I recently stumbled upon the flickriver of my favorite photographer, Rosie Hardy. The significance of my finding was huge toward my understanding of art and music, and why it resonates with people. Rosie Hardy’s photos are beautiful and stirring, but it wasn’t until I explored her flickriver that I realized it is her story, told through her art, that makes her successful.
Her photographs tell a story. The story is hers. She supplements her photos with titles, and her Flickr postings contain elaborate explanations of her inspiration and influences. She has a series of works detailing the seven deadly sins, as well as a still-incomplete 365-series. Her creativity and imagination are astounding, but it’s her story that rings true.
This is important. Story is paramount. This recent posting over at the Harvard Business Services blog highlights this fact, and explains why your story is the key to a business that resonates and succeeds (this term “story,” as opposed to “narrative” or “anecdote,” was spearheaded by the recent business book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future by Daniel H. Pink.) The concept of “story” is an element of branding, which is the latest buzzword being bludgeoned of its meaning by the media and blogosphere.
I’m not interested in branding in this post though.
There must be a story behind everything you create. Choreographer Twyla Tharp calls this the “spine” of a work, but the concept remains the same:
- Musicians must tell a story with each song they write. With or without lyrics. Composer Gustav Mahler, for instance, told sweeping epics with his orchestras.
- Painters must tell a story on their canvas. Which may explain the cold elitism pervading abstract art these days.
- Writers must tell a story. Period. This may sound silly, but we have all read books by authors that seem to derive pleasure from simply using words, without actually saying much of anything to the reader. Loquacious to a fault.
- Dancers must dance a story. Dancing without a story is simply loquacious movement.
- Photographers must tell a story with their photos. Even if the story is not apparent in the photo itself.
This last point is key. Even if the story is not explicitly told and easily understood, it must be present behind the scenes. It contributes to the success of the final work. Ernest Hemingway was famous for this method, dubbed the “iceberg theory” and described succinctly in Esquire Magazine, February 1937:
“The temptation has always been to copy the mannerism without succeeding in duplicating the method. And the Hemingway method is to the Hemingway style what the submerged seven-eighths is to the iceberg’s exposed eighth”
Give your art a story. Create an iceberg.