A story in all of us

A story in all of us
When I first started planning this talk, I had so many things I wanted to discuss: the changing dynamics of the illustration industry over the last ten years, how fashion trends are influenced by a small majority in a macro environment, or the lack of sincerity of character in film. I could talk at length about each subject on any given day with solid arguments for each side and end the conversation feeling like I’ve added an opinion to the world that perhaps didn’t exist prior. It’s that slight narcissism of living in a creative bubble among other creative friends and family that brought me to the subject I’d like to discuss. It’s a subject we continue to live through on a daily basis and are constantly pushing forward in our everyday lives. We crave it in the books we read, the movies and television shows we watch. We give prestigious awards to those that convey it with eloquence and passion, and reward those with a strong sense of it with our unwavering devotion and insatiable consumption of media, clothing and content. We find beauty in those things that are done well by groups or individuals, be they musicians, writers, designers, filmmakers, actors, or visual artists. I’d like to go one step further and get to the point: it’s not the final product I find beauty in – it’s the story behind the people and products that fascinates me. Within every great final product of passion lies an even greater story that we never get to see. It’s that story that drives us as we second guess our lives in the deep recesses of our minds. Story is the most powerful means of communication we have, and I fear we’re losing it.

it’s not the final product I find beauty in – it’s the story

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We gravitate toward things that have an emotional impact. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the books we read all retain a sense of meaning. What is it about characters in books and on film, a restaurant’s menu, a song on heavy rotation that keeps repeating in our minds? It’s the story of that thing which cannot be described through only words, but through a memory and the emotional connection created by events. The story has an emotional impact and the resilience to keep from disappearing from your memory. With social apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, we are constantly bombarded with imagery that leaves no lasting impact, and only captures our attention for a split second until we scroll through to the next image. We are creating a Pavlovian response to ignore imagery, and with that broad filter, we are also missing out on the stories that move us. This may create a greater sense of impact when we do step out of the bubble and experience emotional events, but I’m constantly reminded that it’s becoming more and more rare to meet passionate people.

I’m on my way at this moment to teach the importance of story — and the passion that comes through in imagery with a story behind it — to students who are constantly being seduced by imagery with no substance. I can’t tell them to stop looking at less substantive imagery, but I can impress upon them that imagery without a story is a missed opportunity to create unique ideas that have the potential to move a person. I know that’s a very bold statement to make in a time when ornamental art is at an all-time high, and is a necessity for the distribution of content through digital highways, but if I’m to subscribe to the idea that visual language separates us from a lower genus of species, then story must continue to be a foundational element in the evolution of communication.

I love a good story. I crave stories in my life and capture small moments of other people’s stories constantly in my sketchbooks. For me, observing and sketching people going through their idiosyncratic routines (thanks to Kevin Smith for that one) and banal motions to pass the time, travel from point A to point B, and get through the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day is time well spent. People, not unlike their stories, come in all shapes and sizes. Some come in the form of comedies, some as tragedy; others are deep character studies and analysis. The opportunity to see through the eyes of millions, all narrating their own stories through movements, interactions, and quiet reflection, is a gift. At any given moment I could be capturing you on your best day or your worst day, and I do not take these moments lightly. My story exists only with the inclusion of these moments captured in ink, on a yellowed page. With each stroke of the pen, brush, or nib, I steadily forward the narrative of my own life and hope it’s as compelling as those that allow me to be a part of their narrative.

 

At any given moment I could be capturing you on your best day or your worst day, and I do not take these moments lightly

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A story in all of us

Eli Harris 
Illustrator + Illustration Professor

Eli Harris is an illustrator whose award-winning work has appeared on t-shirts and in print, galleries, and private collections. Eli is also an instructor at the Academy of Art University.