Artbeat – Arts & Culture from the Edge – Sept. 3, 2021

The Power Of Storytelling

I still remember in high school doing a history project about my family tree, nothing overly thrilling, it wasn’t like I was descended from anyone famous.  I’ll always remember the stories I was told about some of my ancestors though. My family immigrated to Canada around the time of WWI, and my great grandparents smuggled gold and jewels in dirty diapers. Also my other great grandmother chased a bear from her porch armed with nothing but a broom when she lived up in Stewart BC. These stories are small but they revealed glimpses into my history, they are part of who I am.

Stories have always been an integral part of what it is to be human, whether in our own personal lives or through our history and culture. It is perhaps one of the things which make us human; we have been conveying stories since before the written word came into being. Originally stories and the lessons they taught the future generations were passed down orally or through other forms of communication such as the arts.

In fact, the first writing system was thought to have been developed in 3400 BCE, however 30,000 year old cave murals at Lascaux depicted a history of rituals and hunting. For a long time stories were never written down, instead tales were told or re-enacted dramatically as a way to pass the history down from generation to generation. Due to this their development was often obscured and blurred changing the stories we now know from their origins.

Stories come in all forms; 

From Myths: a way to explain natural phenomena or aspects of human nature and revolve around deities and the supernatural. Examples of this can be seen in the Cherokee story of why all the trees except for the pine lost their leaves, after the other trees refused to give hospitality to an injured sparrow; or in Pandora’s Box: a story of the gods revenge upon mankind by gifting the ever curious Pandora to care for a jar containing all the sickness, death and many other unspecified evils; which were then released into the world when she opened it.  

To Legends: which are often seen as lying somewhere between myth and history. They often center around a well known figure and they can be based on facts – but they are not completely true. Some of the best known legends are the stories of King Arthur, and his knights of the round table; Robin Hood, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor; and Beowulf, the legendary warrior who conquers beasts and helps people in need.  

Some of the best known stories are perhaps fairy tales and folklore. We all grew up with many of these stories, which were passed down orally, until they began to be written down in the 17th century. The ones we are most used to though were not written down until the early 19th century by the Brother Grimm. Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and many more were collected and finally written down for future generations. Fairy tales often included elements of fantasy, royalty, magic and happy endings. Folktales were traditionally more about common people, and usually involved a person or animal learning a valuable lesson by obeying- or in most cases not obeying- cultural rules. Yet all these stories and those like them from around the world have become more for entertainment. They have been rewritten to the lighter fairy tales our parents read to us before bedtime; or that are watched now in their Disneyized versions. They tend to skip over the more gruesome aspects of the old fairy tales, so they are more pleasing to our sensibilities.

All through history storytelling has been conveyed through or accompanied by some form of art, from the illustrations in a children’s book, to fairy tale dramatizations or dance, even to the Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters in length which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Art and Storytelling have always gone hand in hand.

Narrative art refers to the content of the artwork, in other words, what is being painted not how it is being painted. Narrative art is art that tells a story. This can be to show a moment in time or infer a sequence of events that happen over a period of time. A narrative artwork will usually evoke an emotion in the viewer.

 These days we are able to take our Storytelling one step further with the technology of photography and motion film. To this day stories are still a part of our lives, from the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors to newly created murder mysteries, science fiction taking us to places beyond our own solar system, of course the true stories from our own histories. The art of storytelling and the visual art that accompanies it is part of our history and always will be.

The Monashee Arts Council and Village Gallery have invited artists of all kinds to bring their stories into the gallery to be shared, from stories of adorable farm animals, poetry to depictions of biblical heroes.

As to that bear my great grandmother chased from her porch, was it a black bear or a grizzly? Or maybe it was a wolverine? How has her story changed and how will it continue to change?

The Monashee Arts Council is happy to host ‘Storytelling’ at the Village Gallery a look into the stories behind the art. 

The Village Gallery is located at 1975 Vernon St. (Hwy.6), and opens Monday-Saturday from
10am to 4pm.