Case StudyArtist Statement"If you dig something, you just dig it." -Andy Warhol Whydo we dig? To reach the cool earth beneath the surface. Tobury the dead. To bury treasure, to search for buriedtreasure. To escape captivity. To hide, to mark, to hunt. Toexplore; search; mine. To dig is to work. When a dog digsa hole, she is not destroying the earth, but displacing it,altering its form to create something, in this case a void. Anopening, an entrance. Evidence of work. But how can theabsence of matter signify creation? Perhaps a dog in hersubjugated status has no choice but to convey her work inthe negative. By appropriating the perceived nothingness ofthe human world and re-presenting it as her own speciesnew ideal of signification, she empowers herself in apowerless position. With the use of transfer paper a dog isable to literally transfer her works into a tangible form.Something for humans to hold and behold. A piece of work.
Case Study …As a woman, and as a dog, Tillie is faced with myriadbarriers. While the obstacles that women artists face in theirstruggle to gain the acceptance and respect of themainstream art establishment are certainly great, mosthuman women still possess the means to explore creation ontheir own terms. They have the luxury, if you will, to choosetheir medium, to select their materials and to decide whereand when they are willing to show their work. Womenlikewise possess the voice to verbally articulate theirintentions, their vision. Tillie, as a woman and as a dog, isfaced with endless affronts and barriers to her artisticexpression.Up until this point the art community has been closed to theforces of canine expression. Today the world accepts Tillie asan important voice for her species and our own. Still, theworks are fraught with limitations, with barriers. As a dog,Tillie lacks the wherewithal to select her medium, even tochoose the colors with which to work. She has little choice asto where and when the creative process will take place. Andshe has virtually no say as to where, when and to whom herwork will be shown…
Case Study One objective of the artist is to remove the layers of materialcovering the meaning beneath. It is through documenting thisprocess of removal that the meaning is essentially created.Layers also speak as metaphors for the barriers which heartist must overcome through the course of her work…… These layers of limitations, or barriers, can be likened tothe barriers of tape and transfer paper that separate Tilliefrom the raw canvas and the completed work itself. But it isby confronting these barriers, and working through them, thatthe finished piece is created. An artist is not always aware ofthe outcomes, products, effects and side effects of specificmethods, techniques, behaviors and applications until after awork is done. Tillie often works in partial or completedarkness. By working in darkness, underground, instinctively,the dog reveals her natural inclinations to work, to root, todig, to destroy to create. It is through her art that Tillie is ableto convey a message of strength and struggle, work and play,that might otherwise be lost to the world.
Case StudySo what can we learn from this parody of an artist’s statement? The Good: • Often uses active verbs and vivid descriptions • Consistent narrative arc • Connects the work to something outside of the art domain
Case StudySo what can we learn from this parody of an artist’s statement? The Bad: • Attempts to justify rather than orient readers to the work • Turgid, florid and hyperbolic • Lots of over-reach
Case StudySo what can we learn from this parody of an artist’s statement? The Ugly: • Not a good faith effort to understand the work • This is nearly all marketing and very little reflection.
Artist Statements Purpose/ Function self analysis marketingpersonal “mission statement” propaganda
Artist Statements Purpose/ Function self analysis introduction marketingpersonal “mission statement” propaganda
Artist Statements Form LengthNarrative arcFocus
Artist Statements StyleDiscursive approachRhetoricSpecificity/generalityOver-reach/hyperbole
Artist Statements StyleIn the following bad examples grabbed fromthe internet notice the use of romantic, turgidrhetoric, lack of specificity and the theconsistent examples of hyperbole and over-reach.We can label these: “Romantic Redolence” “Poetic Pomposity” “Simplistic Simplicity”
PurposeWriting an artist’s statement is difficultbecause if the work is any good, it isvery often complex—operating on manyformal and conceptual levels. A successful statement in most casescannot accommodate all these levels,so it must condense, prioritize, andoften ignore some of them. Do not thinkof the statement as “capturing” or“defining” the work. You are not tryingto explain the work away. Think of itas a roadmap that helps viewersorient themselves to your work andconcerns.
