[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:12] Today, I want to talk to you about the fact that there's a common misconception, a common belief out there that says that art is primarily about self-expression.
[00:00:22] Everybody wants to express themselves, right? There's even a Madonna song about it. Express Yourself. Right? All these things. That that's primarily what art is. And therefore the art itself is the physical manifestation of whatever ideas or struggles or views that the artist wishes to convey.
[00:00:44] Now, while self-expression certainly can't even be avoided when it comes to art, I would like to challenge this presupposition because I don't actually think it's true.
[00:00:55] I don't think art is meant to be about self-expression. I think what art is really about is connection. Art is about connection, not self-expression.
[00:01:11] Now what do I mean by that? Well, there's an artist named Edgar Dega who says, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."
[00:01:21] And I love that because it's not about what you yourself are seeing in the world even.
[00:01:26] It's about how you help others see the world. What kind of picture are you portraying for them? What are you enlightening for them? What are you showing them? The world is really like, it is not about what you see, it's about what you make others see.
[00:01:44] To this end, I believe that every creation of art is ultimately an act of desperation, born out of the artist's need to connect to other people.
[00:01:55] What you're looking for when you create art, primarily, more than anything, is for other people out there in the world to go, "Yes! I connect to that. I get that. That resonates with me. I understand that."
[00:02:11] You're looking for the people that get it. You are looking for the connection that happens on a deep soul level because you find those kindred spirits, because you make those connections, because that's what happens with great art.
[00:02:26] Even if you're both consuming the art, even if you and another person are consuming the same art, but you both get it. Guess what. It connects you.
[00:02:35] The people that laugh at the same movies that I laugh at, the people that cry at the same movies that I cry at, I feel a special connection to them because the art has bridged us. It has connected us in a way that maybe talking wouldn't have done as fast. It it, it's a shortcut to connection. Art is the great connector.
[00:02:57] And what it does is when you find someone else that you connect with, or when your art connects with people, it reminds you and them you are not alone in this world. There are other like-minded kindred spirits out there like you.
[00:03:15] You are not separate from the world. You are not in isolation. You have fellowship. You belong. It gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.
[00:03:28] But of course, part of the irony here is that where you get that sense of connection is because of all the other people who don't get it. Isn't that interesting? It turns out that one of the important factors of connection is to be able to separate yourself from those that don't resonate with that particular piece of art or that particular piece of truth, or whatever the case may be.
[00:03:53] That's the great irony. While art is the great connector, it connects by dividing people into various groups, namely those who get it and those who don't.
[00:04:05] Jimmy Neal Smith says, "We are all storytellers and we all live in a network of stories. There isn't a stronger connection between people than storytelling."
[00:04:20] Imagine that. Think about that. The strongest connection that exists between people are stories. It's what bridges the gap. And this, in turn, helps us to find our individual identity. Not only does it help us to collectively understand our identity, but also our individual identity. We know who we are because of who we are not.
[00:04:45] This is an essential element of self-actualization and art becomes a way of recognizing oneself because of what you resonate with and what you don't. Louise Bourgeois says that. "Art is a way of recognizing oneself."
[00:05:02] So art then becomes a spiritual and mystical soul connection between the artist and those who resonate with their art. It's a spiritual transaction that takes place.
[00:05:17] It gives us insight into our own motives and our own purpose and our own calling. It's a very, very powerful thing.
[00:05:26] And by the way, why do we do this? Why do we create art? If you're watching this, I'm assuming that you are an artist to some degree, or a storyteller to some degree, so why do you do it?
[00:05:38] Why do you spend the hours laboring away to create something great that others may or may not ever read?
[00:05:46] Because you don't know what's gonna happen at the end of the day. You don't know if that thing's gonna get produced or published, or if it's gonna make the stage or what's gonna happen with it. You just don't know.
[00:05:56] You don't know, and yet you feel compelled to create it. You feel compelled and driven to do this even if you're not getting paid. Generally speaking.
[00:06:08] Even if there's no financial compensation or any reward at all of any kind on the other end, what is wrong with us? Why are we doing this? If we'd gone to law school, we would have a tried and true path to be able to make a living. But as an artist, we don't have that. It is such an interesting profession and calling.
[00:06:31] Why do we do it? Well, again, I would argue it's because we're desperate to connect to others. We're desperate to find a deep soul connection. We're desperate to understand the truth. At the end of the day, I think that's one of the primary things that motivates an artist and it, and it should. If it isn't, it should be.
[00:06:55] Those that are motivated by money are not producing good art. See that that's a different kind of being altogether.
[00:07:03] When you are an artist, there is something in you that is driven to tell the truth about the human condition as it really is. So you simply have to be driven by a hunger and thirst for truth, to understand this thing that we call life and being a human being.
[00:07:23] However, most often, it is a beautifying part of it, right? Even if we're telling a dark story, the fact that we're putting it in the form of story is still a beautification process.
