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What’s the alternative to formulaic artist statements?

February 18, 2014

Explicitly or implicitly, [various parties that assign and request artist statements] endorse the conventional wisdom, the codified model for fill-in-the-blank, forced prose meant to serve as the ultimate linguistic record of an artist’s work. It’s worth noting that according to many scholars in writing pedagogy these factors—checklist writing prompts, prescribed outcomes, external rather than internal motivation, and one-shot attempts—prohibit expressive and effective writing. Writing is better practiced as an ongoing process in which a series of self-discoveries unfold in organically organized form.

But what’s the alternative to our formulaic norm? Far from uncovering some definitive ur-statement, the selective history of artist statements offered here shows them to be as varied and complex as the conditions that brought them forth. Comprehensibility, tastefulness, and brevity were clearly not always the goals. These statements, rather, are generous, adventurous, defensive, incisive, vindictive, eccentric, experimental, bombastic, sly, sad, funny, personal, political, and poetic. It’s hard to tell when they even began. Indeed, the difficulty of locating a precise “birth of the artist statement” is both explanatory and potentially liberating, since many of the genre’s most depressing examples seem to be written as if the writer is trying—and failing—to emulate some kind of “correct” model, one which he or she has never actually set eyes on. Artists have become convinced they’re supposed to say “my work explores the notion of self-reflexivity” rather than “I paint about paintings,” but they aren’t sure why. It’s like sitting down to write a poem and throwing in a bunch of thees and thous because that’s how poetry is supposed to sound. The results are obviously less than artful.

Excerpt from “Toward A History (and Future) of the Artist Statement” by Jennifer Liese

This is an excellent look at the conundrum of artist statements. Liese’s proposal on how to undo the damage that seems inherent (and “depressing”) in the typical artist statement is like a breath of fresh air. This is well worth a careful, thoughtful read – not just for artists, but for all arts professionals who must request, read, edit and/or write artist statements.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 18, 2014 4:34 pm

    I tend to keep these things simple stating what I am interested in. Some might find it vague, but I think it is more sincere than blabbing on about things that do not make my work more important. I would rather strive for sincerity and brevity. As a curator I appreciate both. As an artist I strive for them. Cut to the chase…get to the point…bring the bottle with the glasses. Creating a small framework for my work rather than a prison of description gives the audience room to enjoy the work.

    I leave the other things to those who are supposed to talk/write about people who make art, rather than me…the maker. Here is my short statement. http://www.barbararyan360.com/#!about
    Each series might also have a short statement, but nothing over 100 words.

    That is my 2¢.

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