Thursday, October 19, 2006

Artist's Statements

I hate artist's statements. I hate having to write them for my own work when I hang a show, and I almost always hate reading them when I look at someone else's show.

I hate writing them because writing a decent artist statement is hard. One reason it's hard is that you're often trying to articulate the thoughts behind the work, and that task always brings to mind the Lewis Hine quote "If I could say it in words, I wouldn't need to photograph." Or, as Robert Frost put it when asked to explain one of his poems, "You want me to say it worse?" As if this torture wasn't enough, when I go back and read previous artist's statements I've written, I invariably cry out "Oh! The HORROR!", and want to withdraw from human society in shame for my past transgressions.

I hate reading them because artist's statements fall into several categories, only one of which is an improvement over displaying the work unadorned by any statement.

First, there's the 'meaningless but flowery prose, which seems to bear no relationship to the work". My favorite example of this is
Some have said my pictures possess a beauty, high and light, like the works in silver of the ancient Irish. Within my photographs a simple line can swell to a great size and a looming mass can disappear in movement. Passion always informs my work, exposing darkness rimmed with humor. My art is fierce and exact and my ideas are cool. I force my compositions to resonate, to shudder. My pictures emerge as a moving surface to my eye, like wind on water.

I'm guessing, just guessing, that the person who said that the artist's pictures "possess a beauty, high and light, the the works in silver of the ancient Irish" was probably the artist. When I read that, I laughed aloud, and it still makes me laugh when I read it.

A second category is what I'll call 'a serious attempt to comment on the work or process, cloaked in Academic Bafflegab." My example of this is:

In formal terms, my current work is an exploration of how form is determined by, and conversely determines, space. My work references the figure, though more recently it has explored similar figure/ground relationships utilizing basic geometric shapes, particularly the square or cube within a vertical, rectangular format. I am interested in the tension that exists between a form -- such as a human head or a square -- and the space which it both occupies and is contained by. My long history with drawing has driven my most current work, as I have returned to such traditional materials as graphite and paper to produce works that focus on the process of drawing itself.

A friend of mine translated this into English as "I am interested in how shapes and spaces interact and define each other, their relationships, and the tension between them. I like drawing. I've always drawn. I am drawing again as part of the above work, partly because it works better, and partly because I like it." Written in English, I actually think this is an interesting artist's statement; it comments cogently on the work and the artist's process, and after reading it, you'd examine the work more closely.

And then there's the final kind of artist's statement: the plain, unadorned, honest talk about the process and work. My current favorite is

These images are seen through the camera, they are not manipulated in the darkroom or computer. I am often amazed at the shapes and forms that have appeared in my work. My intention has always been to explore the body, not to alter it. I want to find the camera angle from which the forms can be the most that they can be – whatever that is. If it is a grace to the limbs, then I want the angle from which that grace becomes the absolute most it can be at that moment. And so it leads me on, to explore angles, space, reflections, and light. I strive to make forms make sense visually and trust that the metaphor, the poetry, will follow.

-Connie Imboden

Now, if I could just write like that about my own work.


Blogger JohnJo said...

John Beardsworth has some entertaining pointers to artist's statements. No direct link possible but enter artist's statements (without any quites) into this form to see what I mean:

You're mentioned, but in a good way.

1:12 AM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

I agree, writing an artist statement is the worst....mine would read something like "I take pictures of things I think are cool. I think these pictures are cool, I hope the viewer thinks they are cool too. Cool?" Too many words often come off as pretentious. Not cool.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Joona Raevuori said...

hey there.

im just trying to write an artists statement for my university work and i was trying to google some advice on how to manage to get one done in the next hour.

i think ill just do what your last example was like: say what i like ab out photography and thats it.
my work was supposed to be /- regarding to the tutor - influenced by the work by tony ray-jones but it just soon turned into what i like to do: wander around in town and take photos of people. its as simple as that.

anyway, thanks for that blog entry of yours , it was much help :D

7:18 AM  
Blogger blogperson said...

Just finished writing an artist statement for a piece I'm submitting to a juried show when i googled "artist statement format" and found this. It's really great commentary! not necessarily what I was looking for.. but still funny and interesting.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Michael McGraw Photography said...

This was a fun post to stumble upon. I personally hope that everyone one in the world hates artist statements so that mine is never actually read.

-Mike McGraw

6:09 PM  
Blogger Charlena said...

I was just was invited to join this group and this was the first forum I stopped to read. I agree with what have read pertaining to artist’s statements. Some being so complicated you would almost have to be a translator. I have not had the privilege yet to have to write one and maybe someday I will be able to write simply, eloquently and to the point. My work should or anyone's work let the beholder decide what we are trying to convey. I also enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Shana said...

I've been trying to write an artist statement for the past six hours. I got into it with my professor for telling us to write a meaningful statement about our work but don't be pretentious or poetic, and then she reads us three pretentious poetic statements. If we all hate writing these statements than why do we have them. I thought a picture said a thousand words. obviously the world needs a thousand and as many as it takes to sum up the first thousand. can't we all band together and say screw this no you cant read my diary.

5:08 PM  
Blogger ayla said...

I have never understood artist statements anyways. I think that the point of the art is for the viewer to enterprit it and see it as whatever they want to anyways. The only time it should ever be necissary to write an artists statement, is when the artist wants the viewer to see something in particular about the photograph.

12:30 PM  
Blogger EVG said...

Duh, artist statements are hype. They are about the artist, not the work, and help to create a story or caricature for conoseurs to gossip about. A good statement will bennefit the arts monetary value by pumping up the artist

12:07 AM  
Blogger Lina said...

What category does this 'artist statement' fit into? What does everyone think?


My lens is not my eye, my lens is my eyelid.

These images are not real, they are what you want them to be ; a story, an impression, a familiar vagueness.
Forget about capturing a moment in time, see instead the infinite interpretations of what that moment might be.

Self-portraits started as me 'fooling around' without the constraints of a model and the pressures of time or social norms. I quickly came to realize that by giving up some control over the image, I could widen my visual field. I became the artist AND the subject.

I experiment with long exposures, minimal depth of field, light painting and lens blur. No photoshop filter can duplicate the fascinating feel of a true optical blur.

Simplicity in a scene is important: The fewer 'artifacts', the less distractions, the easier it is for the mind to construct its own mental representation.

Close your eye and see...Don't worry, no-one else sees what you do!"

3:19 PM  

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