Yesterday, a New York art consultant emailed with a list of questions:
What inspires you to create your work?
How do you relate what you do today to the art of the preceding decades?
Are you very interested in what other artists of your generation are making today? Does that inspire you or do you push forth your own direction despite what goes on anywhere else?
How do you see your work moving forward in the future?
Later that evening, we faced each other across a crowded room. I listened as she shared her response to a life-sized installation of 300 hand-made clay magnolia petals, her wonder tumbling out of her like a tipped box of crayons. She referenced her background as an historian of the decorative arts and her passion for porcelain and works of craft. She reminded me of the ardent enthusiasm that can smile over from the other side of the art world. I felt like a small but connected planet tucked into orbit around a bigger, throbbing heartbeat. When it came time to answer her questions, I confessed like a geyser.
As a maker, you may or may not feel it necessary to talk about art. Some artists are downright superstitious about the practice — work, afterall, should speak for itself. “It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job,” said Henry Moore. “It releases tension needed for his work.” Why can’t people just look at the art and take away whatever they want from it? Why talk?
As part of her presentation, the art consultant introduced my paintings by reading aloud an old artist statement. Upon hearing it, I curled and thought of ways to improve. Here are a few ideas:
Keep it simple.
Write it in language everyone can understand.
Offer answers to a few basic questions:
What inspires you?
What does it signify?
What is your process?
What makes it unique?
What does it mean to you?
The Who, What, Why, When and Where of your work can be communicated in clear language as a support to that which otherwise prompts reflection, attraction and connection. “I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers,” said Grace Hartigan. “Only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
PS: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” (Henry J. Kaiser)
Esoterica: In writing an artist statement, avoid jargon. “Artspeak” is not familiar to anyone but a handful of academics, and can confuse and alienate. If it’s magic, rarity and complexity you’re looking for, try to harness a universal human truth, and put it in a simple sentence. Better yet, ask a gentle friend to write your statement for you. This way, you can get back to painting.
“An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.” (Jean Cocteau)