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Art May Tell a Story, but Art is Not Equal to Story

An “artist” is something we like to call ourselves. There are a lot of different kinds of artists, both in terms of medium, and in terms of philosophy.

Some critics prefer to study creators that are well-versed in the Fine Arts and/or in Literary Theory. Your average reader, however, simply wants to read a good story.

And so the question you have to ask yourself is, “Who are you writing FOR?”

This is critical, especially because of the fact that you can’t please everyone. That means that you can’t write for both the critics, and the general audience.

Of course, once in a blue moon, a film or book comes along that's raved about by both the public and the critics. Because of this fact, some of you are probably already asking, “How in the world did they do that?”

I believe that the key depends on how you think about yourself as an artist. Are you a theorist, a linguist, a photographer, a painter?

Or are you a Storyteller?

Does your work focus more on ART or on LIFE?

Does your work focus more on TRADITION or on REVOLUTION?

What kind of storyteller are you?

The Four Underlying Philosophies

In his book, Making Comics, Scott McCloud talks about the four campfires that compose the comics culture: the Classicist, the Animist, the Formalist, and the Iconoclast.

These four tribes are broken down into four quadrants: Art vs Life, and Tradition vs Revolution.

Scott McCloud concludes that there is one camp that has more readers than all the other three combined: the Animist. This is because most readers go into reading as a way to escape. They go in wanting to be entertained, to be transported to another world, another time, another space.

This doesn’t mean that all the other camps are unimportant. On the contrary, they are equally valuable.

If we’re to look at the breakdown of each quadrant, we can see that most artists tend to skew in one direction or the other.

Either they’re more focused on following established rules or on breaking them, on art for art's sake or on depicting life.

These philosophies aren’t applicable only to comics, either. Literary culture itself is divided into these four tribes.

The Formalists in prose and poetry, for example, tend to try and reinvent the form that stories take. Hence, stories come in all sorts of types. A pretty good example of a formalist's work is Train Main by Hitori Nakano. Here is a love story told in the form of anonymous posts within a forum. The entire book is structured as though you were reading a forum online, breaking the norms of established literary tradition.

In the story, the hero, the Train Man, goes into an online forum and asks for advice from strangers on how he, a geek, can make this girl he met in a train fall in love with him.

But even then, although Train Man takes an entirely different approach, it's still very much aware that the first thing it’s trying to do is tell a story.

As storytellers, we first have to understand that art is different from story. At the same time, art can also take the form of a story.

Art is Not Always Story

But storytelling is an art.

Storytelling is an artform.

Art may be able to tell a story.

But art for art’s sake is not necessarily storytelling.

If your aim in making comics is to push the boundaries of the comics medium, then by all means, you are welcome to contribute to its development.

But most readers go into books expecting to be told a story. Not an idea. Not a thesis. Not a thought experiment.

So if your goal in telling stories is to be read, then it’s better that you focus your efforts on telling a good story than on challenging the status quo.

That’s not to say that there aren’t better and somewhat unorthodox ways of telling a story.

But if your goal is to be effective so that you create emotions in your audience, then focus more on how you can manipulate their feelings with both your words and your pictures.

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