Artists Statements – Are You Talking to Me?

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I spent about five years as a photo editor and was sort of amazed at how self-important artist statements can be. I recognize, and love, that photography can be important, life changing, awareness raising, haunting, process celebrating, but to say something is visceral doesn’t make it so. One person’s poetry is another person’s psycho-aesthetic retching. Self-importance is one of the most common over-reaches in the “language” of fine art photography. I have to admit that my own take is something of a cop out. I love language and I love photography – and I do work seriously – but I sort of refuse to self-celebrate with ten-dollar words. I am not sure I have always done the right thing at every turn as I am still rocking some very chic obscurity but I think I am being honest by not claiming the poetic everything stuff, even if I do hope an image jangles your zipper here and there.

via  HotshoeBlog.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. Good Stuff. Too many artists try to sound like real deep philosophers when they really just know how to make good images/sculptures/etc.

    I’m just as guilty as the rest but I think this article is a good reminder to “keep it real.”

  2. That was good…

    I think the best rule for artists statements is :

    Tell me what you made, but
    don’t tell me what I should be seeing.

    • @Allegra,
      “Tell me what you made, but
      don’t tell me what I should be seeing.”

      YES. I think it’s very important to keep the viewer in mind, not just the subject of the photograph. Let me see through my eyes what you are showing me.

  3. It’s going to be a tough sell defending fine-art photographers to an editorial crowd, but…

    Like all of contemporary art, fine-art photography now is almost entirely about ideas — often fairly esoteric ideas — and it actually does help academics, critics and curators for the artist to write a statement that locates his/her interests within the larger context.

    It’s a type of writing with its own vocabulary and conventions, a fact which tends to make non-insiders feel as if their chains are being yanked. It’s a bit like the feeling that I, as a non-bridge-player, get when reading the bridge column in the newspaper… “Oh, come on, they’re just making this stuff up!” But to someone who plays bridge, it’s not only sensible, but useful.

    Besides, the art people probably think the way that editorial photographers and editors write about their segment is weird too…

    • @Ranger 9, fail…. as someone who marvels at the enormous lack of talent in over 95% of the gallery work I have had the discomfort of viewing; artists statements are nothing but poorly written neurotic attempts at covering up their stunning lack of ideas… artists statements are like copy in Lexus ads, pretentious marketing to the nouveau rich…

    • Donnor Party

      @Ranger 9, That type of writing is for critics and academics, it shouldn’t have anything to do with the artist unless that is who the artist is. Its not as if a clearly worded statement of the artist’s intent is somehow inommensurable with the academics’ and critics’ world. Its their job to discuss it in their language. After all, no one expects critics to make a painting or take a photograph. Perhaps that is the problem, the central imbalance in the fine art world: The tail wags the dog, in the critics and academics, gallerists, all the back end “support” structure, is now more vital than the art and artists they legitimize and sell. Late term consumer capitalism is a bitch, right?

  4. Ahhh, to write a piece of text about a bunch of pictures that are already worth a thousand words each! I’ve always thought pictures can speak for itself. Of course, I found out quickly enough that I was mistaken. I need to read captions to properly frame pictures into exacting context. The same is true when it comes to artist statements–but coming up with one requires as much (or even more) care as one lavish on the pictures.

  5. Donnor Party

    The problem isn’t so much Artists’ Statements, but rather the content and style of the writing. Artists’ Statements today mimic the turgid prose of Critical Theory. This is fine if that is really who the artist is, but in most cases it is not, and rings false.

    An artist can place his/her work in the proper context without using the language of the critics and academics. You can talk about Jung or Schoepenhauer, or Camu or alienation without the Crit-speak. If you can clearly explain your ideas, critics, academics, and the public will all be able to access your thinking about your work, rather than alienating most of your audience.

  6. I agree. Too many artists that I know are the worst salespeople on the planet. It’s almost like they are actively trying to drive away their audience.

  7. Andre Friedmann

    Back in the 20th Century, MoMA paid fees to its staff curators as additional compensation for writing the essays in its publications. John Szarkowski suggested an incentive to fight wordiness — MoMA should start with a single, flat fee and then *reduce* that fee by five cents for each written word.