PurposeAn artist statement should serve as anintroduction to your work and concerns.Like all good introductions, whenmeeting someone for the first time,Avoid TLI (Too Little Information)Avoid TMI (too Much Information)
PurposeAn artist statement is not:a justification: If you feel like you need to justify the work then youshould probably be making different or better work.an artist bio: Include personal history only as it directly relates thework.a résumé: This is not the place to talk about any awards that thework may have won, or shows it was in. Usually it’s bad form toquote from reviews. It’s always bad form to quote yourself.a catalog raisonne or a work chronology: “First I did this, then Idid that, then I did the other… It’s ok to talk about process or howone work leads into another but you need to talk about how or whyone thing led to another.
PreparationBefore you attempt to write thestatement, take some time to write outanswers to the following questions.YOU ARE NOT WRITING THESTATEMENT YET! Just get youranswers down on paper. Do not overthink it or worry about grammar.Really dig. Do not let yourself off thehook with superficial answers.Spending some time answering thesequestions will pay off in an artiststatement that is more informative andcompelling, and it will make writing thestatement MUCH easier:
PreparationWhy do you do what you do?Why, of all the things that one couldchoose to do and be in the worldwould anyone, let alone you, wantto be an artist?
PreparationWhy the materials and processesyou use? Why paint and notprints? Why clay? What’s theattraction? Why wheel rather thanhand built, or additive instead ofsubtractive? DIG! “…because I likeit” (it feels right, I enjoy it, becauseI hate…, I was drawn to) does notanswer anything. WHY? Is thequestion you need to answer.
PreparationWho or what are the mostimportant influences andexperiences that have shapedyour life and your work?
PreparationWhat does the work look like?Take a representative piece anddescribe it as if you were talking tothe blind or to your mother on thetelephone. Use descriptiveadjectives and dynamic verbs. Donot overlook the obvious.
PreparationWhat ties most of the worktogether? What identifies yourwork as yours and not hers? Lookover a long span. Are there formalor conceptual threads that many ofartworks seem to be revisiting overand over again?
WritingUse the “sap to syrup” method.It takes over 40 gallons of sap tomake 1 gallon of syrup. Write 2 to5 pages. Boil that down to a pageand a half. Then edit that to apage. Edit the page to aparagraph. This works especiallywell because you really need 3artist statements:
Writing Three Statements1. The “academic” version. 500-1500 words.Good for applying to academic positions, for catalogues or briefpresentations.2. The “gallery” version. 200-500 words.Good for catalogues, applying for shows, wall statements3. The “press” version. 25-100 words. Goodfor fliers, press listings, promotional material, exhibition listings.Often combined with a distillation of the artist’s bio to form the“blurb”.
Writing• Don’t write “I think”, I believe”, or“I feel”. You are writing it! It’s agiven. Avoid over- equivocation.•Try to avoid over use of “I”, “my”,“me”, “mine” use instead “These”and “The”
Writing Avoid too many comparisons towell known artists. You will usuallylose in the comparison.Always distinguish how your workor concerns are different fromtheirs, as well as any similarities.
Writing Avoid pseudo adjectives:interesting, beautiful, distinctive,exciting, personal, unique,pleasing, harmonious etc.Also avoid redundant modifiersthat just pad the sentence.Examples: painful toothache,sharp needle, weighty concrete,colorful paint, etc.Here’s the test: Does the modifierclarify the image?
WritingLimit yourself to using theword “juxtaposition” onlyonce in the statement.Better still, try not to use it.
The TakeawayIf you haven’t learned anythingnew about your work in theprocess of writing an artiststatement then you are notdigging deep enough. You needto be more perceptive, critical,descriptive and self-reflective.
The TakeawayAn artist statement shouldserve simply as an engagingintroduction to your work andconcerns.
The TakeawayShare your mania.Focus on what motivates you tomake the work that you do.Make your interest, investmentand excitement infectious.