[00:07:39] For one, it's taking the chaos and putting it into order. You can't help but beautify something if you're trying to create art.
[00:07:49] Which reminds me of a quote from Leo Tolstoy. He says, "Art is a human activity, having for its purpose, the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen."
[00:08:06] Now here's the thing that's interesting. Leo Tolstoy isn't exactly known for his feel good stories, and yet he's saying that it's the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.
[00:08:20] There is a presupposition here that when you are telling a great story, you are tapping into truths and the passion of men behind those truths that are meant to convey that to others.
[00:08:36] That's why you're tapping into the highest. That's why it's gotta be dramatic. It's gotta be full of life. It's gotta be dramatized. And we are tapping into things that animate our very beings.
[00:08:48] Because without it, it is all meaningless. But story makes it meaningful. Story gives it purpose and story puts it in a package that allows it then to be swallowed by others and hopefully then manifested in their lives in some sort of way.
[00:09:09] But the only way that this works is if the artist is first and foremost committed to truth telling.
[00:09:15] Truth with a small T mind you, because not every story is true in the sense of it being a true story, but it's true in the sense that it is accurately reflecting both our human experience and the world as God really made it. Which is why I often say the problem of most stories is not that they show too much, but that they show too little because they don't carry on the truth about the human experience.
[00:09:44] We don't get to see all the repercussions. We don't get to see how it plays out in the lives of the characters when they're in some sort of bad situation or when they're making poor decisions. And the lie is to twist it and to leave those parts out, we have to tell the whole truth. And nothing but the truth about the human experience and the world as it really, really is.
[00:10:09] There is no point in telling stories that don't tap into the truth of the human experience. There's just no point in doing it.
[00:10:18] As Pablo Picasso says, "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth."
[00:10:28] There's no resonating with your story for an audience, if there is no truth in your story. It is the fact that you are telling the truth about the human condition that allows an audience to resonate with your story, to tap into it, and therefore to empathize and to emotionally invest and engage in the character's journey.
[00:10:48] So in the absence of truth, we have meaninglessness. Which is why truth has to be the driving force behind everything. We're trying to understand. We're trying to understand, and we're trying to convey that understanding to the audience.
[00:11:08] The artist's job is always and forever to be grappling with the truth of the human condition and the world as God actually created it.
[00:11:16] And in that process, as Robert Rauschenberg states, "The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history."
[00:11:25] Now mind you, you might be writing a period piece, but I promise you that anything that you write, no matter when that story might take place, whether in the deep past or the far far future, is still going to convey the primary things that animate us in our time right now. We simply cannot help it. We simply cannot help but be a reflection of our time in history.
[00:11:51] But the other thing that's important here is notice what he says. The artist's job is to be a witness. But what good is a witness, if the witness is false? The only value of a witness is that, A) they are accurately able to tell what is true, and then B) they are able to accurately convey that truth to others.
[00:12:11] Otherwise, the witness is no good whatsoever. It does no good. It does no good for anybody if the witness is false.
[00:12:17] Now, here's where I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. And the secret is this, which you probably already know, human beings are obsessed with story. We are obsessed with story. Why else would the entertainment industry be the predominant function in human society? Right? It is the thing that drives human culture more than any other device. Think about that. Entertainment.
[00:12:48] And that is because entertainment is wrapped up in storytelling. Human beings are obsessed with story. From the moment that we are able to even understand and process a story, we are hungry for it. We are starving for it. We are asking, tell us the story. Read me the story. We want story. Why? Why?
[00:13:11] Well, there's ample evidence to suggest, by the way, that stories are actually essential to early childhood development. Stories can help children to develop their language skills, of course, obviously their understanding of the world,
[00:13:25] I often liken stories, fiction stories, to being the primary work on the soul that helps us to develop the very most important quality human beings can have, which is empathy.
[00:13:39] So again, studies have shown that children who read regularly during early childhood have far better language skills and vocabulary than children who don't.
[00:13:50] But in addition to that, storytelling helps children develop their imagination. Their creativity and, and this is what I think is so fascinating, it helps children learn how to think critically and how to problem solve. It helps adults learn how to think critically and to problem solve.
[00:14:12] And by the way, this is one reason why I think it's so fascinating that there's a lot of friends that I have out there who don't read fiction because somehow they feel that fiction is less than, it's not as important as true stories or as documentaries or as self-help books even.
[00:14:31] And I disagree. I think fiction is a powerful, powerful tool to help us to understand the world as it really is to learn how to think critically about the world as it really is, and to develop the characteristics that we most admire in mankind, or that we should embody the most in ourselves.
[00:14:53] It is fiction that allows that process to happen. That is where it happens. And it is the thing that allows for deeper emotional connection to others. It develops empathy because only in fiction can you tell stories about people from other people groups, other times, other places, other worlds even. But we can connect to them on a deep and emotional level because of the tool of empathy, because of what it's cultivating in us. Empathy.
