Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Notes on Artist Statements

Despite the assertions by some wise friends that artist statements should be abolished, here are some notes that I give students who have not written artist statements before:

Try writing the first draft in third person. Describe process, aesthetic and conceptual characteristics, source material an inspirations, the discourse(s) present in the work, and the overarching themes/concerns that you are exploring in your practice.

Do not use casual language (cool, dabble, "am fascinated by", etc)

Do not say that you or your work ‘Deals with’ anything. It can address, explore, investigate, question….

There are empty words that will not help you speak clearly or specifically about your art. Some examples of such words are: creative, unique, original, fascinating. These are actually vague terms. Try to really articulate what you mean, keeping in mind how to explain the ways in which the formal (aesthetic, physical, material) aspects of your work are informing and creating the conceptual aspects (how does color express your feelings, for example?). Personal expression is also a bit of a nebulous and dangerous term. What things aren’t personal expression?? It’s a double redundancy, if you know what I mean.

Do not be humble. You should not hope or attempt. This is YOUR work, you are in control. Take the reigns. OWN IT!

There is no such thing as ‘pure’ anything anymore.  (pure feeling, pure expression, pure emotion, etc).
Mentioning purity is dangerously close to the other evil P word – Platitude! Purity is a Platitude. And, don’t you forget it. ( unless you wear a purity ring like the Jonas Brothers, in which case, I commend you for your Victorian integrity. Seriously).

Inanimate objects don’t own things and they don’t feel things. The “photograph’s desire”….

Make sure to check object/verb agreement (tense and number)

Do play “Name that Precedent”!  In three brushstrokes or less, can you identify the artist or art historical movement that most directly inspired your work?

Decide whether the subject of the work is you, the artist, or your work, and stick with it (do not switch back and forth), making sure to use the appropriate pronouns, whatever your choice.

Do not editorialize. (It's annoying when an artist tells me how I am going to experience their work, what I will think, feel, perceive.)

How many things can you find wrong with this sentence:
“The painting’s delicate lavender palette represents delicate purity, yet they are forceful by way of their strong brushstrokes”

Put the titles of art works and exhibitions in italics.  The polemics of biomorphism in food today”

Don’t sacrifice clarity for poetry. This is not the place to get creative and emotional with your language.

It is better to be clear and straightforward. Save the creativity for the artwork.

If your work cites other work, be sure to be clear about which other work, and why. If you are citing particular works, include the artist, title, and date of the works that your work is in dialog with.

This is not a personal ad. The objective of the artist statement is to describe he work, and your philosophy or outlook as an artist as it relates to your work.  The reader doesn’t care if you love animals or kids or flowers, unless there is a critical correlation to your work.
Separate yourself from the work. Try to write about the work and the content of the work as objectively as possible. You do not need to explain your self in an artist statement (unless maybe you are a performance artist and your work is all autobiographical)

Do not make universal declarations. The statement should be about your work, not the historic or current state of painting, or art, or beauty, or whatever.

Do not start sentences with passive verbs/gerunds: being, having, coming to, learning (“Learning all she needed to know about painting at Chapman University, Carlee went on to become a top-selling gnome-painter in Holland”).

Use your last name, not your first name, when referring to yourself after the first time. The first sentence should have your full name. After that, you can use only your last name, or third person pronoun.

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