How to Write an Artist statement, word?!

Forget art school. Smizzy has the answers….. No I actually, I don’t have ALL the answers – but I do know where to find the answers that I seek.  Well, answers are usually more like tips to help you find your own personal answer – but resembles some sort of answer never-the-less.

I realized a while back that the institution is against folks like me – poor, working class, female (i’m not black but they’re against that too) and we agree to disagree when things are going good.

As an artist we are asked to write artist statements. A few months ago a tutor of mine told my class to look up a few websites that were supposed to offer support in writing that ‘perfect’ artist statement. In reality, however, didn’t offer any advise i didn’t know already and kind of didn’t help but made the process worse!  There was one website which stuck out where the writer describes writing a statement close to cooking a stew.  Bizar. But, it stood out!

So here is what I learnt from many art critics, writers, lecturers, artists, ect and from my very own experiences.  This isn’t fully comprehensive but should help you begin to help you on your journey (and myself!) on to producing an artist statement which will make mediocracy flee in fear!

What do you think? – –

Oscar Wilde wrote “It is more difficult to talk or write about a thing than to do it.” “Criticism is a creation within creation.” “The highest criticism is more creative than creation.” “Creation limits, while contemplation widens the vision.”

With this in mind, lets move on to the “tips” and examples.

A New Type of Artist Statement: Write in plain language. Keep it short, simple, to the point. Use your own syntax; write the way you speak. With gigantic abstractions (“nature,” “beauty,” “ambiguity”) say what you’re actually doing with these big things. Don’t be afraid to be funny/weird or your stupid self! A glimpse of real self is powerful.

It’s not that big words or art historical language is inherently wrong, it’s that it’s usually unnecessary and sounds foreign coming out on paper for people who don’t speak that way. If you’re someone that drops those words in conversation , you might be able to make them work, but if you’re trying to fit them in then they will ALWAYS sound clumsy.

I’d like to add that nobody gives a shit if you’ve “always been creative from the time I was 5yrs old”. It has no bearing on an informed body of work and doesn’t tell me anything.

The artist’s statement should give the reader another reason to look at the work. Anything too general or fuzzy won’t give the reader something more to see, or a new way to think about what they’ve already noticed. Many people are more verbal than visual, so the artist might need to give the reader another reason to spend time looking. Straightforward doesn’t mean too simple or easy. . .

and please don’t use the word, ‘heteronormative.’

it is very important that an artists statement is at least informally edited by a friend, like minded gallery person, professional writer. etc. No good writing occurs without an editor (good thinking, as people here constantly display, but there is nothing to sap an artist of their potential power then a badly written statement).

he truth of french theory and frankfurt school and lacan and all the other theorists that have informed artists is that these writers were really really smart and in order to write along with them you’d better start sharpening your head. Reading is one thing, but writing about these ideas is something else. Usually one gets pretentious garbled imitations of really great thinkers. Just because i have read Middlemarch 10 times does not make me George Eliot. Like all ‘influences’ outside of the appropriation discourse, they are most eloquent when they are invisible. I don’t think that there is a single anti-intellectual on here. But people do have bullshit meters. Amateur theory writing is about as effective as amateur surgery.

Also, avoid using Lacan, Baudrillard, Derrida, Kant, and Foucault names in your artist statement!

A clear statement is another tool in the artist’s toolbox: it is an opportunity to describe their work, and secondarily, it presents an opportunity for the artist to articulate their artwork in writing.

My feeling is to bring back the manifesto- to express what your values are, and aren’t. Historically artists used to hang out in different camps and their manifestos were about how they would change the world which revealed what values they held and that seems like fertile ground for an artist statement.

Watch out for the word “I.”

DO NOT use phrases like “My work is intended” or “My work is about.” The word “practice” is the same as the word work. Use one or the other.

Watch out for gigantic abstract words “nature, ambiguity, beauty, reconciling opposites.”

best one is Carter Ratcliff’s: “I am a poet who writes about art.”

EVen bad artists SAY interesting things about their work; I have never HEARD a dumb artist.

Just write how you talk: Keep it simple and NO PLADITUDES about GIGANTIC ABSTRACT IDEAS, dummies.

f you are going to refrence other artists watch out for Giants (Twombly, Picasso, Duchamp). They make you sound smaller and pretentous. We are all referencing those types of artists (by accepting OR rejecting them). Don’t name them in your statement. Period. You may name names of artists that emerged AFTER 1990. That puts you much more at risk.

Remember that you live in the 21st century; not the early 19th century. You are NOT a Romantic Artists fighting to replace God or save art’s life or restore balance to a universe peopled by unknown Gods. The stakes have changed. (I know that we still live in a word similar to this but the terms HAVE changed; GROW UP; Get Your Own Ideas; otherwise you die A LITTLE; even if you have to rip ideas from the hands of the dead; GET AN IDEA).

I also say, Keep it short! Say it in 100 words OR LESS.

There is nothing wrong with humor or irony in an artist statement.

