This month, I have been thinking about an article I read recently about how the important ‘new’ skill for business is storytelling. It is great to see the art of telling a good tale being brought to the fore in the business world, and it has led me to reflect on some of the work done in education and in the arts.
Sharing a personal anecdote helps us build a feeling of connection, of shared values or interests, and can humanize a person for those listening. When I work with new staff and docents, one of the first things I ask is that they introduce themselves using a short anecdote rather than listing their credentials or past as we usually do. I tell them to think of a story that tells us something meaningful about them. Doing it this way takes a bit more thought, but it means that I have learned something valuable, and I feel that I know that person a little bit more.
I think this is an important approach to take in all forms of teaching, and it is one we use often in arts education programmes when we talk about paintings and sculptures. If a painting is worth a thousand words, a good story is worth a thousand factoids. Looking at a painting can communicate so much information, emotion and energy that a reaction is instant, meaningful and memorable. As art educators we know this inherently and often employ techniques in our teaching that use this experience to further our message. When leading a discussion about an artwork with a group, be it an elementary class or a corporate team on a retreat, I work through an analysis with them to help them really look. What are the details that the artist has included? Excluded? What are people doing with their hands, where is their gaze? What kind of brush strokes do we see? Why has the artist chosen the materials that we see? Through this experience of looking, viewers are able to build a story, and that in turn will lead to a much more meaningful experience and memory.
As arts educators we must be sensitive to our audience – what are they interested in – not just what facts, but also what kind of information? For free-choice learning (a museum visit, for example) the entertainment factor can be as important as anything else. Find a way to reach your audience on their level, connect them with the art they are seeing, and the experience will be far richer and memorable.