A Day of questioning inspired by a visit to the Van Gogh museum

Posted to Storytell on March 15, 2007:

We spent the entire day at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I was reflective and thoughtful. Perhaps it is because Granny Sue put a bug in my ear to be thoughtful about the last ten years on Storytell, or maybe it was just because I seem to have less pulling at me when I am on this side of the Atlantic. Well anyway, we rented one of those headphone /audio contraptions and wandered leisurely around the museum listening to the ensuing stories regarding Van Gogh’s life and his paintings. I was struck by many thoughts during my meanderings.

Of those thoughts, three relate directly to storytelling and storytellers. The first, Van Gogh wrote “There is more to art than simply telling a story”. Of course, Van Gogh was referring to the visual arts. I agreed wholeheartedly that there is more to what we do then simply telling a story. Some of us tell for the sheer pleasure of sharing a story. Others tell for healing purposes; healing ourselves, healing others. Still others have education as their aim or continuing knowledge with regard to culture and traditions. I know we have tackled the definition of storytelling frequently on Storytell. Here lies another opportunity to discuss the art of telling a tale! I wondered what storytellers would think about such a saying. "there is more to art than simply telling a story" We put a lot of work into our stories, crafting them along particular themes, drawing out details, stimulating and reworking patterns...

The second thing that struck me was Van Gogh became a painter and decidedly wanted to begin an artists’ colony where artists could discuss and collaborate. How I would have loved to collaborate with other storytellers today regarding conjecture of Van Gogh’s life as it relates to story. After Van Gogh’s falling out with Gauguin he cut off his ear because his long hoped for dream to have artists gather did not pan out. It struck me odd that he would so vehemently destroy part of his body in testament.

I had many thoughts regarding this aspect but thought it wise to share this small part: that Van Gogh’s father was a minister did not bypass me and I wondered if cutting his ear had something to do with the bible verse…”if you hand offends thee, cut it off” I know some years ago, there was talk at one time of starting a storytelling living community. Does anyone know if the storytelling community ever became a reality? I can relate to Van Gogh's need for such a community. Perhaps that is part of the reason why we head to guilds and conference meetings to satisfy this need for communion with our craft.

Last week in NY with storytellers Mary Clark, Sylvia Barker and Marianne, it was absolutely awesome to take a story (The Woman with No Shadow) and flesh out the parts of the missing story from our personal reflections and inner intellectual churnings to distill a creation that we all contributed to. Collaborating and talking about the story was deeply satisfying and left me longing for a closer network of tellers to engage in such magnifying and reconstructing particular stories regularly.

I imagine the same passion generated the ongoing process shared in OKC of the retelling of one story by three different tellers. Returning to Storytell after my short lapse from the internet reconnected me to storytellers and our ongoing dialogues. How deeply satisfying to read your posts, the snippets from your lives, the questions and discussions, the overviews of the last ten years.

Finally, it was noticed that Van Gogh’s work was not publicized until after his death preventing him from knowing the effect he had on others after him. He sold only one painting in his entire life from the vast body of work he created. It was his sister in law who promoted his work after the death of her husband (probably out of need to support herself as well). My question is has anyone noticed that if others say your work is good it seems to be valued more? Wasn’t Van Gogh’s work valuable BEFORE his sister in law began to share it? Why didn't Van Gogh VALUE his own work? Do we unwittingly and collectively pass on this notion that we are not to value our own work? IS it common for artists (storytellers) to value their work only if someone else deems it valuable? How do we as storytellers deem what is valuable storytelling? Is it what our audience or host shares that tempers our telling? Or is it the timber and beat of our own measures that make for the valuable tales we share? I love reading your comments.

In the spirit of sharing,
Angela Davis
Storyteller: Spinning Tales of Light, Joy, and Love