One Frame Storytelling: The tortured non-artist effect

There was a thread on Twitter yesterday about art being a natural human capability rather than the arcane tool of a small group of creatives.

@callmeSheBear “I actually used to think that way-that creativity was something only “special” people had. I was wrong.”

@chesnut_rau “Through SL I have learned “creative” is not a closed door club. Some would like it to be exclusive, but it isn’t”

I agree with those sentiments. My official title at work is, “Geek Interpreter”. I help subject matter experts translate their complex ideas into clear stories that their less geeky (or differently geeky) colleagues can understand. We often end up delving into visual thinking and storytelling exercises.

Most of the people I work with initially cringe at the idea of picking up markers and sketching their ideas in front of a group. Somewhere between kindergarten and adulthood they got the message that they weren’t artists and should be embarrassed about their lack of drawing skill.

Fortunately, demonstrating my own stick figure level drawing ability eventually gives people the emotional permission to expose their own limited chops. Before long, they realize that it’s possible to communicate creatively and effectively through grade school level sketching skills. By the end of most sessions its hard to pry people away from the easel.

You may be thinking that what I’m describing is not art. Maybe that’s true. But the same psychological barriers that prevent people from expressing themselves in technical and business communication also stand in the way of personal artistic expression. That’s a damn shame. But there’s something we can do about it.

One Frame Storytelling is a good way to get started. Common examples are the meme and the one panel comic. I’ve been having a good time with visual tweets, which start with a text-based social network post and then add an image.

What they all have in common is the combination of one image and a short line of text. The image can be a snapshot, a screenshot from a virtual world a simple sketch or a detailed drawing. The text can be in a comic ballon, integrated into the image or just used as a title.

Whiskey Monday and I will soon be launching a site for people to share One Frame Stories. Although we’re still figuring out the details, the initial plan is to use a format like Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Stories Challenge. We’ll throw out a topic each week and then aggregate people’s contributions in a virtual art show. We may also extend the exhibit to galleries in one or more virtual worlds.

Look for more information over the next couple of weeks on Botgirl’s Identity Circus and Whiskey Shots, including the website url and a Flickr group.

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9 Comments on “One Frame Storytelling: The tortured non-artist effect”

  1. Monday, 23 July 2012 at 22:25 UTC #

    Cool idea… I’m not strong on poses, but will try to join in on those.


  2. Monday, 23 July 2012 at 22:33 UTC #

    The other day you challenged us to try something new and today you have offered up an opportunity to do just that. I promise nothing more than stick figures and bad photographs but I am going to give it the old kindergarten try!

  3. Botgirl Questi
    Monday, 23 July 2012 at 23:08 UTC #

    This is going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

  4. Monday, 23 July 2012 at 23:18 UTC #

    I’m looking forward to taking part too

  5. Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 03:40 UTC #

    Very exciting Botgirl! You’ve brought up a lot of ideas here!

    On “WHO” makes “ART” — really interesting question. It’s been said that of all the almost limitless species on this planet, species of such incredible diversity, power, and grace, that only one makes art, and that when archaeologists find signs of art making, they know they have found traces of Human beings.

    It’s an interesting and extraordinary idea. But if we’re talking about “High Art,” then we’re strangely defining humanity by something only a small percentage of humans typically do.

    SETI’s actually had to think about an analogous idea: if we define “Intelligent Life” as life that is capable of, and chooses to, build a radio telescope and broadcast a signal, then by that definition the planet earth has only had “intelligent life” for a few decades.

    As you suggest, there’s a lot more art and culture than “high art.” Lady Gaga’s musical art does not perform the powerful, paradigm shifting, consciousness redefining “research art” function that John Cage’s musical art did, but the reality is that her “application art” has had a far greater impact on far more people than Cage ever did, at least directly.

    As for what art is, of course there are many things: research art, application art, personal expression, communication, aesthetic pleasure, cultural critique, and more. I’m personally most interested in research art, art that questions our assumptions and asks us to look at things from different perspectives, be those things as large as a nation going to war, or an individual relationship between two people.

    Again, as you’ve suggested, art doesn’t only have to be that, it is communication, dialog, a dance, a flirtation, an interaction, a conversation.

    The next topic you introduced was CRAFT:
    Starting in a few days, in London, a handful of the most extraordinary, least typical, of we 7 billion human beings (7 gigabods) will achieve things most of us can’t even dream of. This level of physical achievement comes at the expense, among other things, of years of extraordinary physical training.

