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Artist Statement as GPS

by Suzanne DeCuir on 7/8/2010 8:39:16 AM

This post is by guest author, Suzanne DeCuir. This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I read with interest the range of opinions about what to say and what not to say about one's work.  I've concluded that the decision you make depends upon how you want your art to be viewed and understood (and how you want yourself as an artist to be viewed).

Until this year, my thoughts on working on an artist statement were along the lines of "why bother?"  For a long time I resisted even thinking about a statement, figuring my art would speak for itself.  I dashed off something about West coast locales and left it at that.

I've since changed my tune.  I think that the most important thing a good artist statement will do for you - especially if your art is not conventional  - is help the viewer know what to look for and how to think about your work.  Some may say they do not want to have any signposts assisting them when looking at art.  That's fine.  They can decide not to read the statement.  (We've all enjoyed museum shows, I'm sure, without renting the headsets, but sometimes the whole experience is much richer with some of the artist's perspective explained.)

At first I had no idea what to write and briefly flirted with the idea of plagiarizing. . . instead I talked with a photographer friend whose advice was simple:  be genuine.

So I struggled with the most important step:  understanding my own work and the reasons behind my artistic choices.  Writing a statement turned out to be a remarkably effective way for me to gain a better understanding of my art.  My work is reductive; I like to remove elements.  I also like to play with tension and resolution, leaving some areas less resolved, almost unfinished.  All this needed to go into the statement.  My own preference is not to include anecdotes or personal information, but you may have a different persona you'd like to reveal.

I think an artist statement that sheds some light on artistic decisions can be a helpful guide when viewers are seeing an artist's work for the first time, and for the artist when working on new paintings.  Am I still interested in removing elements, playing with tension, exploring color in this way, etc.?  Your statement is a kind of GPS system, a map you create and can refine as your art changes.   And sometimes a navigational system needs some of your attention if it's going to help you get where you want to go.

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Writing an artist's statement is a task I've always found difficult. I did write one, but it's something I keep editing and changing because I'm not sure what people really want to know or how lengthy it should be. My husband was a museum director and I worked on exhibit design and construction with him and learned a little bit about writing exhibit labels, so I liken an artist's statement on an artist's website to a label in an exhibit of the artist's work. My husband always hierarchically 'layered' his exhibit labels, with large print, short labels appearing first for viewers who didn't want great detail or lots of daunting info, and the secondary, more detailed labeling in smaller print for people who wanted to read more info. My thought is to take the same approach to my website and to make the initial artist's statement short and sweet, and then perhaps link to another page on my website that takes my statement into greater detail for those who have an interest in knowing more.

tom weinkle
This is a great post.

I couldn't agree more with the importance of articulating “the artist's statement”. Not only does it clarify for others what you are working at, but it does as the author suggests, clarify for the artist. To me, the statement isn't about having to be different than everyone else, just clear about work and purpose and goals. I also believe that the statement is something that naturally evolves, as the work will. It seems to me as artists, we have to revisit the statement as a sort of check and balance, and to make sure it reflects what we are doing.

thx for sharing!

Michael Cardosa

Your posting really hit home. If there is one part of my website I hate it's my artist's statement! Have no idea what to write and believe what I have hurts more than helps. This gives me the motivation to go back and finally fix it.



Kathleen McElwaine
Great job - one of the best I have ever read on the Artist Statement. I find that artist forget how unique they are as an individual - what stimulates you, what takes you into that creative state, where does spontaneity happen in your art. My artist statement is not this good and after being encouraged by this article I'm off to rewriting it. I thought it was enough just to be the BusPaintings artist. Now I can't wait to share more of my methods of inspiration.
Thank you Kathleen McElwaine

Marsha Hamby Savage
I think it is important to know what you are doing with your art. Then it will be easier to write the artist statement. This is a very timely article. Thanks.

I think if you set up your best work around a room and start writing down words that pertain to what you are seeing, then you can easily write the first draft.

At least this is a start. Then insert some of your decision making into it. My opinion only!

Helen Horn Musser
Suzanne, Your post gives us a lot to think about in regards to our attitude about art and our personal vision. Thank you for guiding us to think more about this very important part of an artist inner thoughts

Carol McIntyre
Thank you Suzanne and thank you for giving us your example. I think we artists should re-visit our artist statement at least annually.

