The Great Artist Statement Hoax – Skinny Artist

The Great Artist Statement Hoax

Andrew MacDonald Artwork

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 Artist

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.

 

 

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(27) comments

I hate having to think up an artists’s statement. My take on the subject, is that if I could write my thoughts on my subject, I wouldn’t bother sitting at an easel for hours on end. I only write a statement because I must. The worst are when “they” want a minimum number of words.

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    One of the things that has always bothered me is that no one other than professors and critics really seem to care about an artist statement. Your customers certainly aren’t reading them and other artists only read them because they are being forced to come up with one of their own.

    I don’t really have a problem with a “bio blurb” that talks about the artist as a person and their background and influences (I actually enjoy reading those) but that’s not really want an artist statement is about. Instead you are asked to define your creative work and shove it into a shiny little box with a label and then wrap it all up so you can never escape from it.

    Reply

Hilarious! I’m definitely on a journey to avoid painting & drawing.

Here’s a thought, though: writing is just REALLY hard sometimes. As an editor in a prior life, I know I would go out of my way to avoid the blank page. Editing your own words is quite difficult, more so when it’s about yourself & needs to be perfect.

There are some statements out there that help me understand the person and the art, and are enjoyable to read. Here’s to more of those, and the work it takes to make them!

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    You’re absolutely right Liz, editing (especially yourself) is hard which is probably why I tend to avoid it as much as possible ;) Thanks for stopping by and it’s always great to hear from you my friend!

    Reply

I just laughed out loud :-)

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Kate

Artist statement = I’m an art student and required to do this for a class and post it for all the world to see, even though I’ve never had a writing assignment like it before, nor was I given and guidance or feedback on my writing. It was a studio course after all :-)

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    Well the good news Kate is that there are probably not a ton of people out there who are going to be reading it. For whatever reason, artist statements have become one of those things like creating a resume, or eating way too many ramen noodles that we are forced to do as we stumble our way to adulthood.

    On one hand I do see the value in thinking about and writing down how you see yourself, or who you would like to become as an artist. Honestly, I think this type of self-reflection is a good thing. Like Andrew, however, I have to chuckle at the often vague and near-meaningless terms we tend to use to describe ourselves. It’s not limited to us creative types either. You can see the same type of meaningless jargon in all of these corporate mission statements that are filled with buzzwords often written by consultants who make their living confusing the hell out of people when they ask what a consultant actually does.

    In the end I have a heard time imagining that any potential customers are going to be either impressed or repulsed by anyone’s artist statement. So we sit down, write it, and then go about living our life. Now about all of those ramen noodles you’ve been eating….

    Reply

A picture used to be worth a thousand words….now it takes a thousand words to just describe the picture, even if it is a representational image. I can talk all day about all sorts of things but when it comes to my work I’m thinking visually and trying to do the best I can with my favorite language, that is the picture. And the interesting thing is that language is non-linear and trans dimensional. I believe artists statements are a marketing concept and an adjunct to the idea of “value added” in a perceived value consumer society in which consumers find reinforcement of their purchase. Patrons like to know the story behind things without being bothered to actually speak to anyone and from which statements they can find something to quote on occasion. Who does that?

Writing a statement often comes across as some sort of justification, and in this age it seems that is a necessary thing to do. But I try not to write mine that way (if I can help it.), and I try to avoid them altogether. From time to time, I have been reminded that it is needful and that I should take it seriously. I hates them.

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    You make some excellent points Richard and you’re right that it is often very difficult to translate visual imagery into words (and vice versa), which is why the job of the creative artist is often so frustrating. Whether you are a painter, a musician, or a writer — attempting to accurately describe what you are imagining or feeling is not easy. Language is a slippery and blunt tool that is often ill-suited for the task, but we continue to use it anyway because short of a Vulcan mind-meld, it is the only way we can attempt to share with the world what we see. Should our work be able to stand on its own without an explanation or background story, perhaps, but then again if it helps our audience connect with us as an artist maybe it’s worthwhile. I think it’s when we try to sum up the artist (not the artwork) into a nice neat little package that we can get ourselves into trouble.

    Reply

I prefer to let my work speak for itself. It’s all there on the canvas.

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Jon

This site is s**t. Art is about communication, therefore it is a language. If it is possible to contexturalise your work in writing to aid furthur understanding then why wouldn’t you. It doen’t mean the work itsel has failed.
Look at ‘Art and Language’, there is a body of work which interogates this in a sustained and interesting way. If you fear writing artists statements, make work about your fear of making artists statements….

