Stories Told: Narrative in Painting

Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Narrative storytelling can be defined as an ongoing story or as a sequence of events unfolding over time. Used to tell a story, to describe an action, to create memorable characters and recall legendary /and historical events for art. As far back as the Egyptians, Artists / painters have used the language of Storytelling as fundamental tool to communicate throughout history,

Narrative Storytelling disappeared from modernist painting, as Greenbergian concerns dominated late Modernism; the job of Narrative painting was left to TV and film, as Modernists dismissed Narrative, storytelling as a lowbrow interest.

By the 1960s, the modernist insistence of abstraction and the taboo against narrative had made telling tales, again irresistible. Pop art and New Realist painting provided new perspectives of figurative imagery which revived narratives interests and opened a new avenue for narrative painting to go.

Into the late 1980’s and 90’s with the development Globalization, Multiculturalism and technologies, contemporary arts / painters continue Narrative Explorations in art. Communicating their singular and interconnected relationships and experiences, the language of Narrative art continues to grow and redefine itself into the 21st century.

 Here are some examples of Contemporary Artists’ exploring narrative themes in their work:

Assignment Description:

Related Reading:

Heartney, Eleanor. “Art & Narrative Postmodern Storytelling.” Art & Today.New York: Phaidon, 2008. 122-141. Print.

Paula Rego
Telling Tales Clip


Dana Schutz
Created a race of people who eat themselves; a guy called Frank who is the last man on Earth; a gravity-phobic person who has tied herself to the ground; and a variety of characters that are spliced, for different reasons, on operating tables.

When asked where she comes up with her fantastical subject matter, she has said that, “The paintings are not autobiographical.

“I respond to what I thinks is happening in the world. The hypotheticals in the paintings can act as surrogates or narratives for phenomena that I feel are happening in culture. In the paintings, I think in terms of adjectives and adverbs. Often I will get information from people or things that I see, a phrase, or how one object relates to another. I construct the paintings as I go along.”


Neo Rauch

Some people put him on a level with Bacon and Baselitz. Others regard him as a simple neo surrealist. Now the painter with the fitting given name turns 50 and everyone is asking if Neo Rauch really belongs in the Pantheon of great artists.

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