Another good exercise is to say our statements out loud. That is another way to see how the words "feel." When someone asks me, after I tell them I am an artist, "What do you do?" Instead of talking about subject matter, I try to use the descriptors in my artist statement. I am not smooth at it yet, but working on it.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Carol, what a good idea. Trying to use those words when talking will bring a better understanding of whether you are really putting the correct words into the statement. They should feel genuine.

Frank Emrick
Artists statements: Ya gotta have 'em, ya don't have to love 'em!

I framed the following and hung it with my solo exhibit in Delafield, WI. July 3rd.Also revamped my web site to say more.

I”™ve titled this exhibit...
Because I paint realistically. It”™s a lauguage anyone can understand.
This is where we artists usually insert our “Artist Statement”.
Whatever Happened to Leonardo Da Vinci”™s Artist Statement?
Or, Michelangelo? “Hey, Michelangelo, could you send your artist”™s statement so we can get an idea of what kind of work you do? We have this blank ceiling we”™d like you to look at”. Do brain surgeons have to have “Brain Surgeon Statements”? My butcher, does he have to have a “Butcher Statement”?
Our art is visual. Does it need a verbal definition too?
GET REAL! Here”™s an artist statement... “I”™m fond of eating, I sell pictures to support that habit.” Or, “I paint because it”™s easier than working for a living”.
Now then, I do admit that it”™s a good exercise to define your objectives and decide what you want to accomplish with your artistic efforts. Even put it on paper. Keeps you focused on making a concise visual statement when painting.
We artists are expected to have “Artist Statements”. It”™s a fact. And I do have one. So here”™s my Artist Statement:
I am a realist. My artistic philosophy is found in my paintings. I strive for visual rather than literary depth. If my paintings need interpretation, then I have failed as an artist and communicator.
I believe art is communication. I want the viewer to see a subject, as I see it. Therefore, the message or subject, however simple or complex, must be stated in a manner that crosses any people related barriers. My language is reality defined and enhanced by color, draftsmanship and composition, within the confines of the medium.
Short version... I paint what interests me when I feel like it.

Robert Redus
Very insightful article, artist statements are difficult to write. I found writing a statement is a great deal like teaching, you find out how quickly you know the subject when you have to teach the subject.

Unconventional styles of paintings often work on an emotional response or an aesthetic and much of the information/intention is not readily visible to the viewer. The statement may well be the tool that clarifies the unknown.
Great article, thanks again...

Robert Redus

George De Chiara
I struggled a with my artist statement for a long time and like you had it in the "why bother" category. Now that I have it I find updating it and tweaking it not nearly as painful. Your article gave me some really good ideas about what to do with the next revision and a new way of looking at them. Thanks!

I have a small piece of advice also, "Don't ever let any teacher change your style". Teachers may try to get you to paint like them, don't let them, it's so easy to follow the leader, but sometimes a teacher will say, no do this this way, not that they are always wrong, but if you say that the cat's tail should be clipped, then do it! Sometimes it's just to easy to stay inside the box even when you want to be outside of it!

Helen Horn Musser
Barb, I agree; following every teacher insteead of doing your own thing will keep us from developing a style. The constant of painting from our original thoughts and technique will eventually lead to a personal voice.

Phyllis OShields Fine Art
After rewriting my artist statement monthly, I finally joined the why bother group. Just could not get it down to basic information to convey in a short space. This gives me renewed ideas and I will go back to writing finding only the Genuine core to express! Thanks Phyllis OShields

Kathy Chin

Good article on artists' statements. A couple of the best blogs I follow daily are both photographers who have no pretense at all. They're both world famous (Joe McNally and Moose Peterson) but they certainly don't write like it. They're both down-to-earth and simply write daily about the shots they take and why. Lots of their followers want to know the technical data like f-stops and lenses, etc., but Moose especially would usually prefers to discuss the circumstances, the feeling of the day, the way the wildlife he was photographing was acting just before he clicked the shutter. They both love photography, and it shows in their writing. Sure, they can also write about f-stops, lenses, and what works for them in a given circumstance for those who want to know everything. At the same time they encourage their fans to experiment on their own and practice, practice, practice their craft. Haven't looked to see if either has an official "artist statement," but after so many years of trials and tribulations with their photography, the stories just come out and it seems fascinating to those of us who haven't "shot" for as long as they have. I don't get the impression that it was particularly easy for either one in the beginning to write everything down, but they kept at it (like they do continually with their photography) They also describe how they keep learning while trying new locations, new techniques, and yes, new lenses! They seem comfortable with who they are, but continually look to grow and improve.

