Friday, July 15, 2011

Joe Castillo & Sand Art: Stories in unexpected places

I've posted, several times, about the power of story in learning and communication.  This is not, by any means, a new idea--we have come to expect story in certain aspects of our experience.  For example, we recognize that the best speakers are those who can tell the right story in the right way (think of the best TED talks you've listened to--chances are they include some elements of story and feature a great story teller).  We, obviously, look for good stories in the film and literature we consume.  And, to some extent, story is even starting to make headway in the classroom (e.g. problem-based learning, the case-study method, etc.) and we expect good teachers to incorporate narrative into their classrooms.  

More and more, however,  I am starting to see story in places I wouldn't expect.  My most recent experience with an unexpected use of story was the website of a very skilled artist.  Joe Castillo is a sand artist who makes a living creating art (very powerful stories in some cases) using a pretty non-traditional medium.  Although I didn't think I would ever have much interest in watching someone play in the sand, Castillo turns it into a very powerful art form.  What, for me, makes his art so powerful is that he tells stories--some of which are incredibly moving (watch the 9/11 memorial performance posted on his homepage for an example).  Part of what is inspiring about great artists like Castillo is their skill and precision in their craft.  However, there is plenty of art work out there that is highly skillful, technically sound, and precise, but which doesn't inspire and move us.  The power comes in the story.  

This all makes me wonder whether we could use story in non-traditional ways in other settings and achieve a power and impact that is generally missing.  What if administrators and team leaders pitched ideas and managed projects in ways that capitalized on story?  What if the painfully monotonous and largely unproductive meetings we all attend were recrafted to tell stories or so that those in attendance felt like they were part of some kind of meaningful story?  Could we rethink the way we plan and organize events--weddings, new student orientation, training seminars--and use story to drive learning and increase engagement and meaning?  Or, what if the four year university experience were viewed by higher education leaders as a narrative with all of the elements of a good story, including beginnings & endings, intrigue, authenticity, and risk?  

Where else could we start using story to make an impact or frame our work in terms of narrative?  Story seems to be engaging, motivating, and captivating in almost any setting.


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