No matter what get a trusted friend to read your Artist Staement BEFORE you put it out. Tell them to rip it to shreads or tell you if it sounds silly or empty. If one person says “It’s perfect” they are lying or scared to tell you or don’t know. Get one more person to read it. Repeat this until someone tells you some part of it that stinks.

other artist staements BEFORE putting yours out. You will see that almsot EVERY Artist Staement SOUNDS the same. If yours sounds like these, it stinks and is boring.

It all boils down to DON’T BE BORING.

Joe Fyfe suggests this: (Get ready; it’s long; but it will be helpful):

– Leonard Cohen, “How to Speak Poetry”
– From Death of a Lady’s Man:

Take the word butterfly. To use this word it is not necessary to make the voice weigh less than an ounce or equip it with small dusty wings. It is not necessary to invent a sunny day or a field of daffodils. It is not necessary to be in love, or to be in love with butterflies. The word butterfly is not a real butterfly. There is the word and there is the butterfly. If you confuse these two items people have the right to laugh at you. Do not make so much of the word. Are you trying to suggest that you love butterflies more perfectly than anyone else, or really understand their nature? The word butterfly is merely data. It is not an opportunity for you to hover, soar, befriend flowers, symbolize beauty and frailty, or in any way impersonate a butterfly. Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material.

What is the expression which the age demands? The age demands no expression whatever. We have seen photographs of bereaved Asian mothers. We are not interested in the agony of your fumbled organs. There is nothing you can show on your face that can match the horror of this time. Do not even try. You will only hold yourself up to the scorn of those who have felt things deeply. We have seen newsreels of humans in the extremities of pain and dislocation. Everyone knows you are eating well and are even being paid to stand up there. You are playing to people who have experienced a catastrophe. This should make you very quiet. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Everyone knows you are in pain. You cannot tell the audience everything you know about love in every line of love you speak. Step aside and they will know what you know because you know it already. You have nothing to teach them. You are not more beautiful than they are. You are not wiser. Do not shout at them. Do not force a dry entry. That is bad sex. If you show the lines of your genitals, then deliver what you promise. And remember that people do not really want an acrobat in bed. What is our need? To be close to the natural man, to be close to the natural woman. Do not pretend that you are a beloved singer with a vast loyal audience which has followed the ups and downs of your life to this very moment. The bombs, flame-throwers, and all the shit have destroyed more than just the trees and villages. They have also destroyed the stage. Did you think that your profession would escape the general destruction? There is no more stage. There are no more footlights. You are among the people. Then be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Be by yourself. Be in your own room. Do not put yourself on.

This is an interior landscape. It is inside. It is private. Respect the privacy of the material. These pieces were written in silence. The courage of the play is to speak them. The discipline of the play is not to violate them. Let the audience feel your love of privacy even though there is no privacy. Be good whores. The poem is not a slogan. It cannot advertise you. It cannot promote your reputation for sensitivity. You are not a stud. You are not a killer lady. All this junk about the gangsters of love. You are students of discipline. Do not act out the words. The words die when you act them out, they wither, and we are left with nothing but your ambition.

Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. Do not become emotional about the lace blouse. Do not get a hard-on when you say panties. Do not get all shivery just because of the towel. The sheets should not provoke a dreamy expression about the eyes. There is no need to weep into the handkerchief. The socks are not there to remind you of strange and distant voyages. It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don’t peep through them. Just wear them.

The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers’ Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality. Tell them about the height of the mountain, the equipment you used, be specific about the surfaces and the time it took to scale it. Do not work the audience for gasps ans sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of the air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence.

Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty.

Like Leonard Cohen says:

“…Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Everyone knows you are in pain. You cannot tell the audience everything you know about love in every line of love you speak. Step aside and they will know what you know because you know it already. You have nothing to teach them. You are not more beautiful than they are. You are not wiser. Do not shout at them. Do not force a dry entry. That is bad sex…”

“… be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Be by yourself. Be in your own room. Do not put yourself on.”

It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don’t peep through them. Just wear them.
If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism.

Be specific ….

wE’Ve all read books, stop referencing them all!

From artist James Gurney:  (DON’T USE ANY OF THE BELOW STATEMENTS)

Add any 3 from columns 1 to 3 and, voila, instant artist’s statement…

“My recent work is:

Column 1
An exploration of the irreducible act of mark-making…
An investigation of the mimetic process…
An excavation of the inheritance of the past…
A disquisition on our shared narratives…

Column 2
…which seeks to unravel the threads of visual discourse
…which delves into the connectedness of the real and the abstract
…which re-encodes ambiguity and authenticity
…which reveals the undercurrents of ritual

Column 3
…by creating a conversation between color and texture.”
…by disjunctively animating it through a process of mimicry.”
…by mediating clichés through a retro-nostalgic lens.”
…by alluding to tropes of the built environment.”

Many thanks to Jerry Saltz, Matthew Weinstein, Oliver Wasow, 
michael corris, Wendy E. Cooper,
 Mark Staff Brandl, Lisa Beck, 
Dennis Kardon, and many more. 
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