Thursday, December 16, 2010

Talking about art is like dancing about architecture

I'm working on a new site, and have been thinking about different ways to present my work, and thinking about artist statements.  Even if you don't end up sharing it with anyone, the exercise of thinking and writing about it can be really helpful, bringing clarity to what you do, and where you want to go.

But do you really have to articulate what your work means?  Is this even possible with words?  As Steve Martin said, "talking about art is like dancing about architecture."

That said, I've been looking around at how other people talk about their work.  I am drawn to statements that sound like a normal person talking.  Like this one from House Hunter Todd Hido, via 20x200:

"People ask me how I find my pictures. I tell them I drive around. I drive and drive and I mostly don’t find anything that is interesting to me. But then, something calls out. Something that looks sort of off or maybe an empty space. Sometimes it’s a sad scene. I like that kind of stuff. So I take the photos and some are good. And I keep driving and looking and taking pictures."
Does this tell us what the work means?  Not really.  But do we have a deeper understanding of his work?  Sure.  So does this really count as an "artist statement?" 

Who cares?

It's frustrating to have to pick up a thesaurus to get through a really wordy, esoteric statement.  Getting caught up in layers of "artspeak" seems like a great way to alienate and exclude people from formulating their own ideas about the work. 

Emily Shur (amazing floating donut pic) wrote about this conundrum a while back:

"Why can't we just take pictures?  I always feel as though there's supposed to be some deeper meaning behind my pictures, a meaning other than 'Something inside me connected with what I saw in front of me, so I pulled out my camera and took a picture.'  That does not seem to fly as an artist statement.  Why, I'm not sure."   

Or as ninja master Garry Winogrand said, in fewer words:

"I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs."

Enough said.


David said...

Excellent post.
I'm perplexed with this as well.

emily snyder said...


i don't know you - randomly found you blog scrolling through the "next blog" at the top of blogspot blogs.

but i wanted to share that i thoroughly loved your thoughts. i studied art history in europe and feel that the very most telling "artist statement" isn't telling about the work, but telling about the person. i loved your examples you gathered and posted.

i am a new fan :)

Rob Prideaux said...

Oh goodness, I'd never heard that Winograd quote before, but that's genius.

I haven't thought about an artist statement I guess that's one advantage of shooting product.

And thanks for reminding me of Shur, I remember her prom queen beer picture from a few years back.

Anonymous said...

When I sat down to write my most recent artist statement the first thought that came to mind was,what purpose does this serve? What am I diminishing for both myself and the viewer in the storytelling?

I think Quakers have nailed the idea perfectly and although they apply it to the higher power, It can likewise be applied to the artist+artwork. It's an ideology based on simplicity, silence and intimacy in relationship between the creator and the product.

Nothing further required...

Juli Mancini said...

In the most recent Utne Reader, when Jeff Bridges was asked to express how his personal experiences pertain to his work, Bridges said,"It’s difficult to talk about the work, because it’s like a magician talking about how the trick is done."