Storytelling in Art: An account on Surrealism

What is storytelling in an artwork?

There is always a story behind any artwork. Storytelling is an art itself; an art that is to be explored, learned, and mastered. Whether personally interpreted or deciphered by the artist, the artwork’s story becomes a source of an emotional trigger, inspiration, and artistic flow. Storytelling through art plays its role in the education system, it is a medium best suited for visual learners and developing children. Visual storytelling also serves as a good way to summarise long stories where only the central theme needs to be communicated.

The most common way to narrate a story through art is through a series of images or usage of focal themes. This way of storytelling telling has made it big and went as far as becoming a source of inspiration for the motion picture industry. However, storytelling in an artwork can go as far as selecting a key moment in the story. Part of storytelling is also on appreciating the material used or the underlying process where every element used conveys a symbolic undertone.  

It is the details of the artwork that tells the story. Colour and shape create the mood for any artwork. Although this may not always be the case, warm and bright colors are likely to create a happy ambiance, whereas dull and dark colors are likely to create a somber mood. On the other hand, rough shapes and broken lines may evoke feelings of hostility and smear, whereas rounded shapes and smooth lines have a calming effect.

Storytelling in art is more complex than imagined. Some art pieces stray from the artistic norms; some may have conflicting elements or combinations causing a queer sensation which makes it harder to pinpoint a certain emotional connection. An audience relates to a good story when the artwork inspires the use of vivid imagination. Say the theme of the artwork is a delicious plate of food, it should almost leap from the canvas by creating a mental mouth-watering taste for the buds. Furthermore, storytelling in art leans towards a personal point of view in some art types than others.  Abstract and surrealism are such types of art. Read more on Abstract art

Exploring storytelling through Surrealism art

Surrealism mainly uses symbols to communicate ideas. Its development can be traced to the times of groundbreaking artworks of melting clocks themed ‘Persistence of Memory’. The nature of the artwork is both illogical and peculiar. The development of surrealism goes to show the mental depth and limitless that storytelling in art has. Surrealism can be both captivating and irksome at times because of the illogic sequencing. Interpretation of the artwork is often mentally debilitating.

The art of surrealism often ascribes an element of artistic spirituality. Often a great plot twist, the art allows us to reimage a world of endless possibilities where suspense is part of the thrill. Surrealism art can take many forms where recognizable images are painted or crafted in an unrealistic form. Since art depicts life; and life often does not make sense, surrealism is the best visual orator for complex stories.  

Although a great deal of the storytelling experience in art is up for personal interpretation and connection, an artwork’s paramount footing is best elaborated by the artist. A case study on a painting titled ‘Genesis’, by Moleboge Mokgosi, a local surrealism artist narrates the artist‘s passion for African spirituality.

According to the artist, she uses placement primarily in her artworks to portray how she often feels out of place.  Placement craftily puts ordinary things out of place or in places the audience least expected them to be. The onus is on the impracticality of the sight; making surrealism a great avenue for visual storytelling.

‘Genesis’ BY Moleboge Mokgosi

Artist’s artworks at

Artist’s account of the story behind ‘Genesis’

According to Moleboge, the piece ‘Genesis‘ was inspired by her experience with African spirituality. She believes that the creator of the universe is an African Deity. In the artwork, a black being is seen with traditional Tswana clothes on. 

Moleboge highlighted that she used the plate in the background to show a state of mind, the same as how the head is the container of one’s emotions and thoughts. The plate is durable and strong; demonstrating her view on how strong-minded women are.

What story does ‘Genesis’ convey to you? Let us know in the comment section

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