When you begin to understand the concept of narrative, you may also begin thinking more clearly about your work. What is the story you wish to tell? And where does that story begin? What is the opening sentence or line that will engage the reader and carry your story forth into future generations? Is narrative only that which we tell outwardly to others, or does it serve within as the framework for critical thinking in our own lives and in our own thoughts? As modern human beings we are driven serially from one unconscious act to the next, but having an internal sense of narrative, allowing one to connect origins and objectives through one’s own self-talk or internal dialog is a transformational phenomenon.
Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf system of education said that children should be given only those things that they can understand. Otto Salomon, who advanced and promoted Educational Sloyd throughout the world, expressed the same concept as “move from the concrete to the abstract, from the known to the unknown,” establishing in the child's experience a narrative progression and expansion of intellect.
Narrative takes place in all human acts. What we do describes who we are. The world is changed by each and every thing we do. Things may not be written in words and what we have written in action may only be understood by those literate enough in that form of action to have interest and intellectual framework to understand. Too often, we live our lives having little sense of conscious effect, but our unconscious, inadvertent effect of each of our lives is written clearly on our land, water, atmosphere and the lives of the other species with whom we share this planet.
One of the primary qualities of a good story, a good narrative is that it grabs you at the beginning and carries you to the place of the author’s or maker’s intent. The quality of the narrative is most often an expression of the deep engagement of the author/maker in the full process. In my own work, I begin with the rough, raw materials harvested in my own community from trees that I have watched grow on Ozark mountain hillsides, and I am convinced that has given greater depth and meaning to the narrative and quality of my own work. I could farm out portions of my work to others. I could buy my lumber planed and ready for use. But that would neglect some of the story that engages my senses fully in the creation of the work. I could send the work out for finishing by others, but that would deprive my eyes of the beautiful transformation of color and depth of grain that takes place when the finish is applied.
Can you see how the qualities of the object may be dependent on the passions engaged in the maker through the process of its making? In schools we lay great emphasis on reading and numbers to the neglect of more personal narrative acts. When do we expect student passions to arise in an education that flits so lightly from subject to subject, has no beginning in the child’s own hands and thus provides no clear and compelling personal vector, sense of movement and direction, with which he or she might align for personal growth?
This morning, I was reading Will Price’s address to the Eastern Manual Training Association conference of 1904:
I am not going to try to give you a history of manual training (which you undoubtedly know more about than I do), or of the Arts and Crafts movement, except in the most general way. I am going to try to go deeper and to get at what it is all about. In order to do that it is worth while to glance back at the beginning of things for a moment.Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the first 2nd and 3rd grade students will begin making traffic signs for the campus. It is a way for them to invest in how it works and how students interact with each other. We did a similar project two years ago so I know it will be fun.
Man at first was a naked, cold, hungry animal in a cold and strenuous world, and out of that, because of that, man is becoming worth while. That very weakness, that very nakedness, tested the ingenuity of man, compelled him to invent. Out of such invention two things came to him; in the first place, a great joy in the sense of creation; in the second place, a development because of that work. Man then endeavored to express his new point of view; because with his development came a new outlook, a new meaning to the rolling cloud and to the rushing water and to the lightning, to the song of the birds; and so art was born. Art is not, as has been said, “the visible evidence of man’s joy in his work,” because it is that very joy and that very work itself. If art was the visible evidence of man’s joy in his work, then the rich would indeed, as they think they do, possess the hoarded treasures of the world; whereas they but gather the crumbs that fall from the artist’s table. The real joy, the real good there is in art (and by art I mean the art of making the dishpan as much as a statue of Phidias), the real motive of art after all, when you analyze it, is simply to make us worthwhile, to made us fit to love and be loved, fit to live together.