Friday, October 16, 2009

Artist Statements….. why?

Does anybody actually read them? I know when I get a catalogue with goofy little self serving meaningless art talk paragraphs straight from a session with the morning hour of soul searching recommended by somebody who made a lot of money out of telling people what to do….when I see those statements that rely heavily on Kinkadian metaphor…my eyes glaze over. Was the artist Really thinking that stuff when they were making the piece? I rarely come across an Artist’s Soulful Statement (ASS) that actually engages me. I know nobody ever read mine because I wrote it as a total ironic spoof of artspeak, complete gobbledygook! Which surely someone would have mentioned….hmmm or would they? No, I’m sure their eyes just glazed over too.

There are all sorts of advice about writing ASS including things like thinking of your three favorite colours (what real artist limits her/himself to three anyway?) and then writing statements about them…you’d be better off painting three walls in the bathroom in those shades.   And we pretty much all know the prosaic stuff about describing the work (pointless, it’s already there in picture or actual form). They also recommend you write in glowing terms, in the first person and present tense – aha!! It’s a personal endorsement! “I used this product and it worked for me, therefore buy!”  Well, perhaps that has its place!

Why make the work?
According to the “experts” include why, how and goals in the ASS. However, I would challenge that…anyone who has ever wanted to make anything knows that the “why” boils down to a basic human instinct…to make things (useful, decorative), to leave marks (to communicate). It’s satisfying to look at something and say: “I made that”. I never read any statement that said anything any different. Why we make this thing or that is, of course,  the result of personal enquiry or experience…What would happen if I did this or that? Or: I need to explore/express these things that happened. But to the viewer, that is really immaterial – I don’t want to experience the piece from someone else’s point of view, in fact I find that quite distracting…and to learn that a certain image is the result, say, of a fascination with a particular tv show as a child is completely banal. Move on!!

When given a chance to ask the artist about the work personally most people’s questions are completely fatuous  giving no indication as to what amazing information should go into the ASS.  In fact, they usually want to know whether or not you would accept the honour of quilting unfinished tops their ancestors (who probably knew better than to finish them!) left behind, or which exact fabric was it that you bought that must be the secret of your success!

How d’you make the work?
The real question in the viewer’s mind is simply: “how d’you do that?”  And (I’m sure you’ve noticed) the artists  never actually tell you how they do do it!!! Even if you take a class with them they don’t! Probably because, by the time that artist is showing work at a level where ASS are required, there are layers and layers of experience, years of work and trial and error, mistakes made and hopefully learned from…all of which has built up into a semi automatic ability to respond to scissors and cloth, or brushes and paint etc,  in a creative way. So the real, the only, answer to the question of How? Is “because I’ve done it, over and over and over…”

And the point is?
The question the artist should ask is: what is the point of the artist’s statement? Yes, I want them to look at the work longer…will “explaining” it to them do that? No it will just make them spend more time on the statement! So perhaps the ideal statement would be: “just look at the work, enjoy it, puzzle over it, marvel if you can..stay with it a little longer!”

And now to revise my statement…..if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth
PS. I finally updated my website: new images on the Industrial Landscape, Buildings and Watercolor pages.


Linda B. said...

Hoorah for common sense!

Linda - who stitches because she can't imagine a life without and who makes quilts that catch the moment - and has never been able to make an ASS of herself before.

Nina Marie said...

Ohhh I want artist's statements - ones that are truthful, brief and actually make sense. I admit that I'm one of those art lovers that sometimes needs to carry a copy of "Abstract for Dummies" around with her - so a little help from the artist would be great. Do we get that normally?! No - Could an artist learn to write a statement that complements the piece - yes?! The truth of the matter - I find - is that most don't want to. Its frustrating to us that are new to the art world!

Louise in SW Saskatchewan said...

Thanks for your refreshing view on artist statements!

I will bookmark this to read when I "have" to prepare them for show entries to bring me back to earth.

Well done!

Deb Lacativa said...

Hilarious. And yet its still REQUIRED so I have one that starts "I have been an artist since I discovered that crayons didn't taste good and had a higher purpose."

Do you think anyone will notice?

Anonymous said...

I would notice Deb's ASS everytime, because it actually makes somes sense!
I have always thought that if you had to explain the art work when it was finished it means the art work isn't telling the viewer anything .......... in other words, it doesn't work, .......... and all the words in the world won't fix it!
The best ASS usually tell the story of the process, rather than trying to answer the why question.
Judy B

Jackie said...

Your website is looking great with all the new quilts and categories! I find I enjoy them quite well sans artist statement. But these statements are required for some entries though I don't know if they're ever read by the jurors. Maybe I just shouldn't stress over them and simply write anything that comes to mind!

Jean S said...

I have had my intent questioned and simply, I do things because I like doing them. There are no deep portents or masked illusions. Thanks for your thoughts.