We all dwell in stories. Stories that news channels bring out of reality, stories that films showcase, stories of our friends, neighbours, colleagues. Many times we cook our own stories. We adore listening not to events but why and how they happened, that too such that it entertains us. What is it with man and stories? History is a story, so is science, so is maths, what attracts us so much to these? What is it that attracts us to reality talent shows, or reality shows like Big Boss? After all what happens in Big boss is exactly what happens to anyone around and including us, what differentiates the experience? It’s nothing but the art of narration that marks the higher point, we enjoy narrations. Thus the story if Christ sounds more sorrowful in the narration of a sermon, Krishna is much more romantic in the narrations of Meera bai. The murals in Church and reliefs over the temples thus tempt us more than reading the texts. Visual art for a long period of history thus dwelt into narrating stories of men and wars, of love and worship. These narrations were integrated with human living and so was art part of human living. What intrigued in all this was the art of narration.
How did we begin to narrate than talk? Early man wanted to communicate directly, cave paintings are quite direct in their nature. Experiences of early man were more sensual, based on his immediate physical experience. As our groups grew larger, we began to live in settlements and form organizations. While forming these larger groups, it became necessary for men to not just communicate but communicate better than each other. Thus they began narrating stories, those that catered to the minds and emotionally drive people to their own particulars. This tendency became stronger in the age of prophetic religions as they needed to acquire followers. The work in the beginning narrates an interesting story of how god gave language to man so that the groups of men would mis-communicate with each other and never achieve their goal of building the tower. Men did exactly the opposite with language. What men have been believing to be emotionally exciting has since these days always been the cerebral trigger, or stimulations to the brain. Narrations kindle are imagination, rekindle our memories. They give us experiences that seem to be new, different, surreal. Narrative art has thus been the most significant and encompasses large part of art history.
Visual art explores a variety of narrative patterns. Some where the stories of the hero are sung while glorifying the hero. This beautiful relief from Central Asia shows the king fighting the lion barehanded, a next to impossible feat achieved that gained the king fame and power, with the narrative of brute force in the work.
Somewhere the hero touches upon the chord of sympathy and pain. He ignites the inner guilt and compassion in the human being and creates followers. Like this grotesque but delicate rendering of Jesus from Isenheim, Germany; a place for people who are consumed by skin disorders and pray to relieve themselves of their ailments.
Many a times the narratives tell stories of power, creating heroes of common men while some narratives make the supernatural seem superior but real. Like in this work of Michelangelo in Sistine Chapel, where the birth of Adam, the first human, is glorified. The man, mundane of animals, is magnanimous here with the ‘supernatural’ coming to life.
While in quite a number of works like this beautiful Varaha, Samudragupta’s period, Madhya Pradesh in India, the supernatural and sheer imagination if narrated as possible and even convinced to be heavenly.
A large part of narratives dwelt into creating their own meanings, simplifying ideas in one or composite forms. This led to a field called iconography. Such kind of iconographical depictions are all around us and they narrate the stories of the huge capacity of one man or group of men controlling the others with the power of narration. Stories of Buddha depicted in the Jataka tales have a huge impact in this manner, where the tales relate to one and all, and have continued to relate for over 2000 years. This lovely mural of Saddanta Jataka, elephant as a bodhisattva, has been alluring the viewer for centuries now.
Narrative art was the rule of the day till almost the 15th century all over the world when trends started changing with what could be said as the first wave of globalization, with all the regions getting connected with each other and large scale cultural confluence. Narrations now became known to people and so stories of old times lost their charm to some extent. Today these narrations fascinate us again, lost and resurrected from the sands of time.
Today we continue to fascinate ourselves with similar narratives again, with Facebook and Instagram stories and relive the life that our ancestors strived to make through their stories. But more about modern man in the next part…..