Almost three hours of sitting in a dark room with Ann, her broker Rod and a couple of bottles of wine told quite a story of ArtHouse 23. We looked at close to 100 works of
art. In this new context it was easy to see the strength of visual statements rise
from this group. It was most impressive. And Rod agreed that everyone from our
group who submitted is worthy of being in the show.
The weakness came in the area of artist’s statements. Some were good—Sue’s, Sheila’s & Marley’s. A few might need a re-read by an objective support person for slight edits. But many were not at all what they should be. And because this is a very special opportunity
we want to make Ann and us proud.
We refer to the elements and principles of design and the expression of the brush, knife, charcoal, fingers etc. as a visual language. Now we need to translate that into a
verbal language. Trust me—this will strengthen your work and add confidence to the process.
An artist’s statement is not a bio or a resume. If you have not had significant art education from some accredited, respected school that influenced you tremendously—leave schooling out. However, if you graduated in a field that informs your work, even if it is completely unrelated, include it. Example—if Nan sees a relationship between
the chemical elements she came to know as a pharmacist and the visual elements
in her work, she might make mention of it. Otherwise, nobody cares. You might say how long you have been painting or mention other forms of art you have pursued if you think it is instructive to the viewer.
An artist’s statement should illuminate the work verbally. It doesn’t need to describe every part of your technique, but if you use techniques that are unusual or that the viewer is left asking “how’d they do that”–tell them. Examples would be scrubbing, glazing, collage, throwing it wet under the wheel of the car, or upside down in the bark dust and gravel, etc.– that is interesting. (Don’t laugh—Robert Rauschenberg did just that at Black Mountain College in the ‘40’s.) Also, if you have observed that most of your work ends up looking: geometric; atmospheric; shiny; textured; dark; etc., try
to articulate why—what is the impetus for that common thread? Make it
interesting. Recall when someone has described their technique and a light bulb
went off for you.
Keep it short: It should never be more than a couple of paragraphs–half a page. But for this and for most purposes it should be between 100-150 words.
There is no doubt there is passion and gratification in pursuing creative endeavors. Don’t reiterate it. One short sentence mentioning the satisfaction in the process might make a good segue, but otherwise assume anyone looking at your work is
aware that if you didn’t like doing it, you wouldn’t. They might care what you learn from it, but they don’t care how happy it makes you. (Although I think it is always good practice to reflect on the happy part of art-making because there is plenty of frustration to go around. Kinda like golf.)
Ask yourself questions in order to formulate your statement.
What subjects draw you in? What interests you visually—light, shadow, movement, global warming, etc.? What thoughts reoccur as you paint? (A lot of people talk about enjoying being hypnotized as they watch the paint move. Although I can appreciate that, it does not tell the viewer anything about your art. It adds no insight.) What other artists or art movements do you like? Have any influenced you? If you had ten of your paintings on the wall, what would they all have in common—a strong sense of light; high contrast; a nod to architecture; organic, undulating forms; short bursts or staccato lines, repeated rhythms, etc.? It all means something. Although you don’t have explain what that is, it will benefit you to be self-aware. And perhaps that awareness will enlighten you as well as the viewer.
How would you describe your work to someone who cannot see it? What is the surface like? What were you trying to accomplish? (In my work I try to capture the illusive sense of atmosphere, light, time, temperature and recall in a place. Ann said to me the other night that she thinks I try to paint the air. She is right!! and I loved that she knew that and described it that way. Those words helped me understand my work better.) If you don’t know, that is ok, but thinking about it will inform. Once you answer those questions string the answers together and edit from there.
With all of that said there is a lot of art BS in artist’s statements. A funny You-tube video by a British artist speaks to that: http://youtu.be/3v8DbLWAXvU There are many sites on the subject—Google “How to write an artist’s statement.” The first
two looked interesting. I didn’t look further.
It’s a little like school, I know. But if you spend the time making the stuff it
is worth a little time trying to understand “what’s it all about”.