Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Art Writing

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

September 19, 2012

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
I love comments, even the one that said that artist statements are a fact of life, and I should get over it. I will not get over it, any more than Caitlin Moran should get over bikini waxes. (What do artist statements and bikini waxes have in common? Well they hit the culture at about the same time and represent industry influenceart school and pornin areas that should remain private, are  disagreeable to accomplish and anti-aesthetic.) At least we're getting people to think before they do it.

Joan says: I think it's really important for a student to be able to put into words what they are trying to come to terms with in their work. There's a time and place for it. Doing the work, working without trying to explain every move is important, stream of consciousness, allowing one thing to lead to another, etc. We all know that but then it is useful for a student to talk about what's going on and why, what motivates her, what she is trying to say, where it's coming from. Nonsense to think that a student shouldn't be verbalizing their struggles at different times as they work. As a graduate student I hated the idea of the thesis I had to write, a whole semester course no less. When the words came out of me "my work is my religion, my altar, my way to make an offering, et. etc." it changed me, it helped me understand something I had never thought or said before. Same with artists. Pretentious to think we can just go on and on making art and never talk about it, never say what it is we're trying to do, to get at, to find. Critics do it, why shouldn't artists at times speak about their work. And who wants to write artist statements, nobody does but....When I give a lecture I try to give it all I can. Tell what a piece may (because who knows in the end) be about for me. What I was trying to do or say. If I was GR I probably wouldn't have much to say either. He paints and things happen. Would that I could do just that. Sorry for the long entry. Not in the studio this morning with the muses.

No apologies, I’m grateful for the long entry! I also know that you are particularly adept, poetic even, at writing about your work and life. Whether this stems from nature or from having to do it in art school – or both—we may never know.  However I do know that had I been required to write about it when I was beginning to paint (at nearly 30) it would have killed it—like writing about sex. And like sex, I was in it for the pure pleasure, for the relief from thinking. This is also why I played the piano, and in my 20 years of classical training, I’m grateful no one insisted that I write about why I played, or the experience of playing, because it would have killed that too.

I was also a complete flop as a student, barely making it into college and then dropping out. Maybe this has something to do with it?

Yet I am a writer, as well as an artist, by profession, so I hear you asking, isn’t this a contradiction? Isn’t writing about thinking? Yes, but in a way it’s also about stoppingthinking. Stopping the thoughts that would be maddeningly insistent until given expression, containing them, focusing them, which means shooing away all thoughts that don’t contribute. My understanding of other people’s art comes from writing—essentially from observation. Being required to describe and translate the experience is the gateway to insight. I write because it’s a way of making myself stand still, really look in a way I wouldn’t otherwise. My understanding of my own art, however, has come from other people—critics, writers, artist friends—and is the only reason I can write about it now.

Of course I never would have thought about any of this if you hadn’t prompted me…and now you've gotten me to write a writer's statement!

I just now found an online archive of artist’s statements. It’s important to note how the most interesting ones are by older artists reflecting the wisdom gained through a lifetime of art making. I never said artists shouldn’t write or speak about their work, just that it should be voluntary. If your inner being calls upon you to write something, do it! If it enhances the experience of your work, do it! However, the requirement that all artists accompany their work with a statement is not only very recent, it’s as absurd as requiring writers to provide illustrations with their texts. Or maybe that’s next.