top of page

Artist Statements do matter...

One of my favourite urban internet myths is around an artist statement generating tool; where you enter your name, title of your show and it spits out a text peppered with all the fashionable pseudo-academic speak of the time or popular generic phrases that pretty much apply to all art; such as it being “ambiguous” , being haunted by an “absence” (duh, no work can really present everything). The assumption is that the artist statement is an inconvenient prop intended to make the work appear like it is fashionable, clever and impenetrable. Sometimes I wonder whether artists are interested in attracting an audience for their work.

I have read some pretentious whoppers in my time. I’d rather not mention names. But so often artist statements are either too factual and dull to read – a list of every show they have ever done - or are a jumble of highfalutin words joined together that frankly say very little about the work, or are presented in a vocabulary that only makes sense to the artist (their partner and close friends) who has been living with the work for the last year. Sometimes, it’s left up to the gallery assistant to clean up these textual horrors, who add their own layer of misdirection and jargon, gleaned from a shaky, short-lived academic career.

In my opinion, the artist statement, as with all texts that are used to support an artist’s practice, should function as the veritable crumbs that lead viewers closer to the interesting destinations a body of work or performance presents. They should not present another barrier to understanding or engaging with art, which is unfortunately what occurs most frequently. Even if these statements are directed at curators or other artists, critics, there is no reason why they should require decoding – it’s too much work and frankly I would rather decode art than artist texts, even if it is an artist’s aim to not to over-determine the reception of their work.

I put this phenomenon down to fear. Artists are afraid of putting words onto paper and committing to what they have done, sometimes because they are not very sure what it is. Truth. They think they might unwittingly divest art of its mystery. Not true. You can play with words too and not arrive anywhere specific – the world is full of these texts – politicians are particularly skilled in this area.

Artist statements are for different audiences with differing levels of understanding of art and artists need to speak to all these audiences in a single text. This is what I do daily; I write about art for specialists and readers who may have never stepped in a gallery before. It is a difficult balancing act to get right. Sometimes I don’t hit the mark, if I get lost in the work. It happens and sometimes I am happy this is so. However, there are ways of pinning down ar