Artists statements, what do they really mean?
by: Andrew MacDonald
Whether you love them or hate them, artist statements seem to be a fixture of the visual art world. So in order to help you make sense of them, and read between the lines, I have compiled a list of frequently used terms from artist statement examples and wanted to share what I think the author may really mean.
Artist statement = I want to be a.)rich b.)famous c.)preferably both
Contemporary = In a modern style, invented about 100 years ago
Traditional = Not modern in style, not invented about 100 years ago
Expressive = Messy
Selected works = Mine or my mates work
Inspiring = Don’t touch/expensive
Visionary = Quite ordinary
Diverse = Middle class
Site specific = No one wants this in their home
Studio practice = Too messy to do at home
Decorative Arts = Complete waste of time
Decorative Crafts = As above, but selling for less
Designer maker = I want someone else to make it but can’t afford it
Craftsman artist = Wants a pay rise
Maker = Weirdo/oddball
Potter = As above but tries to make pots
Ceramicist = As above but can’t make pots
Textile artist = As above but owns a sewing box
Sculptor = As above but owns a tool box
Installation artist = As above but doesn’t bother to tidy up
Land artist = As above but likes going for walks
Body artist = As above but likes tattoo parlours
Performance artist = As any of the above and likes taking their clothes off too
Conceptual = The thought occurred in the bath/toilet
Photo/video artist = As above but tries to make art by pressing buttons on gadgets
Practitioner = I can do it but you can’t
Minimalist = a
Inverted commas, exclamation marks, colons, semi colons, random brackets = Best avoided unless you have an English Language qualification and actually know how to use them
Glaring typo = I choose to do art at school because I was no good at the proper subjects
Multi-media = Can’t paint or draw
Arts Council England = People with a large cheque book/God
Celebrates = Got some money from the Art Council to spend
Outstanding = Pleases the people with power
A journey = I haven’t worked it out yet
A portfolio = A pile of stuff
Sculptural forms = Lumps
Contextual = I struggled to make any sense of it now you can too
Gallery space = A space with white washed walls and slightly dated tracking lights
Challenging = No one likes it
Dynamic = I’m losing inspiration here
Enjoyable = I’ve completely lost inspiration
A tendency I have recently noticed is the use of a photograph on the artist statement of the person being promoted usually looking suitable arty. Nothing wrong with this, in fact I’ve noticed the supermarket chain Waitrose doing a similar thing on their packets of vegetables with a picture of the farmer who grow them and a nice little blurb saying something like ‘Farmer Jones has a passion for growing organic sprouts’. Presumably the marketing people believed this might work, by putting a face to the product it will sell more. Ditto the artist.
The Tate in its recent rehang took the commendable step of removing the curator’s text boxes displayed next to works and now I think that it is easier to interpret the piece as you like without this piece of text getting in the way. They seemed to have realised the silliness of labels in general.
So why are we expected to try to define ourselves with a statement at all is an interesting point. The irony of all this is that we get annoyed when someone else tries to label us or fit us into a stereotype as an artist, but for whatever reason we are more than willing to do it to ourselves. So hey guys, next time you have to write a statement please call a spade a spade and not ‘a contextual journey informing my contemporary multi-media studio practices…..’
So tell us, what’s in your artist statement?
Andrew MacDonald makes a living running a pottery studio called “The Pot Shop” since 1987. The shop is located at 16 Steep Hill in Lincoln, Lincolnshire in the U.K. You are invited to stop by the studio anytime to say hello or you can give him a call at 01522 528994 or email him at: andrew.macdonald33[at]ntlworld.com His passion for growing organic sprouts is unknown.