Art as Narrative

by Nicole Dutton, Senior Art Consultant & Project Manager

A long time ago, in a land far away, lived an artist who wanted to tell a story. So, they picked up their paintbrush and began. And that, my friends, is how narrative art was born.

Artwork that depicts a story in which the viewer finds themselves immersed is called “narrative art”. Often this type of artwork drops us into a world in which the “story isn’t bound by the four sides of the canvas. It expands and moves beyond, leaving the viewer wanting to know more.” (Milan Institute). Drama or comedy, fictional or non-, it’s the middle of a plot that we’re challenged to complete. The artwork can leave us feeling reflective, meditative, energized, or passionate, evoking a variety of emotional responses.  We can relate to the characters depicted and entrench ourselves in an entirely different environment.

As art consultants, we recognize spaces where art is simply a design element and the right solution. With that type of application, it could be a gestural splash of brightly saturated paint on canvas that draws out the colors in furniture fabric or a textured sculptural element that helps ground the soaring ceilings of a large space. Although narrative art can harmonize a space through those same formal elements, it provides something more. It slows us down. We’re physically and intimately pulled toward the artwork as we connect to the artist and their story.  The artist has provided the prompt, and now it’s our job to run with it, only dependent on our imagination.

Here are a couple of our favorite narrative artwork pieces from South Carolina artist Jon Smith. How might this artist transport you into his work?

Phillips Collection, Renoir’s Boating Party

Jon Smith – Phillips Collection, Renoir’s Boating Party


Aix-en-Provence, Farmers Market

Jon Smith – Aix-en-Provence, Farmers Market

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