It is the biggest problem painters face today. Outside of work for the games industry and to a much more limited extent in illustration itself, subjects beyond 'the painter's subject' of still life, landscape and figure study have largely vanished. The narrative subject in painting had been flourishing for over 500 years until the 20th century broke the tradition. This was partly because of the nature of what art was thought to be and partly because of the culture born of the events in that period.
The main players in the high end 'art world', both the ruling mandarins and the superstar artists, are now mainly dealing with ideas and essays illustrated by object symbols; sharks in formaldehyde, diamond encrusted skulls, light bulbs blinking on and off, cliffs wrapped in polythene, a walk around the park on a yellow brick road of bannana skins.....you get the idea.
All this is the outcome of the plastic arts being reduced to still life, landscape and figure studies as a mainstay of selling art in galleries. Anyone who paints 'The Wreck of the Hesperas' however superbly is going to find it tough selling their work. Of course I am exaggerating the point a touch, but if one walks through an average contemporary exhibition of realistic painting compared with the exhibition catalogues of the 19th century salons the difference is immediate. This is not to say there are not painters dealing with narrative subject, only to say that they are in the minority.
To say that TV and film are responsible for this is to miss the fundamental distinction of pictorial narrative from dramatic narrative.
The pictorial narrative of Waterhouse's 'Lady of Shalott' cannot be spoken, but rather has to be seen. For its meaning and purpose is beyond the poem that inspired it, only to be found in the written image.
This is a huge topic (which I have over simplified in the interest of brevity) and one that concerns everyone trying to sell work as a painter.....
So what is you guys take on all this?