THE ARTIST’S STATEMENT: AN ARTIST’S ANTI-STATEMENT
“Maybe someone could have asked Steinbeck to draw pictures to explain his writing.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ARTIST’S STATEMENT?
By Scott Sjobakken
The artist’s statement. Bullshit in its purest form. Art is communication. That’s all it is. If you as an artist need to write an artist statement to explain what your work is supposed to convey, you’ve failed. If you as a viewer require an artist statement to appreciate a piece of art, it’s probably not for you. Be moved or move on. There’s plenty of work out there, something will speak to you without having to explain itself to you.
“Two Black Bags”, painting by Scott Sjobakken
Does anybody need to know what Michelangelo’s context/intention/inspiration/justification/whatever when he carved the Pieta? Should someone have asked Jimi Hendrix to write down an artist statement to explain what he was trying to do with his guitar? How about Stanley Kubrick and his films? Maybe someone could have asked Steinbeck to draw pictures to explain his writing.
That makes about as much sense as asking a painter to write down what’s going on in his/her paintings. Why is this even a thing in the visual arts? It’s definitely a recent phenomenon and I’m pretty confident it wasn’t thought up by practicing artists.
*Publisher’s note: The Artist Statement is a fairly new development in the modern art world. The practice is said to have gained popularity in the 1990s. To some institutions, it has become a requirement in resume and biographical submissions packages for grant applications, residencies, exhibitions and gallery representation. However, it is regarded by some artists as a frivolous and redundant display; as art should be allowed to speak for itself and the viewer to make their own personal connection to it.
“The question becomes: Do we need to justify the work with an explanation or should the artists intentions speak through and connect with the viewer on their own?”
Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk in Assendelft, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1649 – Rijksmuseum
”Alain De Botton argues that museums have largely become lifeless tombs of intellectual study rather than sources of emotional consolation and connectivity.”
THE GALLERY STATEMENT
By EJ WickesIn 2014 the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam was host to an exhibition of commentary on 150 works from their collection. A show entitled Art is Therapy curated by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong provided a new twist on statements pertaining to works on exhibition. Beside each work of art we will always see a placard with historical and technical information identifying the piece with some biographical data about the artist, media, date completed and so forth.
Art is Therapy selected works starting from the Middle Ages continuing up through the 20th Century. Instead of the traditional placard with the usual documentation the curators intended to make the art more relevant to the viewer in a metamodern way. If music is therapeutic, so can art be as well.
The experiment was to offer a comfort zone for the viewer to engage the work within some narrative context. The relevance and effect of the show gained mixed reviews. Some critics might say the narratives interfered with the spontaneity of the viewers’ first encounter. Others might say the narrative statements serve to make the art more accessible on a psychological level.
The placements of the labels were a little too invasive at times. Some seemed to be written at a child’s level but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s beneficial if children learn to understand art and build critical skills early. It was an interesting concept. Perhaps a printed brochure instead and the statements wouldn’t be so invasive to the space.
Photo/The Rijk Museum, (left): Olivier Middendorp Olivier Middendorp/PR