What’s that, you don’t have an artist’s statement? How do you expect people to understand all of your pretentious goals if you don’t write an indecipherable, abstract, and self-involved narrative about them?
Okay, I’m mostly kidding. Seriously, though, writing an artist’s statement is important—sometimes even necessary—if you are going to show your work in a gallery. On top of that, it can also be a great exercise for your own self-exploration; sometimes being forced to put your motivations into words can help you to focus yourself creatively.
Read the rest of the article for tips on writing your own kick-ass artist’s statement!
I was reading this article by guest author Chris Folsom on Digital Photography School about how to write an artist’s statement (you can read the article here) and while I agreed with a lot of what Folsom said, I thought I could add more to it.
If you don’t have a lot of experience with writing, it can seem intimidating or challenging to write about yourself and your work. Don’t worry, few people will likely read it since artist’s statements are typically self-aggrandizing rubbish. Alright, I’m kidding. Mostly.
The following tips will help you write an artist’s statement that everyone will want to read.
Focus on the Work
In his article, Folsom says “share your background and history.” I would actually be somewhat more specific and suggest that you share things about your background that inform your art. That is to say, just because you enjoy kayaking in the summer and long walks on the beach doesn’t mean you should share it in your statement. On the other hand, if you grew up in a rough neighborhood in Queens and that’s why you like to make images of people struggling in urban landscapes, that’s absolutely relevant.
A person who is reading an artist’s statement at their gallery show is interested more in what the work is trying to say or what motivated the artist to create it. Stay on topic and don’t turn your artist’s statement into an autobiography. If lots of people are interested in your personal history, you can always print out a separate autobiographical page that people can take, or post it on your website for them to read.
Don’t Get Too Technical
I absolutely agree with Folsom on this point. In the case of at least 90% of photography, the technical details of its creation is not relevant to a viewer. Only if you are doing something truly new, remarkable, or different should technical details enter into your artist’s statement. Again, all of this extraneous information can be posted on your own website or offered to interested parties in other ways, keep it out of your statement.
If your work revolves around the process of its creation, you are the exception to the rule and your artist’s statement will likely be technology-centric as well. If this is the case, you already know. If you have to ask, then keep the details about your 5D Mark II and your awesome lenses out of the statement.
You’re Not Selling Anything
Even if you’re physically selling the photographs in the show, and even if this statement is meant to hang in a store, don’t turn your artist’s statement into a pitch. Folsom writes, as a tip, “What would you like someone else to say of this work?” That’s crap. Don’t write what you want someone else to say, or what you think someone else might say about it, or what you would ideally imagine another person’s perception of your work to be.
This is your artist’s statement. This is a place for you to explore your intentions, expose your motivations, and to engage your viewers in a little slice of the reality that you have captured using the art of the written word rather than your camera. It is, and should be, as much a part of you as your photographs are. Don’t taint your artist’s statement by phrasing things like a viewer-friendly product description, or pitching people on how well your work would look hanging in their dining room. That’s not an artist’s statement, that’s a sales presentation.
On the other hand, if you take photographs specifically so they will look good hanging in people’s living rooms, maybe you should be selling them at IKEA. Why are you writing an artist’s statement in the first place?
Modesty Is the Best Policy
Although a gallery show (especially a single-artist show)—and an artist’s statement by extension—is a fundamentally egotistical endeavor, that doesn’t mean that you should be honking your own horn left and right in your artist’s statement. People have decided to view your show and to read your statement, which is flattering on its face; you should be shedding light on mysteries of your process, your ideas, your motivations. Leave the self-promoting accolades for another time.
My Artist’s Statement
To give you some idea of what I’m trying to get at, why not read my own artist’s statement. Or not. This is the last section, so if you stop reading now my feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.
“We know that behind every image revealed there is another image more faithful to reality, and in the back of that image there is another, and yet another behind the last one, and so on, up to the true image of that absolute, mysterious reality that no one will ever see.” —Michelangelo Antonioni, “Beyond the Clouds” (1995)
Because reality can never be truly captured—or even in some cases perceived—one is left to wonder “what good is reality?” In fine art photography, as in theatre, sculpture, painting, and the rest, the goal was never to reproduce reality; it was never the goal to re-create that which already is, but instead to augment it, to bend it, to create a window through which the world could view one person’s individual reality, their unique experience. Even as iconic sculpture such as Michelangelo’s David approaches absolute realism, still there is an element of the artist in every shape and an experience not to be had from one’s own perceptions.
Fine art photography suffers from the misconception that it is fundamentally a documentary technique; that art photography is nothing more than a creative twist on a technology invented to record a concrete reality as it would appear to the naked eye. I recognize that there is a grain of truth in those words—photographs are taken for documentary purposes every day—however, as a fine art photographer, I work to disabuse the world of the notion that photography is limited to such representational utility by opening a window through which my individual reality can be seen.
In each photograph I make, it is my ultimate objective to form an image that could not be seen without the use of a camera, to stretch and bend a slice of recorded reality into something more.
If, after reading that, your perception of my photography is not in some way enhanced, then I have failed.
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