4025: To artist state, or not to artist state

“Most artist statements, 99 out of 100, are not useful, and they’re often ludicrous,”   -Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward Sozanski

For my second post I thought I would find a cute little article about “How to Write an Artist Statement” when I stumbled upon this article from the Huffington Post: “Are artist statements really necessary?” by Daniel Grant. It was a really interesting article and I recommend it (to artists especially).

Daniel’s short answer: No.

He speaks nostalgically of the old idea that perhaps, maybe, it might work that…art speaks for itself. He laments the trend in artist statements for exhibitions getting longer and longer. My initial reaction to this was resistance. What does he know? He’s not an art-teeest*!” (*nor am I). And it isn’t necessarily a trend, the increase in artist statements is a reflection of the art curriculum. I think that more schools are having art majors write artist statements like little art-major factories of Art Etiquette & Expectations. In fact, UW just created a required class for art majors called “Exiting Strategies” where, as I like to describe it, one learns how to be an art major in The World. Just yesterday Evan was forced to buy CDs for that class so that they could learn how to put images on it (something everyone from our generation learned to do when we were like 5 and which is already out-of-date).

I digress.

What I want to say is that, despite Daniel’s somewhat harsh beginning, he wins me over in his argument because he brings in a lot of good sources and quotes to back up his idea. Quickly, here are some of the good points or commentary he brought up:

  • “Many artists and dealers dislike the trend or are unhappy with most of the artist statements they see.” One director of a New York gallery said “They are generally cryptic, esoteric, ungrammatical and besides the point.”
  • Sozanski (the critic I quoted at the beginning) explained that frequently, artist statements had a negative affect on his view of the artists’ work. “Most art dealers claim that an artist statement is never an important consideration in selecting an artist to show or represent and that a poorly written statement may have a detrimental effect if the artist’s slides had otherwise interested the dealer.”
  • While dealers don’t feel that an artist should be judged by their artist statement (aka, writing abilities), they found that it could speak a lot to their maturity and confidence that the dealer can’t help but be affected by.
  • Daniel recommends (at the recommendation of the people he’s interviewing) that an artist instead speak with the dealer or gallery owner to find out what information they would like from him. This could be a biography, questions about his/her process, or questions about he art.


My thoughts? I like artist statements for myself. But when I go to a gallery, I don’t typically read them (shame, shame, I know). They are often long-winded, boring, and exalt the work of the artists without foundation. At the same time, I think it’s beneficial for the artist to express him/herself, even if it is not for the public. It’s important to know the importance of your work, and perhaps the importance of art to you and making the work. Like research proposals, you are finding your niche in the world of art where you talk about why your work needs to be at done. That being said, I expect that there is a great number of artists who can’t articulate the importance of their work well, and who may benefit from not having an artist statement…

My own grandiose plans of a world-view-shattering artist statement is no more. I anticipate having a short and snappy How-do-you-do? now.

Ps. Again, please read the article for yourself. It was fascinating to me.

Pps. Did you miss me? Sorry for my little disappearance, but in defense, I warned you that once school started there was no way I could continue with my obsessive posting.

This entry is part of an assignment in an English class called “Writing for the Web: Digital Story Telling” in which we have to post research relevant to our final project. My final project will be the creation of a professional website.

Your Turn:
  1. Interesting article! After reading that, I think I’d prefer a very brief Rauschenberg-esque statement (if any at all).

    I agree that statements are probably way more interesting to other artists. I’ve seen a few exhibits in the art museum where reading the statement after looking at the art was a big “holy crap, awesome!” moment. Mostly because they detailed some laborious, unique process that no one else would have thought of doing, and that process did a lot for their work. But the statements that talk about their universal weight and significance…meh.

  2. Jacklynn says:

    Yeah, and the article kind of implies and I agree that artist statements should enhance the work by telling things the audience doesn’t, but wants to know about a piece/exhibit: the process of making art and not how the artist feels about art. I’m just pretty sure like 80% of schools (probably UW) are forcing students to write crappy artist statements.

  3. Maybe the whole forced artist statements thing is to make students get better at talking about their work off the cuff–with the side effect of making students think that those statements are expected the same way everywhere else.