Sharon Weaver
I have read a lot about artists statements but your article clarified the process. I especially like the comparison with a GPS system. As my own goals have changed, I have updated my statement. I think my artist statement is a work in progress, the same as my paintings.

Carol Schmauder
What a good article! It is hard to write an artist's statement that is meaningful. My artist statement is, like Sharon's, a work in progress. I enjoy reading artist's statements and I'm sure many others do as well.

Clint Watson
Very informative information.

Alma Drain
artist statement this was great to read i really gained a lot from this article. I had a hard time trying to figure out just what to say,now this has helped i can start a good statment without feeling i would rather go to the dentist than write it. Keep the articles comming.

Suzanne DeCuir
Thanks to all of you who wrote regarding my article today. I think the hardest part for me is to find right tone - you don't want to sound clueless, but you don't want to sound pretentious either, and sometimes "art talk" can sound that way.

Debra Davies
Thank you soooo much! Finally someone said it. "What kid doesn't like art". I have read statement after statement saying this same thing, and thought I must have something wrong with me. I would rather not have a statement, then to have to put that in mine, but I thought this must be the norm, or what galleries like.
After reading your article, I have the confidence to write the statement I have always wanted...for you see, as a child I wasn't inspired to make art, I made art to escape and have a friend. Every piece I do has a story and/or reflects the experiences that have made me who I am.
You have opened my eye's, thank you again!!!

Marilyn Gilis
Good article. I prefer to let the viewer come to their own conclusions about my paintings. Most of my art is unconventional and I have found that viewers do not always see what I see in it. I prefer to let them relate to it in their own way uncolored by my statements. I gujess that's pretty much my artist statement.

tom weinkle
Marilyn, respectfully, what you said may be part of your statement. It is hard for all of us to settle on something to say about our art, and for many of us it may be about our activities and goals as opposed to what we expect others to see. I agree with you about leaving things open for viewers.

I also believe that while no viewer wants to be told what to think, they often appreciate a context by which to look at the artists' work. Viewers respect that artists want them to find their own meaning. Even if it is something unintended.

Marilyn Gilis
Thank you Tom for your input. I can see where my statement may be only partial. I will see how I can incorporate your suggestions into it. Although as far as goals go mine are to just get on canvas, paper, or whatever all the paintings I have in my head waiting for expression.

Esther J. Williams
Suzanne, I had a statement on my former website but since I joined FASO, I dropped it since there were too many menu bars with it. I completely forgot about it for over a year until I saw this article. Now, I will have to go back and find it, re-tweak it and post it on the front page like you have on your website. Good idea! Let them know right up front where you sit. A nice intro to your website and lovely art you have. Thanks for the article.

tom weinkle

All I know is that every time i think I've resolved mine, it wants to be changed. I have to imagine most of us are self-conscious, trying to be honest,interesting, intelligent, but not pretentious.

Just another thing on the list of “to-do's”. Getting those paintings out of your head is also important.

Faye Creel
As an artist I sometimes get lost even with the GPS, like the time I passed my turning point and the GPS just recaculated and directed me to another gate of the subdivision for me to learn that it was a backgate was padlocked and I couldn't enter.
In that case I had to retract my directions to get to where I wanted to go. How often has that happened to me in my artwork. Reworking our artwork isn't best but it is second best. I need to take a look at my statement while trying to manage everyday chores and get some of those paintings out of my head. Thanks for your article.

Mary Sheehan Winn
Good advice. Some do sound pretentious and some ramble on about stuff that doesn't matter. I think the thing is edit, edit, edit.

Max Hulse
It is my opinion that people do business
with people they like. An artist's statement
allows viewers to learn more of the artist's
philosophy of life and of his or her art,
as well as the purpose in creating the art.
After they begin to feel they know you, they
hopefully will begin to like you, and human
nature is such that the person will then be
more open to your art.
Max Hulse

Michael Cardosa

That is a very interesting idea about viewing your work to get some thoughts of what to write.

I like that!



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