Thursday, September 27, 2012

Artist Statements and Writing About Your Work

Writing an artist statement can be the worst thing in the world or it can be an amazing way to really understand what it is you've been doing. In 2009 I started a blog called Impermanence where I posted a single image each day for a year.  I had a couple of different goals but the main one was to understand, at a deeper level, what digital photography was really about.  I was very familiar with film, I knew its voice and its language - but I didn't really have an intimate understanding of what digital could be about. I'd been teaching it for a while...but not using it personally. Setting up a process that allowed me to really have a deeper experience seemed like a good idea. 

The first year was just an image a day with no themes so there was no writing involved. The second year I decided to do longer projects and the plan was to write about them - but as I was doing the longer projects I found it really hard to think of anything to write about. In fact the strangest thing I've learned in my current blog is, it's much easier for me to write and then add images - rather than starting with images and then try to add words - and yet that's the point every artist arrives at when they realize  "okay, now I have to write an artist statement." 

I think one of the big problems was that quite often the work I was posting was very new - and frankly - at that point I don't think you even know what the work's about. You may be aware of the circumstances that lead to you do it, but you may not know what it's about. The idea of an artist statement is probably a more recent construct - earlier artists didn't have to deal with it as much - but probably that's because they were involved in work whose purpose and reason was much more obvious. 

The whole point of an artist statement is to give a context for the viewer as they look at the artwork. Quite often when I go to an exhibition I like to look at the work, then read the artist statement, then go back and look at the work again. I want to experience it first just cold, then I want to see what were they thinking, and then I want to go back and see if it changes what I see.  

It was interesting for me to think about this new work I'm doing. I've always loved images of beds, but for some reason it jumped from being something that I've taken on a regular basis...usually weirdly enough I've taken them when I'm by myself traveling...because I'm in the room, by myself and I've got a camera. This was the first time that I took something that was a very intimate thing and brought it into a public viewing platform. The first obvious name was Unmade - its current working title - but I've found the images can be a Rorschach test for people - they read into them what they will.

My first artist statement covered the obvious things - it wasn't until a few weeks later that I realized, in a much more interesting way, that over the course of this summer my life has taken some pretty big changes - the career path I thought I was on - may, or may not, still be there - and even what I thought I wanted may, or may not, still be true.  I thought about how from 5th through 10th grade I went to 5 different schools, lived in 4 cities and 2 countries. Each morning, when I had to face my new world there was this jolt where I'd realize I was a stranger in a strange land - so mornings have always been this kind of edgy experience for me. This summer, almost intuitively after I got the whole news about work, I started taking these photographs and I realized that they were also an image of my struggle each morning, coming to grips with reality - that space between where I'm just me - and where "Oh, I belong to the world."  

For me, the best artist statements give me a context in which to view the work - I don't want them to tell me what it is, or what to think when I look at it, but I do like the idea of being able to see into the artist's world about why this is important to them, why they spent time on it, why they want to put it up on the wall and why they feel it should have an outside audience.  Remember that making art is an entirely different process than choosing to exhibit art. Art must find its place in the world - and the process of writing an artist statement gives the artist a chance to understand what the work is about - and gives the audience a window into how art is created.

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