Last night I closed my open studio after an impromptu party with three muses , one rather hairy, in which the absinthe bottle of La Muse Verte was emptied. Scott, Ed, and I ended up at the Ira Glass show at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center. Ira Glass, a semiotics major made good as creator and host of NPR’s This American Life, spent a long time giving out his trade secrets of storytelling, or story cultivating, or story minding, or whatever it is he does so well.
I felt like I was watching– or rather, hearing, as the show celebrated the audial life of the radio– an alchemist giving out his “secret” recipes for turning lead into gold. Open secrets: everyone can hear them, but only a few can use them. Storytelling, he said, is a semiotic pattern. One thing happens, then another thing happens, then another thing– an Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth– and it doesn’t matter a bit what the story is or who’s telling it. At the end there’s a bump, a pause, and a moral. The elements of the story are the abstract bones. If the substructure is strong, any story propels us into the other world. Anyone and anything might work in these stories. And you can tell thousands of them, like Scheherazade. Or Ira Glass.
This reminded me of abstract painting. We move away from the subject, and into bones of pure visual action. The structure of the painting carries us along even without subject matter or explanation. First one painting element happens, then another, then another…. it’s fashionable to avoid the word “narrative” with abstract or non-objective painting. But there’s a story embedded in every piece, if we know how to read it. The composition rocks and rockets us toward meaning.
Glass paced the stage, IPAD in hand glowing like magic tablet of a new Moses, as he expounded on the world’s oldest art form, storytelling. In the story of the painting Salamander Winter, you may find Scott building salamander “houses” in our back yard. We lay down boards on the damp winter ground on purpose to be salamander homes. You can find two kinds of California salamanders in our yard, little wormlike Slender Salamanders and classically newty Arboreals. We encourage them to raise their tiny, slimy, cute babies there, and we lift the check their progress. We identified them through this wonderful site, Identifying California Salamanders.
My Ariadne’s thread is tangling here, so I have to quit. The Open Studios went well. Paintings bumped their way to new homes: I’ve posted one here. My thanks to all who visited and to my collectors. The semiotic form of the blog requires that I ask you a question or two, to encourage socializing. So I have some: did you like my studio? huh? huh? and, hey, did I invent the worst blog title ever, or not? And the moral: Know Thy Salamanders. Do you?
Mythic News: Theseus dumped Ariadne after she saved his sorry self from the Minotaur, but a god (Dionysius) ended up marrying her, so it all worked out. She traded up. The Alchemical Salamanders in my painting go through fire unscathed, faith enduring after earthly passions smolder.
Studio news: the Open Studios were successful. The Barracks Artists, in the old Finley Barracks in Santa Rosa, are emerging from the mist. Guerilla artists in the mist. Come visit me by appointment.
3 thoughts on “Ira Glass, Semiotics, Studios, and Salamanders”
Well I suppose it’s my fault I wasn’t there to score the fabulous aqua painting, but I’ll definitely come back by appointment. And semiotic will be one of my favorite new words. Years ago I took a workshop in storytelling and used to go to the annual Storytelling Festival in the bay area. Maybe we can go some time.
Thanks, Susan. Semiotic comes from the Greek semeiotikos, “observent of signs,’ from semeioun, “to mark, give signals, to note’, from semeion, ‘sign.’ Quite a pedigree! A notebook or sketchbook could really be a sign book. And observation of signs sounds a bit like reading omens in the drips, spatters, and lines in our paintings.
Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio http://www.saltworkstudio.net
Well, the title didn’t make me want to read the post, but I always read them anyway — can’t help it: I was born in the year of the dog. Congratulations on your successful Open Studio.