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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Do you dread writing an artist's statement?


The artist’s statement is, unfortunately, not optional.
The float, by Carol L. Douglas. This is my first work out the gate at Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I struggled with the aspect ratio. Is it done? Beats me.
Last week I wrote about getting into galleries. The artist who prompted that post responded, “I would much rather discuss how I feel my work communicates the essence of wilderness and why it’s important to preserve wild places, than trying to convince them that I’m an accomplished painter and would be an asset to their gallery. I’d be much more comfortable discussing the importance of making sure people develop an appreciation for the wild places left on our planet, than the merits of my paintings.”

She’s hit on a topic that most artists (including me) approach with dread: the artist’s statement. I’ve been mulling that over this week, because a residency can be about figuring out where you’re going as much as it is about producing new work.

My Mabef easel may nominally hold a 24x36 canvas, but in practice it's too heavy. So it's back to the Gloucester easel for oils.
An artist’s statement can be dull as dishwater or it can hit you between the eyes. My correspondent above is clearly passionate about wilderness; I’d be interested in her work just from the few sentences above.

We want our work to transmit our ideas non-verbally. Still, we are expected to write these statements. Our gallerists and collectors need a starting point for discussion.

Today I move over to Yupo and watercolor paper.
An artist statement generally contains:
  • An overview of one’s ideas;
  • An explanation of materials and process;
  • A personal statement of beliefs/philosophy;
  • A closing statement.

As a plein air painter, there’s not much I can say about my materials; however, I can talk about my strong preference for painting from life instead of photos.

The first and last sections are great opportunities for pomposity, clich├ęs, sophomoric writing and irrelevant anecdotes. As experienced as I am at writing, I’ve fallen into those traps. I look back on some of my artist’s statements and cringe.

What questions could you address?
  • What compels you in your current work?
  • Why did you make this specific body of work?
  • What are the spiritual, moral, or experiential underpinnings of your work?
  • What do you want your audience to take away from it?
  • How does this work relate to work you’ve done before?
  • Who or what are your inspirations?
  • Is there something unique about your technique?
  • What is your place in art history? How are you building on what’s been done before?
  • Is your painting tied to a specific place, a specific history, or a group of people?
I was so taken by Yupo last month that I ordered twenty full sheets of it. Here's hoping it works as well in that size.
What points should you avoid?

  • Talking about how much you love art. Everyone does.
  • Quoting famous artists and/or poetry.
  • A minute description of your process, especially when it’s the same as everyone else’s process.
  • Your personal experience, unless it ties in with a greater theme.
  • “My work is interesting because…”
  • Comparing yourself to a famous artist.

Be spare in your prose, direct, and honest. Refer to yourself in the first person, not as ‘the artist.’ And expect to work on it for a while. If you really and truly can’t write, hire someone to help you; the artist’s statement is, unfortunately, not optional.

In practice, I’ve found that I need several different versions of artist statement (which are of course strewn all over my hard drive). There’s the short one for show applications, the longer one for gallerists, and the painfully long one that gets incorporated into press releases.

2 comments:

Anne Winthrop Cordin said...

What a great list of questions Carol! I need to write a new one and now have a better jumping off point.

Carol Douglas said...

The things we SHOULD do...