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Narrative Art

Wang Seonjeong
True Love, 2021
Oil on carved wood
18 x 25 x 2 cm (7.1 x 9.8 x 0.8 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and UARTSPACE, Seoul

Narrative art depicts a real or mythological story, either as a moment in time or as a sequence of unfolding events. From Bronze Age reliefs to 19th Century paintings, until the advent of Modernism, the majority of artworks could be considered ‘Narrative Art.’ There are various forms of Narrative Art, with one of the best known being monoscenic: representing a single scene, usually the most important point in the story. This is much like a tableau, where each character appears only once and the image displays events taking place in that moment.

Somewhat similar to a monoscenic narrative, yet very different in form, is a progressive narrative. Here, characters do not repeat yet their actions as part of the present, future, and past events are all contained in one image. These kinds of works may include various settings if the story is spread across different locations, and can be complex to understand at first glance.

In one of the scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry, Duke William is in a great fleet that crosses the sea and comes to Pevensey.

Another common form is the continuous narrative which illustrates multiple scenes within a single frame - the Bayeux Tapestry is a well-known example. The sequence of events within the narrative is made clear through the reappearance of the main character, as we see their developing actions and changes in state. The tapestry tells the story of the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and the Battle of Hastings.

A simpler structure for a continuous narrative is a sequential narrative; comic books take this format, as do some religious frescoes. Here, each scene and action in the story is represented as an individually framed unit.

Today, in Contemporary Art, we see a combination of emotive works which are not tied to story-telling and new forms of narrative art such as long-form films. However, where historic narrative works illustrated events or religious stories believed to be true, contemporary narrative works often portray myths, fantasies, and imagined fictions combined with reality.

Related categories

Media Art

Animation/Cartoon/Comic Books

Illustration Art

Film/Video Art

Reality and Fiction

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

Word as Image

Self Taught Artist

History/Historical Approach

Socio-political Issues

Illusory World

Religious Symbols


19th Century Art

Gender Issues

Historical Events

(Inspired by) Folk Tales/Myths

Science Fiction


Historic/Religious Sites