    When we watch a remarkable ballet, we believe, we hope, that we are witnessing a nexus of art and craft, that this prima ballerina is bringing to the stage a rare meeting of body and soul. I do believe that this is true. Still, another talented ballerina performing the same great choreography AGAIN… is that as “creative” as a 13 year-old doing an inspired, spastic improvisation? We have always valued craft. We love “great” drawing because we know how crappy our untrained, pedestrian drawing is. If I don’t have the technical skill to do it, then it’s great, if my 6-year-old has the motor control to do it, then who cares. Yet some of the most profound, heartbreaking art that I have ever seen, was not technically difficult, perhaps a 6-year-old would have the motor ability to create it, whether or not their brief life would possess the cultural resonance to conceive it.

    I do love great ballet. I do love great drawing. I do love great athletic achievements like we’ll be seeing in London in a few days. Yet I fear that we fetishize craft and technique too much, perhaps because they can be more objective than the subjectivity of creativity. And nobody wants to go thru another Olympic Ice Skating judging scandal.

    Anyway, bravo to you for understanding that you don’t need a lot of craft to communicate ideas.

    One two-second drawing lesson for any stick figurists out there:
    The stick figure is really not a bad representation of the human body. It’s got the general structure and articulated joints and you can describe gesture. The biggest “problem” with the stick figure is one that inhabitants of a 3D virtual world can especially appreciate: the stick figure is non-volumetric.

    How do you give volume to a non-dimensional stick figure? Easy!! HOT DOGS AND BALLOONS!! For every arm and leg line that was just a line – replace it with a “hot dog,” an oval… for hands or feet or knee joints: a “balloon,” a circle.

    If you just take your stick figure and replace the sticks with hot dogs and balloons, you’re actually well on your way to creating volumentric figures. If that’s as far as you want to go: great! If you want to go further: practice! Pretty much anyone can learn to draw well, it’s not an Olympic sport, it just take practice. Draw the body in different gestures. Take a little sketch book to the mall, sit for 5 or 10 minutes and draw the people. Do fast 5 or 10 second “gesture sketches,” just try to capture the articulation, the energy, the vectors, of the body. Put in a little time and you’ll get better sooner than you think. I promise.

    Finally for your upcoming 100 word stories:
    Of course I appreciate that you may well want it to be it’s own site, but as someone working hard to create a community of art, culture, and interaction here at iRez I would be remiss if I didn’t at least offer that we’d be pleased to host 100 Word Stories here at iRez. No worries if you have another vision, but I’d be happy to discuss whatever you’d need if you’re interested.

    Where and how-ever it’s manifest, as Crap, Chestnut, and Kristine have already said, it’s a wonderful and exciting project — BEST WISHES for a big success with it!

    • Botgirl Questi
      Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 17:19 UTC #

      Thanks for you thoughtful and interesting comment! Unfortunately, there’s only one “high” art I’m very familiar with and I gave that up years ago.:)

      But seriously, the John Cage/Lady Gaga confluence is a great example for me. I don’t enjoy the work of either artist but I value both of them for their unique personal vision and the conceptual art that hides beneath the surface (or the silence).

      I was using “craft” in a different way, but I love the way you described the expertise that is behind great works in any field. I’ve never been very interested in dance, but have become hooked over the last few years on “So You Think You Can Dance.” It really opened my eyes to the craft behind that art form, both in choreography and dancing. Maybe someday I’ll learn to appreciate opera!

      Since my background is mostly in communication rather than art, it’s not surprising that I focus on that aspect. I’d personally trade a roomful of beautiful master-level landscapes for a work that powerfully communicates an idea that opens people’s minds to a new way of seeing and thinking about their lives and the world. I realize that certain artists have also done this on conceptual and perceptual levels, but that is a much rarer gift I think. On the other hand, I think that just about anyone has it in them to create a Single Frame Story that can be moving, insightful and evocative. Of course, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s all good. Even the crap.

  6. Botgirl Questi
    Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 17:01 UTC #

    Crap, Chestnut & Kristine: I’m thrilled that ya’ll are going to give it a try. I’m totally hooked on the format and there’s nothing an addict likes better than company. Oh. Maybe one thing. Anyway, I look forward to seeing everyone’s work.

    • Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 17:04 UTC #

      I’m looking for artists to torture. Just send me an email with Mapquest directions.


      PS: If you’re worried that I’d actually go around bludgeoning artists, consider the fact that I’m currently picking fiber drink powder clumps out of my hair. I have no idea how they got there.


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