THE MYSTERY OF THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT
The Mystery of the Artist's Statement
After reading a rather baffling artist's statement the other day I thought it was worth a few words.
It is now common for galleries and art prizes to request artists come up with a statement about themselves and their work. This is in addition to any achievements they have gained over the years. The artist's statement is important.
I have to confess to being highly entertained by many such statements. Not only are many of them works of fiction, but they can be totally incomprehensible and even more than that, just plain hilarious!
For some reason the art world has fostered a kind of babble that no one really understands but which has, at the same time, become highly regarded and acceptable among themselves - almost like a pass to enter a very special club.
How about this for a typical example:
'The artist has explored the space between subconscious and conscious elements in the landscape by using colour and form as navigational pointers to our innermost feelings'.
Hand in hand with the artist's statement is the statement or story of the individual work. It has become a trend particularly in the bigger art prizes to have a theme that artists must paint to and the statement about the painting is probably more important that the work itself. If you can articulate an otherwise unfathomable painting into the theme of the prize, you are almost home - if you can add some 'art-speak' as well then success is not too far away.
It seems that what can be written about a painting is becoming more important than the work itself and when a painting can only be understood and liked because of what is written about it, it will find itself lagging behind in the sales department.
Mostly we like paintings for what they are and how them make us feel, whatever the genre of the work. Stories that go with paintings can be just as strained and unreal as some of the artist's statements around the place. A thoughtful title is often enough.
Some of the best selling and popular artists I know have gotten there without verbal excess about themselves or their work - their paintings stand up for themselves.
As for artist's statements, it's always best to be understood and real. This means keeping it simple, thoughtful and short. Self-praise is never a good recommendation and neither is reverting to artistic clichés of which there are many.
We certainly can't avoid the artist's statement, so we may as well make the best of it and if statements are required about individual artworks, it's best to use language people can understand and importantly, the words must truthfully represent what is painted.