CULTIVATING ARTS AND MINDS
We undertook no single exercise or workshop dedicated to the art of storytelling; and yet, again and again, we found ourselves walking that ancient road. In response to the provocation, “I am an artist✼academic,” Storyteller A invoked their Irish grandfather and a childhood filled with the magic of words. Other colleagues told stories of artistic and academic identities hobbled by doubt, anxiety, and various forms of imposter syndrome; their last-minute decision to withdraw from this exhibit tells its own story about the perceived risks, particularly for early-career researchers, of making our carefully curated scholarly selves vulnerable through creative self-expression, even in anonymised form. Whether real or imagined, aspirational or admonitory, broadcast in public or whispered in private, the stories we tell draw others into our orbit and offer insights into the social, cultural, and human value of arts-based inquiry.
My grandfather fought alongside the moonlighters, a revolutionary band who rode at night killing English landlords for Irish independence. When I was a boy I asked my father if I was Irish and he said of course I was. He’d grin and say, You don’t have be born in a stable to be a horse.
So I carry Irish as a label of who I am. I carry it lightly, gently, proudly, a horse outside the stable. Like old, white, parent, grandparent, husband, brother, son, uncle, friend, card player, surfer, blues supporter, artist academic.
I carry these labels, some as names given to me, and others I chose. I had no choice with artist.
My everyday childhood was lived in the arts. My father recited Yeats and my sisters played the piano and we sang Irish rebel songs, and when we recited the rosary on a Thursday night, staring into the bleeding heart of Jesus, we entered as a family into worlds of mystery through patterned rhythm. I didn’t see a play until I was 19, and I didn’t go to an art gallery until I was 22, and I didn’t think what we did in our house was the arts and my father would scoff at a working class boy wearing titles like artist academic, but he’d left school when he was only 12 and he’s been dead fifty years so I’m not sure.
I was fifty when I became an academic and joined the soft privilege of the university and spent the first years acting as if I was an academic long enough so that I could do it convincingly and all along I was an artist first because that was what I knew. I knew that the world was more than numbers and words, that there was a possibility to trouble and disrupt the world through the power of the university. I knew that laughter and play and the arts are first and foremost trouble. They unsettle the comfortable. Like my grandfather, I’ve seen being an artist academic is about riding in the moonlight and making new worlds.
An artist academic can and never should fit in, should learn to live as a horse not born in the stable.
The Story Line
Begin with a provocative question (such as “What is an artist✼academic?”) or statement (such as “I am an artist✼academic!”), then weave a story in response.
Your story may be fact, fiction, or a mix of the two. You can tell your own story, someone else’s story, or both. You can write, speak, or sing your story; there are no rules.
The impulse to shape our experiences into stories is as old as human culture. While stories can be told in many different ways, the ones that resonate across the ages – fairytales, fables, myths – typically contain some or all of the following elements:
- Compelling characters
- A memorable setting
- A first- or third-person narrator
- Direct dialogue
- Actions that drive the plot forward
- A central conflict
- A satisfying resolution
When you’re ready to start writing or speaking, let your story flow freely, without stopping to question your narrative choices. Let the story emerge in the telling.
Later, take some time to reflect on what your story might teach you – about yourself, your provocation, and the power of story to bring to the surface our deepest hopes and fears.