Art and Storytelling · Uncategorized

The Gift of Story

An important gift we writers can give another person is renewed confidence in their ability to tell their stories.  Once I collaborated with a South African painter friend to teach the arts in a mental health program.  Clari van Niekerk was showing adult students how to paint scenes and objects from their lives and I was to help them write poetry about their work.

I tried to chat them up while admiring their paintings, but soon realized my task would be difficult.  The students could visualize with a paint brush, but “seeing” in language and getting it on paper was a whole “nother” thing.

I sat down with one lady, and to buy time, made small talk.  Then I had a flash.  “Lucy, (not her name), talk to me about your painting, I’ll write down what you say, and we’ll get a poem.”  Each painter told me the story of their work and I shaped their words into a poem, keeping the freshness of our conversation while adding line breaks to emphasize certain ideas.  The poems were mounted beside the paintings in a gallery and read to an appreciative audience.

Jesus calls us to a life of giving.  Maybe sometimes our call as artists and writers is to give someone the gift of trust in their own artistic abilities and make a way for their expression.  Clari helped each student visualize their life story through painting.  Then a writer helped them articulate their internal musings for a new audience in a new way.  I got jazzed creating life stories with these artists and finding internal resources (both theirs and mine) that had been buried or forgotten.  What have you discovered about giving through writing and the arts?

4 thoughts on “The Gift of Story

  1. Hi Nancy, Thanks for your kind words. It was such a lesson for me, that my work wasn’t to focus on my own “self expression,” but help someone discover theirs. I think I gave myself a gift that day as well.

  2. Reading your story reminded me of an experiment made with kindergarten children. They were asked “How many of you can draw an elephant?”. Every hand raised and every child drew his or her own interpretation of an elephant–and was proud of it, whether it looked much like an elephant to the teacher or not. The same question was asked of older children (I can’t remember which class it was, but I think the students in this class were nine or ten years old.). Only a couple of hands went up. I think what this says is that we hesitate to use our talents and abilities as soon as we begin to measure them by other people’s standards. If we see ourselves as falling below what is considered the norm, we lose confidence in ourselves. Amazing what we can accomplish when we are encouraged and our gifts are pointed out to us. We don’t all have to be Shakespeare or Van Gogh. How wise of you, Lora, to find a way to bring out a talent that lay hidden in your students. What a wonderful gift you gave them–to hear their own stories in poetry! Your technique for incorporating various creative arts is marvelous and one of the most effective tools for learning. I remember seeing a display of masks and life stories created by kids in the Texas Juvenile Probation system. It was a shocker–made me cry.

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