Saturday, November 30, 2013

Musings On Artist Statements

"Too much self-analysis lets the air out of your creative balloon."
                                                                                - Edward Betts

My initial quick watercolor sketch to get my ideas down.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. About life. About art. About my life and my art in particular. I'm working on completely revamping my website, because what's the point of having a website if you're embarrassed to show it to people. Part of that revamping is considering whether I need the dreaded Artist Statement or not. In its essence, an Artist Statement is designed to give people insight into you as the artist and/or to your work. They are often required by galleries, museums and with grant applications, but many artists use them as a general marketing tool as well. I've read some wonderful articles and advice on the subject, but still haven't settled on what to write for myself, if anything. Here are some thoughts I jotted down when I was brainstorming ideas:

"I don’t paint things for any reason other than they inspire me to paint them; sometimes it’s the way the light strikes an object, sometimes it’s just a favorite type of bird. There’s no deeper meaning or hidden symbolism in my work. I simply enjoy the challenge of seeing if I can paint something. There’s an amazing feeling in finding the right colors or the right technique to paint a likeness. Even if the rest of a piece is a disaster, getting some aspect of a painting right is immensely satisfying to me."

Although this all rings true to me, I feel like I ought to be saying something a bit more profound. But how?

First strokes of paint on the canvas. Love where this is going.

Take a look at this new piece I'm working on, for example. Why am I painting it? Because a particular photograph of a flamingo that I took at the Philadelphia Zoo decades ago keeps inspiring me to paint it. I've already done this bird in pen & ink, and watercolor, and now I want to paint it in acrylic. This time I want to play with mood and lighting; see if I can add a bit of mystery to my work. Does the subject have any significant meaning to me? No. Am I incorporating any symbolism into the piece? No. It's just me fooling around with a reference photo that appeals to me.

Next layer - body still fresh and full of movement. Hmm, head is losing that wonderful spontaneity and light.

While my motivation for creating art is pretty basic and straightforward, I certainly don't want to go the other way and make up things that are not there and have my Statement end up sounding pretentious, like so many of them do. I'm also making a conscious decision to avoid the whole overused "I've been making art ever since I was a little kid" statement this time because, let's face it, most people made lots of art as little kids whether they ended up being artists as adults or not. The phrase seems almost de rigueur, but it doesn't add anything unique or insightful to the Statement and I'm not proud of the fact that I've used that phrase in the past in other art-related writing.

Oh dear, the head is starting to look way too smooth.

I know that nearly all artists who write an Artist Statement find it a frustrating and bewildering process. If you've tackled or tried to tackle this task, what was your experience?

When you've read an artist's Artist Statement, either on their website or at a exhibit or gallery, have you found it helpful? Did it actually give you more insight into the artist or their work, as it is meant to do? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Interesting articles on the subject:
Art Biz Blog
The Abundant Artist 

One art critic's viewpoint:
Huffington Post

Another artist who writes about this subject rather more skillfully than I:
The Art of Making

and just for fun:
The Instant Artist Statement Generator

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