Saturday, September 17, 2011

Artist's Statements: Both/And

A friend sent me excerpts from a threaded discussion on artist's statements ... some people thought they were really important, some thought they were a waste of time.  It reminded of me of my days in innovation when I often repeated the mantra:  "It's never either/or but always both/and."  It's not really whether to do an "Artist Statement" or not; it's about how to make a connection with a potential collector in a few microseconds.  

One way of doing that is through a compelling statement about the work and the artist's process.  Some people really like reading the backstory to the art; some people don't.  Here's the kicker to the either/or approach - the people who don't want to read it won't but, if it's not there, the people who do like to read them can't.  Part of the "both/and approach" is to write an interesting story for those who want it but make it easy for those who don't to skip over it.

But, that's just the beginning of the "both/and."  The intent is to connect with the viewer, to help them slow down, to really see and feel the art ... without making them feel restricted or imposed upon.  Some artists are "purists" and do not even title their works, wanting people to make their own interpretations of the artwork.  I think suggestive titles that leave room for mystery and ambiguity help most viewers connect, especially with work that is abstract or impressionistic.  In the current show, "Singing the Blues," at Timberline Art Gallery, Janet Morita has a piece of abstract art with the title "Fractured Rhapsody."  It is a beautiful abstract piece but I noticed that when I read the title, I slowed down and noticed more of the details and looked for the fractures.

"Fractured Rhapsody" (complete with reflections from other works):

Timberline puts brief artist statements with each artist's work.  As I was writing this, I circled the gallery reading them.  Most, I have to admit, were straightforward (hometown, education, awards) and didn't make much of a connection.  But, two stood out:

"Zyg Zee is a computer geek, photographer addict and digital junky.  How he got this way is a study in kinky karma.  Keeping himself fed and gainfully occupied has led him through scad of experiences and learning escapades."  Don't you feel an instant connection with him and an interest in how this plays out in his art?

David Caris: "Living peacefully among the cedars, pine and oak near Bass Lake, California, Dave Caris is a yogi who works with clay much like a sculptor--except his iconic masks, faces, totems and vessels are not of actual people, but rather express deep feelings three-dimensionally, some very whimsically."  Again, this statement invites the viewer to connect with him not just as an artist but as a person.

Some people will never read these statements ... or even the title of the work.  But, for people who are drawn to the work, these additional connecting points can be the difference between a passing glance and the beginnings of a relationship.


  1. So.... your post got me thinking. If we look at our lives as 'our artist's statement', what would we say?

    If every day is a fresh palatte, what is the motivation behind the strokes I paint?

    Hmmm.... cool. Thanks Joyce -- love the inspiration!

  2. I have seen some very funny take-offs on artist statements; there's even a site that will do the writing for you, each click ratcheting up the language until it reaches absurdity.

    It is the pretentious statements I dislike, and those are easy to spot in the first sentence. Your approach - to make a connection and engage - is so right on. It is one that not only artists need to think about when preparing a show or putting a Website together but also museums and galleries.