspired masterpiece.


Step-by-Step Breakdown:

Drawing the Outline:

  • Start by drawing the outline of Powder on a new layer.
  • Change the line layer to multiply to create a more subtle effect.

Creating the Base:

  • Insert a new layer underneath the line layer and name it 'paint.'
  • Begin by blocking in the skin using a mid-tone color.
  • Proceed to block in the t-shirt, hair, and backpack.

Adding Shadows:

  • Paint shadows using a dark, warm color to create depth and dimension.
  • Include the main background color at this stage.

Refining Transitions:

  • Use a soft brush or blender tool to soften hard edges.
  • Focus on creating smooth transitions between light and shadows.
  • Don't forget to add details to the bag and background.

Final Touches:

  • Complete the painting by adding the eyes and hair clasps.
  • Pay attention to small details that bring the character to life.

And there you have it! I hope you found this Arcane fanart tutorial helpful. If you enjoyed this content and would like to see more of my artwork and tutorials, make sure to follow me on Instagram

If you found this tutorial valuable, I would greatly appreciate it if you could share it with your friends and fellow artists. Let's spread the knowledge and inspiration together!

Feel free to leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below.  Happy painting! 🎨✨

Friday 7 July 2023

The Art Aficionado's Guide to Dinner Party Domination

Art has a remarkable ability to stir emotions and spark imagination.  Yet, have you ever considered why people can have such diverse interpretations of the same piece of artwork? It's a fascinating phenomenon rooted in our unique psychological backgrounds and experiences. 

We all carry distinct psychological baggage, shaped by our upbringing, cultural influences, personal beliefs, and past experiences.  These elements intertwine to create a tapestry of thoughts and emotions, influencing our instantaneous and often unconscious reactions; 'Wow, that's mind-blowing!' or 'A child could have painted that!' 

Our brains have a knack for rapidly forming judgments such as 'that's cool or 'that sucks', with little thought or contemplation.  It's a fascinating interplay between our personal histories and the way our minds process information.  But are we missing out?

Well, yes, we are!  The proverb, 'Remember to stop and smell the roses' encourages us to take a beat, ponder, think a little, and be in the moment.  So, how can we be less judgy and more open?

  1. Cultivate a Sense of Curiosity: Question your initial reactions, because who knows, that painting you dismissed as 'a bunch of random scribbles' might just hold the key to a creative revelation.  Or, it may just be a bunch of scribbles.  Life is full of surprises, and being open to different perspectives can help us navigate this crazy world we live in.

  2. Engage in Conversation: A quiet chat or lively debate can be enlightening, especially over a glass of wine.  We can learn from each other if we are open to ideas and still on the first bottle 😉.  Sharing and discussing our interpretations with our art mates can offer new insights and challenge preconceived notions. Each person brings their own unique perspective, and by embracing these diverse viewpoints, we expand our understanding and appreciation of art.

  3. Step out of your Comfort Zone: We tend to stick with what we like and what's familiar - it's like a cosy blanket.  This is a great idea when you don't want to grow anymore 🤔.  But, if you do, trying on something new can spark a cacophony of thoughts and feelings.  You may feel excited or enraged by what you see and feel.  And that's ok.  With time, you may find your mind changing, beliefs evolving, and a newfound appreciation for something once dismissed.  

By embracing or even contemplating, the wacky, the weird, and the wonderful, we become more interesting human beings and gain lots more dinner invitations.  

image: The Problem We All Live With (1964), Norman Rockwell

A Bit of Dinner Chat 

Norman Rockwell was primarily known as an illustrator, famous for his cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. However, he had a deep interest in social and political issues, and he used his artistic talent to address these topics in his work.

Norman Rockwell's painting 'The Problem We All Live With' is a powerful and iconic artwork from 1964. It portrays Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl, as she courageously walks to a newly desegregated school in New Orleans during the Civil Rights Movement.

Rockwell's intention was to shed light on the racial tensions and challenges of the time, emphasizing the need for racial integration and provoking dialogue about the discrimination faced by African Americans.

The painting captures the injustice and hostility encountered by Bridges and other African American students integrating into all-white schools. Rockwell's choice to depict Bridges alone, at her eye level, invites empathy and personal connection.

The tomato splattered on the wall symbolizes racial hatred and opposition to desegregation. Through this artwork, Rockwell aimed to challenge prevailing racial prejudices, advocate for equality and unity, and bring attention to the urgent need for racial justice and social change.

A Bit of Neuro

So how can knowing the story behind the painting and the artist's intention change our perception and beliefs within the blink of an eye?  And how can this process be applied to other aspects of our lives?

When we gain new knowledge or encounter different perspectives, our brains light up with excitement. Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire and adapt, kicks into high gear. 

Research has shown that exposure to diverse ideas and experiences can reshape our neural networks, enhancing cognitive flexibility and creativity. It expands our mental horizons and helps us to break free from old patterns of thinking.  

Dopamine, often referred to as the 'reward molecule,' is released when we encounter something novel or stimulating. It fuels our curiosity and motivation, keeping us engaged and eager to explore further.

Serotonin, the 'feel-good' neurotransmitter, is also involved in this process. It promotes a positive mood and enhances our receptiveness to new information, priming our brains for growth and transformation.

This rewiring process not only enhances cognitive flexibility and creativity but also helps us break free from old patterns of thinking. It leads to profound shifts in how we perceive the world, opening our minds to new possibilities and innovative ideas.

So, when we engage with art, delve into history, explore different cultures, or simply embrace lifelong learning, we're not just expanding our knowledge, but also triggering a neurochemical cascade that fuels our brain's adaptability and growth.

If you enjoyed this post and are an exciting dinner guest, please share the love.  And share any stories in the comments, I'd love to hear them.

Have a cosy lively weekend!