Monday, February 22, 2010

Artists Statements

A lot of people are torn when it comes to artist's statements. Do they enhance the work or not? Should they be included or should the work speak for itself? Do people really read them? What are your feelings on artists' statements? Are they good or bad? Are they or should they be necessary?

In regards to writing statements, a lot of artists dread doing so. Some find it challenging to articulate their thoughts, ideas and inspiration into words. Others just don't see the necessity of it. And still others recognize that they are not very good at writing and don't want to be put on the spot. But, like many other things, the more statements any artist writes, the better he/she will get. And being able to articulate his/her vision is also a great benefit should the artist ever have to give a lecture, speech or formal presentation about his/her work or him/herself. So it is a good practice to write many statements and, better yet, to think about writing from multiple perspectives so that the writing is adaptable to different circumstances.

Are artist's statements truly necessary, though? Some of my really conceptual pieces require them. Does that make those pieces lousy art because they needed an explanation? I don't know, but I try not to judge the success of an artwork by measuring what art should and shouldn't be. (I don't like those kinds of limitations.) Many of said pieces are meant to inspire viewers to think about things differently or to look at them anew and that raises a different measure of success. But back to artist's statements... I rather enjoy reading others' statements, although I can find them distracting or overwhelming at times, especially in large format group shows where every artist has written a lot or had a lot to say.

Meanwhile, some of my other pieces don't really need statements, like my plein air paintings. They are meant to simply be enjoyed. And writing statements about these works can seem unnecessary, redundant and distracting from the works themselves. I think it best if viewers are more interested in the art than the statement - the statement should be there because the art is so interesting that the viewer wants to learn more about it. The statement is meant to enhance, not limit possibilities.

So essentially some works benefit from artist statements while others don't. So this is where the rant comes in. Some galleries require artists to include statements alongside their work, and some of these galleries even specify word count (both minimum and maximum). I can see the necessity for this in a really conceptually themed show that is meant to raise awareness or push the envelope, or when there will be an exhibition catalog, but I just don't understand the necessity of it as a blanket rule. That only increases the likelihood that there will be a bunch of poor statements included that are badly written, don't make sense or are just wholly unnecessary.

And what about hanging statements beside the artworks? Is this good or bad? It can be a boon to be able to read the statement while studying the artwork upon which it is based. But such placement can be distracting and can add another visual element. So do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? I think this depends on the show, gallery space and artworks themselves. Sometimes it's nice when statements are consolidated in a centralized location, like a three-ring binder that the viewer can take with them while looking at the works. (This may be part of why audio tours can do so much to enhance viewing experience and are so popular - they don't visually distract.)

I guess I personally rather like artist's statements but I feel that sometimes there are just too many of them. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, those words can say a lot, especially when they are carefully selected and articulate things that are otherwise difficult to convey. Said words can really enhance one's art and can paint a clearer picture. But sometimes the art is better when left to viewer interpretation and silence can be much stronger. So the key lies in knowing not just what to say but when to speak.


Allison said...

I love your blog :) anything with "rant" OR "rave" in the title catches my eye, because that's your first clue that people are paying attention to the important issues. Art, in all its forms, is most definitely one of them!

I like artists statements. I feel like a lot of what i do, whether it's a song i write, a sketch i make, or even just an action requires some form of basic explanation. I think artists statements should be minimal, because that way they point your mind in the vague intended direction, but leave lots of room for personal interpretation. I agree, at times they can be overwhelming.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Thank you so much. You're right - artist statements can do a lot to enhance and to offer a guide to the journey ahead. And in that, the most useful maps are those that offer just the details needed to reach the destination and not all of the information about the site so as not to overwhelm.