[00:15:23] Stories can also help children understand complex social situations and issues, and again, develop empathy and compassion for others. So by introducing characters from diverse backgrounds and situations, story can help us learn about and appreciate the differences in people and cultures. And this in turn will help reduce prejudice and help promote tolerance and compassion.
[00:15:53] Overall stories and storytelling are an essential part of human nature and human development, and they have a significant impact on our growth and wellbeing. But the other thing that story does is it helps us remember the lessons.
[00:16:11] See, here's the thing. A preacher can get up on Sunday morning and give his three-part sermon of, here's the important issues in this particular text.
[00:16:20] But if he tells a story, we will take those principles with us for life. If the story is good enough, we will remember the story for the rest of our lives. Story is something we don't forget. Okay. If you read a story early on in life, you might not remember all the details, but in general, you'll remember the story. You'll remember the primary principles of that story.
[00:16:43] And the reason for this is because we are designed to be relational. That's how God created us. We're designed to be relational.
[00:16:54] As Muriel Rukeyser once said, "The universe is made up of stories, not atoms."
[00:17:02] Story is powerful. It has the ability to influence the hearts and minds of people in a way that meer head knowledge cannot.
[00:17:11] This is because story is rooted in human psychology. Consider that we as a human species share with the animals something called the lizard brain, right? The lizard brain. Well, the lizard brain is the lowest part of our brain where our survival instinct is stored. That's what we use to navigate the hostile world in which we live. And make no mistake, we do live in a hostile world. And so God gave us the lizard brain to help us to survive it.
[00:17:40] So when something happens, we don't think. We react. We have fear instincts. That's the lizard brain working in action, right? Something happens, we get the creeps around somebody. We feel, uh, we cross the street. We do whatever because that's our lizard brain that helps us survive in a very hostile world.
[00:18:01] However, we are not just animals. We are creatures that have been given the ability for higher reason. And with this ability comes a higher purpose, which is to make sense of the world in which we live.
[00:18:17] See animals don't do this. We do. Human beings do. We write narratives around our experiences. We interpret things. We try to ascertain lessons. Sometimes we force them in there, but we're always using story to try to extrapolate some truth or lessen or moral of the story. We cannot help it. We cannot help it, and the fact that we cannot help, it means that we're not meant to.
[00:18:46] Now, by the way, that doesn't mean that just because we cannot help it, that's not a true lesson to apply to all things human.
[00:18:54] For example, we're also liars and we can't help but be liars, and we can't help but be ashamed and we can't help but minimize our own sin, and that doesn't mean that we're supposed to go around doing those things. No. That's where we use our reason to think clearly about ideas and we try to come up with better ways of living.
[00:19:14] However, in the case of story, I think it's different. In the case of story, the fact that we can't help but try to take the experiences that happen to us and make sense of them, that is because God designed us to do that very thing.
[00:19:30] This is why we're so obsessed with story. Story is what allows us to make sense of our world. Without it, we're lost. We are lost. We're confused. We walk around dazed and confused. Story gives us life. Story gives us purpose. Story gives us meaning. Story is how we take the confusion and the chaos, and we create order and meaning for ourselves.
[00:20:06] All of a sudden something becomes manageable. Something becomes doable simply because we put it in the context of story. Story gives it a frame, it gives the situation meaning, and it makes the situation more palatable.
[00:20:21] Right Lulu?
[00:20:24] Story is the thing. Story is the thing. Story is what you are called to do.
[00:20:32] Storytelling is the most powerful thing that exists on this planet. It is literally the most powerful thing at our disposal on this planet. He who controls the narrative controls the world. You are a storyteller, which means you have a very important calling. And our job as storytellers is to wield that power wisely.
[00:21:03] Next week, I'm gonna dive into how we can do that, but also more examples of how storytelling can absolutely change the world, which is something I think we are all in it for. At least if you're watching this podcast cast.
[00:21:20] For now, I want to leave you with one more quote and it's from Ben Okri. Who said, "Stories can conquer fear, you know? They can make the heart bigger?" Isn't that wonderful? "Stories can conquer fear you know? They can make the heart bigger."
[00:21:39] May we collectively as storytellers, qualm our fears, qualm the fears of others. Face our fears. Do the work to tell great stories. Go the extra distance to tell the truth about the experiences that we're having in this world, about the world as God actually created it.
[00:21:59] May we be bold, may we be ferocious. May we be committed and disciplined to tell the truth about the world as it exists. May we be fearless. And may our hearts become bigger as a result.
[00:22:17] This episode is meant to just give you some foundation about what our calling is as storytelling. We're gonna keep jumping off this in episodes to come.
[00:22:25] In the meantime, I would like to ask you if you enjoyed this episode and it resonated with you, would you please share it with another artist friend? And help us get the word out there. And would you comment and rate the show and of course subscribe on YouTube? We would greatly appreciate that. It really helps the algorithm. So please do, do all of those things.
[00:22:45] And in the meantime, I want to thank you for joining me on The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.