THE STORY-TELLER AS ARTIST
Out of your cage,
Come out of your cage
And take your soul on a pilgrimage!
Pease in your shoes, an if you must!
But out and away before you're dust:
Scribe and stay-at-home,
Saint and sage,
Out of your cage,
Out of your cage!
—JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY, The Piper.
 The story-teller is an interpreter of life—he
interprets the life embodied in his story to the common
life which throbs through his audience.
The first requirement for an interpreter is the ability
to understand; the second is power to transmit his
It is a mere truism to say that he who would understand
life must first of all live it; yet how many of us
burrow like moles, each in his separate dark
passageway, not questioning why we burrow, or whither
the passageway leads. Or if we have passed the mole
stage and stand upright on the face of the earth, do we
not still obey the animal instinct to consort each with
his own kind? The millionaire in his limousine seldom
has much discernment of the problems of a strap-hanger,
while the man who
 always has a nickel is just as blind to the life of the
man who must walk. So also the mother in her sheltered
home may have small vision of the way of the woman who,
perhaps through no choice of her own, walks with empty
arms and a lonely heart.
But the artist who would perfectly interpret life must
touch vitally the lives of "all sorts and conditions of
men," else he cannot have a sympathetic imagination to
grasp the varied problems of all classes. To be able to
think and feel with his fellows he must possess the
insight to search out their hidden hearts; and, if he
be a great artist, he will have also the bigness of
soul which does not lightly condemn that which his
probing reveals. He will have, too, the skill born of
heart and head which is able to reveal the bond of
emotion that "makes the whole world kin." Love, hate,
courage, fear, joy, sorrow, make up a common
human-beingness which eliminates surface class
It is with such fundamental emotions that the artist
deals, whatever the medium he chooses for their
embodiment. The painter with his brush, the sculptor
with his chisel, the writer with his pen, the
story-teller with his spoken words, each in his own way
transmits the message his spirit has seized and
evaluated. For artistry deals with values, set up as
standards for works of art which are yet to be
conceived and brought into being, and not with mere
methods or technique.
Story-telling, then, rightly belongs to the arts, and
the story-teller's preparation for his work as an
artist must begin with the enrichment of his own
 must acquire the culture of the student of literature;
he must be mellowed through his experiences in his own
human relationships; he must be, as Ethel Clifford
". . . lover of wind and sun,
And of falling rain, and the friend of trees;
With a singing heart for the pride of noon,
And a tender heart for what twilight sees.
"Let him be lover of you and yours—
The Child and Mary; but also Pan,
And the sylvan gods of the woods and hills,
And the God that is hid in his fellowman."
With his culture, with his love of nature, with his
love of his fellowman, he must keep the dauntless
courage, the joy in life, which belongs to the spirit
of youth. Difficult, perhaps impossible? Yes; the ideal
of the artist is always so. As Browning tells us, "A
man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's heaven
for?" Not so much the attainment as the pursuit of the
vision differentiates the clod from the master.
So he who has not some urge of vision should not enter
the field. But he who cannot resist the call for
creative expression must choose his medium—then sharpen
Voice and Word
The spoken word is the story-teller's chief technical
equipment. A knowledge of words, precision and fluency
in their use, as well as voice-placing and training in
articulation, are essential. The successful
 make word and voice the servants of his spirit. Voice
and utterance infallibly reveal the appreciation, or
the lack of it, which the story-teller has for the
story he is presenting.
It is through speech that man begins to assert his
divinity. We move through life wrapped in the
impenetrable veil of individuality, sentenced to
aloneness—except for the gift of expression. It is
chiefly through the spoken word that spirit kindles
response of spirit, and reveals itself to its kind.
"The eyes are the windows of the soul," but the voice
is its musical instrument, through which its subtle
harmonies are transmitted. The old Witch of the Sea was
maliciously sagacious when she required the little
Mermaid to give her voice in exchange for human form,
and then set her the task of winning the love of the
Prince in order to attain the soul.
Thought of in terms of the painter, the voice is the
pigment which gives color to the story-teller's
pictures. He paints in spoken words, and his canvases
are the minds of his listeners. So the story-teller
needs the painter's love of beauty, the writer's
command of words, the actor's sense of the dramatic,
the orator's adaptability to his audience, the
psychologist's knowledge of the mind, the philosopher's
interpretation of the meaning and purpose of life. Does
all this seem an appalling program? So is any other
that honestly contemplates child-development; but how
rich is the reward at the end!
It is the joy of the story-teller, as it is that of
every artist worthy of the name, that his preparation
must be as
 broad as life itself. The aspiration to be an
interpreter of life is a daring, a wonderful dream.
SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- What is art?
- In what fundamental respects does an art differ
from a science? From a trade? From a business?
- Why are we justified in regarding story-telling as
- Does the fact that an art has a technique imply
that its practice is governed by fixed rules?
- Does a knowledge of the principles of the
story-teller's art tend to hamper originality or to
encourage it? Give reasons.
- May one go too far in laying down rules for the
practice of an art?
- What is the difference between a principle and a
- What relation does art bear to life?
- Briefly explain what the poet meant by her lines
quoted as a preface to this chapter.
- What is interpretation?
- Should the impossibility of attaining the ideal
deter the possible artist from attempting to express
himself through art?
- What has emotion to do with art?