First Thoughts on Digital Storytelling as Contemplative Art

“In terms of narrative, a meditative approach [to art] questions why we need to make a story out of everything we see, hear, taste, and so on. We might even ask why we need to make a story out of everything we do. Not everything is, or has, a story. Some things could be an experience, something to just appreciate.”

— Steven Saitzyk on Art, Meditation, and the Creative Process

In my digital storytelling workshops I’ve taught Terry Tempest Williams’s “Sycamore” as a story about family and memory, and as a meditation on an image.

But what if it were neither of those?

The prose implies a story, many stories. But it isn’t necessarily a story. That is, conventionally it isn’t structured as a story and also it doesn’t need to be one.

And while the writing is thoughtful it’s not actually meditative, it’s contemplative: it’s writing in response to an image, a string of observations and associations, and its tone is tranquil, thoughtful. Writing like that gets called meditative because it evokes a hush, a desire to settle into the moment–to begin the process of quieting our mind that can lead to meditation. But then again, it might spark an outburst of recollections that make it more difficult to do all that, so setting aside those thoughts, one by one, becomes part of the meditation (though most of us probably wouldn’t call an artwork meditative for doing so).

As I see it now, “Sycamore” is an experience. The artist composed it within a digital storytelling workshop and that communal experience of making it is material to its meaning and mattering. The artwork itself is also an experience that needn’t be interpreted as a story. It could just be.

So let’s say I were to frame a digital storytelling workshop as a contemplative art experience–one where instead of incorporating mindfulness activities the entire experience was itself a mindfulness practice, and where the “story” would be the experience itself, not the telling of one.

How would it be different?

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