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Telling Tales: Exploring Narrative Art in the Permanent Collection

At the Brunnier Art Museum
Tuesday, January 17 - Sunday, July 23, 2023

Narrative art employs visual representations to tell a story without words. Basic to humanity, narrative art can be found over many millennia and is represented throughout cultures and societies. What has driven the need for humans to depict stories visually? As a point of access, narrative art can communicate ideas, beliefs, and myths in a way that is not dependent upon the understanding of language, rather on the ability to see and comprehend the visual images that create a story. Those stories can be obvious as told through figures or images, or much more subtle relying on depicted emotions, moods, and even atmosphere to give a sense of direction to the narrative. Storytelling and oral traditions are reinforced through the visual arts, illustrating beliefs, myths, and important events that cross-cultural boundaries to connect to the basic natures of humanity to learn from and understand personal and collective experiences. 

While at times narrative art has been criticized for being too basic in concept, it continues to exist across time, media, and culture. The desire to tell stories, personal or of others, will never cease to exist and the interest in visual depictions of those stories drives the continued popularity and development of narrative art. University Museums permanent collection includes a wide range of narrative art, from the obvious to the abstract. A major focus of the mission of University Museums is to aid students to develop visual literacy skills. Visual literacy is the ability to visually read a work of art and comprehend the stories artists have carefully drawn, carved, printed, and formed, while at the same time construct their own interpretations based on their personal understanding of the imagery. Narrative art continues to exist because it is adaptable and at times shaped by the viewer, who may already have a sense of the story presented or may be seeing it for the first time. That story then becomes their own unique interpretation, one they can hold personally or share with others, through language or visual representation, continuing the tradition of storytelling for future generations.



Exhibition Programs

Find full descriptions of programs on the University Museums Calendar. All programs are free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged but not required. Click the event title for more information and/or to register. Events listed below will be at the Brunnier Art Museum (1805 Center Dr., 295 Scheman Building, Ames, Iowa) unless otherwise noted. Programs are subject to change. Check the University Museums Calendar and Facebook page for the latest events information.


Leave it in the Ground: Poems & Drawings
with Debra Marquart

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Debra Marquart, Distinguished Professor and Iowa Poet Laureate will read from her in-progress book-length poem, Leave it in the Ground, and share images created in collaboration with visual artist Tom Rice. Together, the book and art will examine the true cost of oil extraction to the planet.


Art Walk: Narrative Art on Campus

Wednesday, Feb. 22, noon–1:00 p.m.
Begins at Gerdin Building lobby

In connection to the Telling Tales exhibition at the Brunnier Art Museum, join museum Docent Rick Bartosh to explore two murals that are examples of narrative public art in the Art on Campus Collection.


Faculty Tour of Telling Tales
with Dr. Jodi Sterle

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2:00–2:30 p.m.

Join Dr. Jodi Sterle, Professor of Animal Science, as she shares how for thousands of years art has told the stories of the connections between animals and the humans who care for them.


Date Night at the Brunnier Art Museum

Friday, March 24, 5:00–7:00 p.m.

Try something new for date night and visit the Brunnier Art Museum to look at art with friends or a special someone.


Responding to Narrative Art: Make Your Own Story
with Taylor Carlson

Sunday, Apr. 23, noon–2:00 p.m.

Visit the new exhibition Telling Tales and spin tall tales about the art on exhibit! Participants will enjoy a short lecture and tour of the new exhibition, then draw and critique narrative triptychs of the artwork. Session will be led by Taylor Carlson, Assistant Professor in Animation & Graphic Design and amateur comic enjoyer.


Sculpting an Icon: Christian Petersen and the Fountain of the Four Seasons
with Jerome Thompson

Sunday, May 21, 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Jerome Thompson, retired State Curator with the State Historical Society of Iowa, will explore the people and events that may have influenced this important installation on the Iowa State campus.


Curator’s Tour
with Adrienne Gennett

Sunday, June 11, 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Join curator Adrienne Gennett to explore the many stories that art can tell as she tours the exhibition Telling Tales: Exploring Narrative Art in the Permanent Collection.

Visit the Brunnier Art Museum

New Hours: 
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, 1:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
Closed to the public Mondays. ISU curriculum tours may be scheduled on these days with a 2-week notice.

Closed University Holidays

Address: Scheman Building (2nd Floor), 1805 Center Drive, Ames, Iowa
Admission: The cost is free; however, there is a suggested donation of $8.

This exhibition is curated and organized by University Museums with special thanks to Iowa State faculty partners Amber Anderson, Dr. Kristi Costabile, Dr. Charissa Mennefee, Chuck Richards, and Dr. Jodi Sterle. Generous support was given by Warren and Beverly Madden and University Museums Membership.

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