I was pleasantly surprised to come across a WordPress blog titled Why Story Matters by Mike Dimartino, co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show I’ve written about previously on Ekostories. Discussing a video from the World Science Festival titled Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative in one of his posts, Dimartino teases out some fascinating insights explored during the involved panel discussion. As Ekostories is focused on exploring the potential of stories to generate connections and environmental understanding, I would like to share his key takeaways and comment briefly on them.
I would like to cap off the recent series of posts on Taoism with an interview with Ursula Le Guin, conducted by Brenda Peterson. In it, the lifelong student of Taoism talks about how the Tao Te Ching has influenced her personal life and the construction of her worldview. As usual, I find her comments accessible, refreshing, thought-provoking, and hilarious. Here are some of my favourite passages:
If you follow Ekostories on a regular basis, you would know that one of my chief influences is author Ursula K. Le Guin. It was through her work that I first became intrigued by Taoism as a philosophy. Growing up in Hong Kong, my first encounters with Daoism came from ancient tales of whiskery old hermits who sought immortality and strangely robed priests who conducted rituals for the dead. In my adult life, I see bits and pieces of it incorporated haphazardly in the New Age movement. Neither experience was grounded in any context, and as such were bereft of personal meaning and value. For me, Taoism existed as a series of bizarre and disconnected ideas, frequently esoteric and utterly incomprehensible.
Le Guin’s stories changed that. A lifelong student of the Tao Te Ching, she wove its ideas into her writing in a way that made the philosophy tangible, relevant, and meaningful. Her own interpretation of the ancient text is by no means the most accurate, complete, or definitive, but what it lacks in faithfulness it makes up for in clarity, beauty, and accessibility. Within its pages I saw the power, humour, and absurdity of its mysterious author(s), and I began to understand why the thin tome has intrigued people for more than two thousand years.
Intrigued to learn more about the cultural context of Taoism, I took Le Guin’s advice and checked out Holmes Welch’s Taoism: The Parting of The Way, as she described it as the “best, soundest, clearest introduction and guide to the discipline.” What I discovered was not merely a historical and conceptual exploration of the esoteric discipline, but also a deep examination of human nature. Far from being a simple intellectual exercise, Welch’s intriguing application of Taoist philosophy to contemporary society provides some radical and unsettling insights.
Following from the world of advertising and persuasion of last week’s post, I want to present this provocative image courtesy of The Third Ray, a blog by Joe Zammit-Lucia. Mr. Zammit-Lucia is constantly interested in exploring connections between nature and culture beyond traditional labels of environmentalism and notions of “saving the planet”, and his blog focuses on the role of art in shaping “the cultural framework surrounding the sustainable development debate.”
His most recent post takes a look at an image created by a Brazilian ad agency called Segmento. The campaign is titled “Humanity and Nature are One.” I like what Mr. Zammit-Lucia had to say about the concept behind the image:
Rather than the usual – and largely ineffective – environmental narrative of “Human vs Nature,” this campaign focuses on our inseparable inter-relatedness and inter-dependence. It tries to bring us closer to nature rather than to create artificial separation.
What do you think? Are there any other messages from the image that speak to you?
Continuing with the theme of visual storytelling from my previous post, I would like to share an Orion article looking at artwork created by the Beehive Collective.
On the power and prevalence of visual narratives in modern advertising:
“Anyone who has been to a medieval church understands the shivery power of visual storytelling: the spires stretching up to heaven, gargoyles whose ferocity wards off the ever-present threat of evil. Nowadays, we’re steeped in the seductive visuals of advertising, like the images of nature that sell us unrelated consumer goods: breaching whales for insurance; canoe rides between cliffs for a herpes drug.
As imagery from all media feeds our imaginations, it grows more and more controlled by those who have a vested interest in how it’s perceived—government, mainstream news and entertainment, the corporations that want us to buy their products and ignore their transgressions.”
A description of the artwork – True Cost of Coal:
“The visual power of the banner offers a clear and intricate story that draws the eye everywhere at once, fascinating in its detail—the perfectly rucked cap of a morel, hairs on the legs of a woodwasp—and overwhelming in its breadth. With its symbolism and visual density—a family of frogs drinking black water from a poisoned well, European starlings migrating to Appalachia with Bibles, babies, and bluegrass guitars—it feels like the artwork Hieronymus Bosch would have created if he had been an activist. It sweeps through time, moving from prehistory through early mining and reform to the present-day dynamiting of mountaintops. Human characters are represented by birds, animals, and insects, many endangered, drawing together all of our struggles to survive in a degraded landscape.”
Viewing art as a dynamic experience:
“I find my skepticism gone by the end of the presentation, replaced by the excitement of viewing artwork that feels more like an experience than an image, communicating time, change, story, and possibility. As disturbing as some images are, the dynamism of the whole suggests no single ending to the narrative arc is inevitable.”