Friday, October 30, 2009

artist's statements

I hate writing them. I think they are silly and serve no purpose except to keep the viewer from thinking for him/herself. But just once, writing an artist's statement changed my understanding of my own work. When a gallery director asked me 5 or 6 year ago to write an artist's statement for a mixed media show she had curated, I rolled my eyes and asked what she wanted. "Tell me what you do and why you do it," she said. I spread out the work from three years earlier up to the (then) present and it was a revelation. When I looked at a lot of pieces together,I knew immediately what my work was about. Granted, my processes and subject matter were not always the same. On the surface, they were very different, but there was a common undercurrent that colored my work. Once I saw what I was doing, the "why" was easy and the artist's statement wrote itself. Since then, I have modified it slightly and wrapped it into my bio, but it gave me an insight that is either worth its weight in gold, or, as we used to say in my family, "that and a nickel will get you on the subway." I don't have to spread out my work now to know that it is going through a transition and that the undercurrent has changed in the past two years. We all go through these transitions, during which we experiment and may change not only a point of view but visual context. It's part of the deal when you are an artist, I think. Nevertheless, I urge you, if you haven't done so, to spread out your work on the floor from at least the last 1-3 years and find the common thread; the subtext that makes your work yours alone. And then write a "tell me what you do and why you do it," just for yourself.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

In my family, the version of the saying was "that and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee." I guess we need to update our prices!

Glad to hear you found some value in writing the statement. Maybe I'll take your advice... Or in my case, it might be productive to write an imaginary one-- from the viewpoint of a couple of years in the future (since the last year or two have not been very productive.)

--Lorraine

kath said...

I would like to read your bio...

Approachable Art said...

Good advice... I find writing an artist's statement a little embarrassing, but also valuable in some of the same ways you mention: it helps me focus on my goals and where I'm coming from at the time.

Sujatha said...

What do you do when you havent been productive for a long time..there is nothing to spread out and seek the common thread...maybe I should examine the thoughts that never expression as art. An artist in mind alone??

Sujatha said...

that never find expression as art..is what I meant to write

Eva said...

Although it is tempting not to do it, I will follow your advice, now that the days are mine again (haha). It is a good discipline, and I'm sure it will show me my own mess and unclear lines of creation. I guess it will be a very good thing to do. Thank you!

Susie Monday said...

Catching up on your blog finallyafter all the Oct stuff
you really did a great post on the artist statement
and happy belated birthday