Telling Stories without Words

Illustrator and author Edward Hemingway is this month’s visiting artist.
Edward Hemingway comes from a literary background. His grandfather, after all, is the great novelist Ernest Hemingway. But Edward is not in the business of writing novels. He instead uses his literary skills to write and illustrate children’s books, and, to him, images communicate in a way that words often cannot.
This week, he introduced this idea to Brooks students and to local elementary school students as February’s Lehman Art Center visiting artist. An opening of his illustrations is being held Friday, February 6, in the Lehman Art Center.
Teaching a 2-D art class on Tuesday, Hemingway handed each student three sheets of paper covered in black dingbats. Their assignment was to tell Hemingway a story without using words.
“Think about telling a story,” he said. “Keep it simple, and try to say something.”
The advice he gave students as they began their projects could have applied to a writing course. He told them to think about their story having a beginning, middle and end, and he encouraged them to be original.
“We all create art to learn about ourselves,” he said. “What’s important is finding your own personal voice.”
In addition to creating his own artwork, Hemingway teaches creative writing at the School for Visual Arts, in New York City. His course is called Visual Narrative.
“We talk about the nature of storytelling, and incorporate that into visual art,” he said.
As students began to cut out dingbats and glue them to their canvases, Hemingway showed examples his graduate students had created. As they worked, students also wanted to hear about Hemingway’s famous grandfather; many sat wide-eyed as he told family stories.
One difference between written and visual art became clear as the class period rushed by.
“If I had asked you to write a story, do you think you’d be done by now?” Hemingway asked, and students nodded their heads in response.
As students finally started to finish their stories, he commented on the different artistic and editorial choices they had made. Some filled their whole canvas symmetrically, while others concentrated the action in certain locations. He asked for volunteers, who felt confident that anyone would be able to read and interpret their story, to share.
The stories were surprising, dramatic and all different. Hemingway was impressed, occasionally encouraging a student to build on a certain theme or think more about the organization of their canvas. The goal, after all, was to tell a story.
“It’s important to play around with these things,” he said. “The goal is to communicate basic ideas with simple images.”
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