I mentioned yesterday that I dislike the artist statement, and that I will no longer voluntarily participate in the relatively new, unnecessary, and arguably harmful practice of writing Cliffs Notes for my paintings. I took mine off this site last night because I realized the entire thing flies in the face of everything I believe about art.
One of my favorite things about exhibiting my work is watching people experience my paintings and listening to their spontaneous reactions. I don’t want my words to get in the way of how others experience my art on that primal level. I don’t want to intellectualize and analyze that which comes from the non-verbal side of myself. And it’s not because I don’t know how to talk or write about my work. Oh, I spent a small fortune honing my writing skills as an English major at a certain New England University. I can write up a storm. But in the case of my painting, I prefer not to write –I prefer to PAINT. What a novelty!
If you do a bit of research, you will find that the artist statement is a relatively new, and dangerously effete modern requirement of the Western “art world” (which is another pretentious term I dislike, because art is always part of the world and never separate from the rest of it) that I feel is part of the harmful institutionalization of visual art. Why does the Western “art world” insist upon making art separate from everyday life? And while I’m at it, what is it with the big, intimidating desks at the front of galleries and museums? What is with all the high-brow attitude? Can you imagine going through that experience to hear your favorite band play? Of course not. It’s ridiculous and it keeps everyday people separate from the thing we SAY we want them to participate in: Art. Well, I don’t want that separation!
We say we want to improve arts education in this country. Well, let us begin that process by tearing down those artificial, divisive walls and ivory towers we’ve built around this pretend “art world”. As artists, we can really start the ball rolling on this by being honest about who we are. Let’s admit that we are more like musicians and dancers and actors than we are like tenured history professors. I will tell you truthfully that I do not sit around my studio pontificating about the message of my work. That sounds like a nightmare! I go into the studio to get OUT of my head: to feel and to act and to be physical with my materials. I just make art. Sorry, there’s nothing more to say than that. I am no different from the musician, aimlessly playing with an instrument, until something comes magically from that physical act of noodling or jamming with other musicians. And you know, it’s such a relief to NOT be on the right side of my brain for awhile. I love it when my blah, blah, blah finally shuts up.
While researching the history of the “artist statement”, I found this fantastic article “Are ‘Artists’ Statements’ Really Necessary?’ by Daniel Grant, in The Huffington Post, and it made me realize that not only am I not alone in my view, but that there seems to be a growing debate about this academic practice. What are we doing to art? Have we —as a culture— become so scared of our feelings, and so dependent upon our need to defend and explain everything that we no longer trust art? Can you imagine Vincent Van Gogh being forced to define and explain his work with words? It’s absolutely ridiculous. Look at the paintings. LOOK. You don’t need Cliffs Notes! Now, if you need to analyze the painting, go ahead and be my guest. Once my art leaves the studio, it belongs to all of you. I hope you will experience it in the same way you listen to a song on the radio. Just feel it.
So now what? Oh, I’m sure that somewhere, sometime in the near future, I am going to be asked for an artist statement. What will I do? Well, I really don’t know yet. As you can see from my kindling pile (pictured above) I have put my current statement to much better use.