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At the moment, I’m working to refresh my artist statement. I discovered this post at the right moment to help me release the pressure with a good laugh. Thanks to You :-D

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Trisha

I love that glossy of yours, I am going to post it to some of my more thinking ex-students! I recently gave up teaching on a BA Textiles course. Part of the reason, I am 60 next month and hubby is due to retire soon, part need to get back to own work and make it fun again, part because so fed up with all the tosh (can’t believe I’ve said that!) that I was required to tell students. The artist statement – mostly they made me laugh, doing my own certainly did, reading those of textile artists, definately. Also, which art school you’ve been to, or who learnt under – seen as hallowed in some way. So you’re work MUST be special. Strangely, my course leader, 20 years younger and male has also given up teaching for same reasons. We agree – both hate working with sketchbooks, not a natural way for us to work – but had to teach they are vitally important. Had to say its OK not to sew or knit or weave on a TEXTILES course, you could join blocks of concrete together conceptually, if you wished, for instance. We have both worked in industry, where you have to know how to make using cloth, nay love working with its properties. Apart from teaching you can’t do a lot without certain basic skills, which are no longer taught here on courses. So – most pattern cutters and so on, actually employed from other countries now, while textile artists lanquish in part time waiting jobs by the dozen. I am not an old reactionary, but these factors drove me mad.

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Rachel

The Nature Of Art Is simple. What I draw Is what my soul casts for the world to see, line and color are reflection of this.

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tony horn

The only one I ever did just listed all the cars I’ve owned, as an American I figured that’s the best way to figure a guy out..

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Steve Sidare

Yeah, that was pretty good, lol. I got hold of a quote that’s somewhat usable: “People don’t buy what you do,
they buy why you do it”. (Simon Sinek, TED TV – some leadership lecture)

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    Awesome resource Brad, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    chris

    WOW I TRIED THIS and oh my god it wrote a statement that is so close to what my work is all about.
    I nearly fell of my chair.
    OF course some parts could be less flowery. But still it is so close I am gobsmacked.

    Reply
      chris

      I think the generator uses an algorithm that inserts general powerful sentence statements that can be applied to anyone work much like a horoscope.

      Fun whilst it lasted. I was convinced it was written just for me. ;-) :D

      Reply

I’m a writer, as well as artist, and always enjoy the exercise of crafting an artist’s statement. I write them specific to the situation, and have only one rule:

The statement MUST avoid intense jargon and technical gobbledygook!

In ‘real world’ situations, I enjoy chatting with visitors and potential buyers: about my work, my process and motivations/inspirations, and answering general questions. An artist’s statement gives me the opportunity to do the same, in virtually any situation.

Why disregard an opportunity to communicate? Especially online, where I want to be AHAP (as human as possible), and not just a URL.

On my website, I’ve made both the obligatory ‘About Me’ page (primarily about me, Me, ME!), and an ‘Artist’s Statement’ page (primarily about my work), available. Visitors are free to read as much or as little as they please.

I love words, and believe they have real power.

Just like art. ;-)

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Corina Mitchell

I haven’t managed to come up with a statement – I’m not sure I could cope with the stereotyped labelling. Would “my pictures are described as really weird shit” suffice do you think?

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I like it short … nurture, develop, and inspire. Your blog is on it!

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Hackson Bollock

“My life is my art (‘I’m perpetually unemployed'”) and I spend as much time contextualizing it as I do trying to understand what it is (‘I smoke a lot of pot and am more interested in the idea of creating art than actually creating it’). My pieces are noteworthy and have been seen in national publications (‘people have made fun of my art on humor sites and still remember how funny it was years after I left in a huff’).

I am a painter by trade (‘I traded sculpting for painting because it was harder to hide my limitations when hitting large slabs of beeswax with a sledgehammer and then texturing the broken chunks with hot dog vomit as a cultural commentary on fast food’) but have fallen in love with pouring paint into an active lawnmower situated on top of a canvas and coming back in a few hours to sign my name at the bottom (‘I don’t really have any talent as a painter, either’)

What my art really represents is the great chasm that exists between perception of time and time itself flowing among the broken chunks of hot dog puke and beeswax (‘I’m not really sure what my art represents, as long as I can still trick deep-pocketed art elitists into liking it enough to fork over several thousand times what it would fetch at a garage sale after some serious haggling”.)

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Omg the definition of terms you listed had me cracking up, but they are true. Thank u for shedding some light on this subject…

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Love the article re artists statement. It seems to me the more famous certain artists become the more verbose they become, is the a link I wonder for am I just getting very cynical in my old age?
Taking note of the list, shall use as many as possible in my next artist statement.
Great fun!

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    You’re absolutely right, and for the record, I think most of us tend to become a little more “verbose” as go along whether we are actually famous or not ;) I was reminded of this fact once again at a recent Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks again Joanne for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us!

    Reply
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