Saturday, February 6, 2010

Straight Talk

I just returned from a week of gallery and museum hopping (plus a great sale at Macy’s) in downtown Chicago. Before going further, I must report that I found the “red dress” that was reputed to not exist at the store Mentioned earlier and in an earlier post. Imagine that! Okay, back to the issue at hand….artists statements. It is no wonder people are sometimes intimidated by art especially when a show starts off with an artist statement about his or her work posted right on the wall so as to be sure the viewer understands the person’s intent. That is all well and good when the statement is not a bunch of BS clouded up with words, phrases and even sentences that make no sense. The opposite of this, and subject of an upcoming post, is the “untitled” piece which is clearly a complete joke but hanging there in reverent glory like some kind of earth shattering statement of intellectual superiority.

My current peeve is with the artists who feel it necessary to let you know just how much you don’t know by writing a paragraph or two about how what they do is just so stupendous and essential to life’s basic elements that you the viewer can’t possibly understand just how fabulous and important the work is to your very existence and how lucky you are to be graced by its presence in this location. Like I said, BS by the bucket load! Newsflash there young fella, it is still a string of extensions cords with light bulbs on it. Ace Hardware has one too for a gazillion dollars less.

Allow me to share a few of my favorite snippets from actual artist statements. All the grammar and such is exactly as it appears so don’t blame me or the computer for the errors. Snarky comments are mine of course. “…I consciously accede to individual interpretation beyond strict artistic intentions, so as to grant the viewer a more personal access to the work.” (Well gosh golly thanks for the access. Quote is from the statement of Karen Ceolla Tylec.) “It is with this transcendent sense of an energized, unified complexity of an all encompassing reality that she thus approaches her art, and the result is an intricate, organic exploration of the mysteries of life’s energetic cycles.” (Translation, she makes drawings of plants. Quote is from the statement of Nancy Bellard.) And finally, “Let’s talk about something easier shall we? The colors are intense and vibrant, except when they aren’t. The techniques are recognizable, except when they aren’t. Any attempt to pigeonhole the Translucid misses the point. And that’s the point. We’re going to miss Translucid; we’re not going to get it. For a few, short decades we’re going to witness an emotional sharing that the art world hasn’t seen in centuries. I wish I could reach you, guide you, take you to the place called Translucid. Just look; see what you see; feel what you feel; allow yourself to slip out of that comfortable shell for a minute and wallow in emotional rhythms of it. This takes no talent, no special skill; it does take courage.” (Somebody has been sniffing the glue pot just a bit too often. Quote from an article by Rade-Patron in Artisspectrum volume 11/7, 2000. It has been a decade and I guess I missed the emotional sharing thing.) I have pages of these types of statements.

All too often, artists get a bit enamored with themselves and their work. Ego is a necessary component of success in this world since we put ourselves out there to be judged on a daily basis but my point is, don’t hide behind a lot of icing to make the cake taste better. All that fancy writing does not make the work any better or more likeable, or even more understandable. If the emperor is naked, everybody is going to see that whether they are willing to admit it out loud or not.

What is a good artist’s statement? Tell us what media you use, how the process is done if not easily recognizable and why the subject was chosen. It is okay to let us know your intent for the work or the series but leave the thesaurus at home. Tell us how long you have been doing this type of work, how it affected you as an artist and what you hope we the viewer may get out of it. Simple and to the point is best.

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