A year ago, I joined CAN New Artists Collegium founded and led by David Zundelovitch. The members of the group I’m in are all sculptors. I arrive from music and storytelling. It wasn’t clear if I’ll manage to blend in. My music education involved art history and I’m no stranger to the arts. Yet my knowledge and experience with sculpting is zero. I never had to work with physical form.
The group members hear each other through the entire process. Together we try to ask questions, come up with ideas, solutions, and new questions to look at. It’s a joined thinking process around the work each of us is doing.
I found an idea to work with, and I’m walking through all the necessary phases, learning all the time. I arrived with a solid sketch, a clear standing form made of clay to look at. Then something happened, that left me speechless. That doesn’t happen often. Someone asked:
What story are you trying to tell through this work?
[My thoughts: WHAT?! I’VE BEEN TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW SCULPTING WORKS, WHAT IT ALLOWS, WHY IT EXISTS, WHAT MAIN TOOLS OF EXPRESSION IT USES AND OPERATES, AND YOU’RE ASKING ME ABOUT TELLING A STORY?! Which believe me, I can tell you a couple of things about, but that’s not the reason I’m here.]
‘Stunned’ expresses my feelings at that moment. It wasn’t the first time I heard ‘storytelling’ and ‘tells a story’ out of their real context. This was a moment of truth. It helped me format my thoughts better than ever before:
I don’t want my sculpture to tell a story. I want it to be a sculpture and do its thing the way sculptures do.
There is an idea behind the sculpture. I don’t want to tell you what it is, it’s my business. If you get to visit it, all you need to do is stand there and sense what it is that the sculpture is for you.
So why do artists write the “artist’s page” next to their work? Because once the work is set up in a gallery, it’s what you need to do. Whether you like it or not. You’ll never see that page next to sculptures standing outside, will you? This obnoxious custom arrives from curators. They know how to make up complicated stories. Usually disconnected but oh so importantly fine.
If every other thing in the world ‘tells a story’, we can wipe out half the things and tell stories instead. That can be fun – to wipe out knowledge and traditions – can’t it?
Pulling everything into the ‘storytelling’ den cancels out the work of other professions. Mashup is good only when the frames and tools of each component are clear. Most mashups are a mess, we know it, we don’t often admit it.
Once the game rolls over to story, everything goes – so it seems. People and companies have ‘their version’, influenced by their interests. They use a story coverup, instead of doing what they say they can do.
Are you a visual artist? be great at it, the world needs you.
Are you a marketer? be great at it, the world needs you.
Are you a sales person? be great at it, the world needs you.
If you insist on going ‘storytelling me too’, you might make a quick profit. Especially if you’re in business. Real storytellers don’t see much of those marketing, advertising and consulting budgets, interesting enough. I don’t think we would be too interested, once we’d figure out the motives and the environment.
Fancy carriages turn pumpkins in due time. When the trend changes, you won’t have enough credibility in youe real profession. You’ll have to trend again. I’m betting on design thinking, if you feel you want to prepare.
Listening to David, you realize sculpting isn’t something mysterious. It sounds like a profession and a hell of a lot of work. It might turn art, it might not, the main thing is to work and learn. There are clear rules, tools, and work processes. They become clearer to those who invest in inquiry, not in mystery and marketing hype.
The same is true for storytelling. It is a profession; there are clear rules, tools and work processes. From what I know by now, I don’t need a sculpture to tell a story. The fact I’m making one doesn’t state I’m trying to tell anything.
Each profession has its place in the world. It’s the fake professions that don’t have a place. That’s why they are trying to grab some. Because they have nothing real to offer, they become brutal – in a designed way.