Art of Story (Part 1)
I am a storyteller. Know how people say we are made of stardust, I say we are made of stories. I am not the first to think, much less write this, others have said it before, and perhaps more eloquently.
I wake up to uncapped possibilities each day and my reality feels expansive and limitless, not because I am an NZT junkie but because I realize every thing is connected, interdependent and incredibly fascinating. I find good stories expand my consciousness, as they open up my mind and heart to new ways of thinking, being, feeling and doing.
My story has been a non linear narrative with massive jumps in logic. I studied science, only to pursue the arts in college. I pursued the arts only to find my way back into science and policy change. I haven’t done things as people would expect me to, and it has made life harder but also more fulfilling.
I was once told that it would be impossible to acknowledge me for an award category without a career designation. They needed to put me in a box so I could fit into a drop down menu. After considerable deliberation, I cautiously coined the term “Creative Conservationist.” It was the broadest title I could think of to describe my ever evolving vision and resilient passion for life. The term also eloquently summarizes what I do. I enable and empower the conservation of all life on earth, human and wild through the arts, in the form of stories. I design visually evocative campaigns that strategically align corporate entities with impact driven non-profit brands, to mobilize individual action towards communal welfare. I create experiential installations and provocative paintings that catalyze genuine epiphanies, about our wild heritage and future, within those who view it.
Wild is what I care to wake up for, it is what I am intoxicated by, it is the inspiration behind everything I do, it defines my every cell, and it is the love of my life. Art is the medium through which I celebrate wild. Art is the platform through which I convey how irrevocably, and unconditionally I love wild. Story is how I make my art emotionally seduce others to fall in love with wild too.
Stories are how we pass information on to the next generation. Story is why you buy one brand of toothpaste over another. Story is why you recycle, or choose to ride a bicycle. It is through story that we simplify complex concepts espoused in academic jargon and funnel such content into the every man’s lexicon. Story is how we perceive relationships, distill patterns amplify awareness and democratize information. A story is the skeleton, it gives what would otherwise be a flesh puddle of particles and process an intelligible form and appreciable function. Art without story is like a chocolate cake that has been made with carob, it cannot be ingested enjoyed or shared. Then again I am a chocolate purist.
Connection is the unstoppable force we empower through storytelling. The internet exists because of our need to bridge physical distances, and connect through communication. The internet is one conduit through which I spread the relevant stories of our times to the masses.
From art installations and shows to giving lectures and conducting workshops, I employ various methods of data dissemination to get the public in the know, but the uniting and underlying matrix for all my efforts is storytelling.
Let me draw your attention to a simple exercise with which I begin a lot of my workshops. I first tried this on a trip with Care Guatemala and Parsons School of Design IDC (Integrated Design Curriculum) on a group of female, Mayan artisans, to enhance their understanding of visual identity, or in industry speak, branding.
I start the exercise by handing out large sheets with identical stick figures printed on them. I pin one sheet up on the wall, onto which I inscribe adjectives that describe the silhouette both physically, and in terms of its personality. I replicate my outfit on it, add curly hair worn in a specific style, and sling a shoulder bag across her, and in that instant she comes alive. It becomes apparent to the class that the stick figure is me! I then encouraged each of the women to customize their stick figures. By illustrating their individuality, they had each created condensed, symbolic representations of the most important aspects of themselves.
I followed up with a discussion about color, what each hue meant to their community, how the same color could mean different things in different cultures (e.g. white can symbolize peace, or death, red can portray anger or love) and how a color can be used to refine and define an identity.
Next we went over various signs and symbols, and how even though we spoke different languages that certain icons transcended language and cultural barriers.
Later, to get them to comprehend the importance of a singular visual identity for their products in foreign markets, I had to make them aware of the fact that we all see the world differently. So, I asked every woman in the group to draw the sun, something they all witnessed and relied on daily. To this day, in all the workshops I have initiated, I have yet to see two suns that are exactly alike.
It took two and a half hours to give them the skills they needed to create a logo, and by the end of the fourth hour they had developed their own logo for their product line. It portrayed a sun rising over the valley they lived in, which framed a loom being worked on by a woman. It was simple, clean and incorporated fuscia and green in its layout, the two hues that are most reflected in their regional textiles. To be able to empower these women to think creatively and conceptually, to the point where they could coin their own brand logo, made me feel like a million bucks. It dawned on me in that moment precisely how I could contribute to the world through design.
Recall that striped lace dress from hell that stumped us all on social media? Was it blue and black or white and gold? To this day I see all four colors at once, to me it’s gold and white toward the top and blue and black toward the hem, but I’m special, and I want world peace. Telling colors apart was actually my first job in the fashion industry. Just before I decided to become a spandex and cape free crusader for marginalized causes, I was working as a human spectrometer on Seventh Avenue. I was hired by a reputed fashion house to discern between identical lab dips/color swatches. I had honed this ability to the point where I could effortlessly tell apart five yellows the average eye would relinquish as being the same, on the basis of tone, tint and saturation. My task was to note down the color values, name each hue, and help curate a palette for the upcoming season’s textile development. So imagine my surprise when I learned this blasted dress wasn’t a four way color palette. It kept me awake at night.
What we see is subjective, which means no two eyes see alike. So the way you sense and experience this world is utterly unique to your body, your internal biology, chemistry, mechanics and emotional as well as psychological constitution. So the connections you draw, the manner in which you can contribute is also inimitable. You cannot be replaced because flaws and all, there’s only one of you.
Much of my creativity has been determined by a visual shortcoming. My body experiences transmission gaps when it comes to detecting depth of field. Certainly clarifies why I walk into every piece of furniture I own each morning. But more significantly, it explains why most of my art is two dimensional in composition, rich in color blocking with an emphasis on positive and negative space. There are rarely any foreground-background relationships voiced in the majority of my pieces because frankly I do not notice them in real life.
My life-drawing instructor, Kate, once looked at my charcoal still life and remarked, “Your bananas dance all over the page Asher, they are just magical.” What she meant to say was, “You have no concept of spatial relationships and your fruit lack orientation to any plane, real and imaginary.”
Over time I have not only found a way to work around my limitation through the use of light and shadow but the flatland aesthetic has now become my signature sensibility. I use my inability to sense depth to my advantage and I push the boundaries on the art that results from this handicap.
Figuring out how to equip my art’s audience with an informed perspective that is augmented by authentic insight, is my biggest challenge. The connections that help me forge a path between what is known by some and what remains unfamiliar to most, are the missing links I need to find and weave together to bring alive a story that can enlighten the benighted.
I examine content that is hard to grasp and break it down into its core elements. This is where I get my ya-yas. I subsequently sequence these building blocks in a more intuitive, emotionally tangible way, through narrative, such that the original material finds articulation in a more accessible vocabulary.
Reformatting the parts, re-frames the whole.
If something is hard to understand it is not because you are stupid, it is because the thing in question has been expressed without bearing you in mind. Content is always published with intent, unfortunately that intent is often to be elitist and exclusive, instead of egalitarian and inclusive. This implies that only those who are fluent in a given dialect will be in the position to access, acquire, and apply the encoded information. People treat information in a proprietary manner, like knowledge is a product or service that belongs to those who first uncover it. By holding onto information and circulating it to a predetermined target audience, those in the know withhold the overall development of the global village. It is a parochial power game that turns a blind eye to sustainable progress. In today’s world everyone needs to be informed, so their participation can be productive. Do not forget, the fate of those in the know is inextricably tethered to those who are ignorant, so a failure to educate actually dooms us all.