Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Notes On Artists On Words and " The Artist's Statement"

I've always hated "The Artist's Statement". I have found it to be categorically unfair. Are musicians expected to make a charcoal sketch to "explain" what they "do"? Are writers asked to submit photos "further illustrating" their manuscripts? Are dancers required to pen "The Dancer's Statement"? I don't mind writing about my work. But anything I write is, in the end, superfluous. If it's really possible to "put into words" what I do, then what am I really doing? The work stands (or falls) on its own. Period. How about we call it, "Supplementary Artist's Notes" instead?

Artist's On Words has been a modest attempt to give artists a platform to write about their work in a more associative and casual way. As a Visual Artist, I have found associations between my art and written language to be haphazard, fluid, temporary, and far from "perfect". That being the case, what will result when such definitive results are expected? "Statement" is such a strong word to descibe what I have experienced to be so fleeting. That is not to say the association between our work and language isn't critically important to what we do. But when requested to craft the association into the cliched and conventional structure of "The Artist's Statement", I have found the results are often, well, cliched and conventional.

This was touched upon by a comment posted here last week. It was said that it was interesting that "Artists On Words" gets beyond "My work is about...". I really hope that is the case. I have never gotten the question, "What is your work about?" from someone who really likes or is generally having a positive response to my work. I get that question out of left field from people who don't get my work and probably don't want to get it. I personally would never ask this question to another artist. Would you? When writing "The Artists Statement" and including the "My work is about..." cliche we are assuming the readers are of that same clueless frame of mind that would ask the question to your face. That puts us at an automatic disadvantage, trying to explain something from scratch to someone not very receptive in the first place.

When asked to complete an "The Artist's Statement" it's hard not conform to its conventions, and you don't want to come off sounding like a flake. It can be viewed in a strategic way and it's always important to remember you're not really "explaining" a blessed, single thing about your "work".

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