Yes. Blame art schools, which require artists to produce statements and such. Then blame galleries for including artist statements in press releases/etc. Written artists’ statements are a total waste of time. When an artist receives his/her BA or MFA, he/she should be required to burn anything resembling a written artist’s statement. An artist’s statement is his/her work.This response produced a spirited reply over at Art Fag City and at Deborah Fisher respectively.
(BTW, curators are responsible for text-love too. They’re in love with wall-text. The Whitney, in particular, seems unable to present an exhibit without accompanying novel-length texts. This year’s Whitney Biennial was a bad show for plenty of reasons, but the thousands of words of wall-text the show apparently ‘required’ should have been a tip-off to the Whitney that it had a disaster on its floors. Same with another recent Whitney curatorial clumping: “Remote Viewing.”)
While I agree that wall text* and artist statements are often poorly executed, I think it is a mistake to lump the two text related activities together, because the assumption is then that the purpose of an artist statement is solely to do with the viewer and the mounting of exhibitions. Artist's statements are not a waste of time, and to suggest otherwise does not take into account the value in articulating ones art making objectives. Since the rules of writing require focus to build effective arguments, the practice can in turn have significant payoffs in the studio. It can help an artist find focus in the studio if this is lacking, and can also lead the artist to some clarity on whether the work they are making supports the statements they have spelled out. Greater standards need to be applied to the practice of artist writing, because it is a proven means of advancing art.Deborah Fisher in response to both:
For this reason I am almost always dismissive of work that is accompanied by poor statements. It is indicative of an artist who is either not sufficiently engaged in the work they produce, or merely submissive to the rules of formalism. In either case, the work has limited value. Moreover, history proves this point several times over. With only a few exceptions, the major artists of the 20th century have all written statements on their work that match publication standards. If we are to learn anything from history, it is that the best artists do not work solely within the confines of their studio.
The thrust of the AFC argument is that statement-writing clarifies "artistic objectives" and helps artists to build effective arguments. But art is not a term paper, and great art is great because it denies one clear argument or objective! To frame one's art verbally, with an artist's statement, is to close doors that could remain open, and to depend on verbal explanations of visual and spatial expressions dulls the potential for art to actually do that voodoo that it does so well. Visual and spatial expressions of ideas are non-linear, non-hierarchical. Multiple reads can co-exist in time. Writing doesn't kill this. But writing an artist's statement can.All have very valid and I think sincere takes on the malady know as the artist statement. All the posts mentioned above actually prompted Chris Jagers to remove his statement from his artist site. I think he should reconsider that move. Here's what I think :)
The artist's statement as taught in school asks me to tell you what my art means. It answers the questions: What is my art doing? How is it doing it? Why is it doing it? And these are great questions for a viewer to ask themselves when looking at a work of art, but my relationship to what I make is different, and these questions are uniquely unimportant to me. These questions privilege one meaning, expressed in a linear fashion, over the tapestry of simultaneous and interlocking meanings that compel me to create visual art. The whole reason I make visual art and don't write for a living is because of this tapestry and what it can do, and the very nature of this love affair I am having with this tapestry of meaning is that it is impossible to verbalize with anything other than the most hackneyed, imprecise, insufficient metaphors.
I make art specifically because I am trying desperately to understand something that my verbal self can't touch. Writing a statement about what my own work means is therefore an unhelpful enterprise. This is not because I am an illiterate artist, but because I am compelled to make visual art for specifically nonverbal reasons. I want to embrace paradox, not resolve it. I want to ferret out all those fat spaces of uncertainty and becoming that an essay cannot get at.
Tyler is right to critique the simplification of the artist statement and the narrowing effects it has had on how art gets consumed. That's why it is there after all - packaging of the art. It tells people (including the gallery) how to understand the work and where to file it - under rock, electronic, hip hop or folk? It is also another example of how an arts education is producing standards - but weak standards. Let's face that head on ok? If a school actually takes the time to address professional issues, (I'm wagering most don't) such as a statement, do you really think they are helping to make these statements instructive or cogent? In my experience, no.
Tyler is somewhat overreaching in conflating artist statements with wall text. I agree that wall text is overly dense in many cases and irritating to the initiated, but time and time again I see that people outside of the art bubble really do get a valid entry to the works thanks to wall text. I think it is better suited to historical exhibitions though and should never outway the visual work. It should be viewed as a supplement not an equal unless your work is TEXT. It is important to note that an artist like Carrie Mae Weems currently doesn't use wall text or labels because she wants the viewer to engage with the work first and then read later if they like. That's a big political statement within a large political body of work. It says - I'm an artist first and this a poetic space first - other politics and history come second within this created world. It is a challenge to the viewer to figure it out and a challenge to herself to make works that speak clearly - speak visually.
Paddy suggests that an artist statement is critical practice for an artist. That it helps an artist to locate themselves and done correctly, can inspire and be a part of one's art practice. I agree with that too. Every artist should explore writing on some level because I do think that in most cases she is correct. It is important to be able to convey your thoughts on paper as it may open up some blocked pathways. I think it is also important for artists to speak in public as much as they can for the same reasons. It acts as a spring board. You can hear yourself in the public sphere and it helps you edit out what isn't clear or making sense. It may inspire you as well. Where I think Paddy runs off the road though is when she suggests that bad artist statements are a direct link to bad art and dumb artists. This is very elitist and self righteous and frankly too narrow. Plenty of bad artists are good writers and talkers and vice versa. One's reading list is never going to make the work or make the work good.
Look, I've read hundreds of crap statements that slaughter the english language and amount to the worst pile of gibberish on the planet. To say they are inane is to be polite. Is it all the artist's fault though? On one level yes, but I think we have to look at the overall education failure. I'm speaking to high school education, not everyone has the same educational experience. Far too many students entering college have sub-par composition and language skills. Some students I had once were really operating at a 9th grade level despite being in college and despite being generally bright and interested in the larger world. An arts degree doesn't fully address short comings because the focus is so much on studio hours that the humanities are sort of deleted. It is a shame because these young artists aren't being helped. It leads to junk statements. An artist needs to address this if they are intimidated with writing. They need to practice and find someone who is comfortable with writing to help them as an editor. The last thing an artist needs is for the gallery or the curator to do all the talking for them. You have to be able to speak for yourself and write clearly. The best advice is to write from the artist perspective and not to act like a curator or an art historian. Be clear and make demonstrative statements. Then let the work do the talking.
For artists who do have a writing "gene", I think Deborah hits it dead on - the catch 22 so many of us face. How to be literate and accessible while maintaining the primacy of the visual without be trapped by this question:
"what is your work About"?
This is the most feared question I ever face - and I can blab for hours about what my work is about. I hate the question for all the reasons Deborah mentions. I always seem to fail at it and I always feel that I cheat the work when I try to 'nutshell it" for someone. Because honestly, on many levels I don't know what the work is about -beyond it is about itself, and me and everything else under the sun! It is about discovery and mystery and struggle with materials, feeling and ideas. It is the intangible and it owns me.
Sometimes I just want to say its about life - ya dig?