Monday, July 19, 2010

Is Art the Only Statement an Artist Needs?

Is Art the Only Statement an Artist Needs?

Within minutes of posting “Artist Statements say Nothing when Plagiarism is Involved” I received some criticism on Facebook. The artist-- who asked to remain anonymous for this article-- stated that the artwork itself is the only statement that an artist needs. He went on to say that various forms of art writing by artists should not reflect more than the artwork itself. The artist went on to suggest that other forms of art writing, such as exhibit reviews and the opinion of art critics, are “point blank useless”. It was clear that this individual is of the opinion that artists should only speak visually-- and that art writing only serves as a means of mental masturbation, so to speak. I’d say that art writing-- at least some of it-- is of “point blank” importance-- and that some of us love to get ‘off‘.

While chatting with the artist he suggested that the only “worthy” critic is the artist who created the art. I have obvious problems with his opinion. If the only valuable criticism is rooted from the creator of the art chances are he or she will praise what others are likely to see as mediocre work-- face it, most artists are not apt to challenge their own work. I realize that some individuals would enjoy a communistic approach to art-- in the sense that all art is of equal value-- but that would literally destroy centuries of the development of art appreciation and method. There would be little value of art as a whole if it were possible to condition society to view all art on equal terms and as having equal worth-- both socially and financially.

The artist went on to suggest that the only other “worthy” critic is the “potential buyer” of said work. Again, I have obvious problems with his opinions. That opinion alone suggests that all art is “point blank useless” unless a price tag is involved. I should add that I know many collectors who buy just because they like a specific work of art-- in other words, they don’t bother to consider the social implications of the piece or the historic value of what is being conveyed. Interests in art vary from person to person-- just because someone buys a $19.95 “original” painting at Walmart should it be considered as having equal value when compared to art purchased in a gallery setting? I think not.

The artist went on to suggest that it is not “fair” to expect visual artists to communicate in written word about their art. He stated that not all artists are writers and therefore their artist statement should not define their art. I was quick to offer that having a fascinating artist statement does not mean that the artwork itself will be viewed with the same level of fascination. I went on to explain that, in my opinion, a developed artist statement is a sign of the growth of the visual artist-- a sign that he or she knows his or her work so well that oral and written communication-- shyness aside-- comes with ease. In other words, I am of the opinion that the development of the artist does not stop with the brush, pencil, stencil-- what have you.

I think the “point blank” issue at hand is that the artist who contacted me missed the point of “Artist Statements say Nothing when Plagiarism is Involved”. The fact remains that the inability to adequately write ones own artist statement does not justify plagiarizing from the artist statements of other artists. That was my point-- and due to the Internet it is easy to question the validity of an individuals artwork when he or she is exposed for having ‘stolen’ words from others in order to describe his or her process and art. If it is clear that an artist has plagiarized his or her artist statement shouldn’t one question the validity of the artwork itself? I think so.

Is art the only statement an artist needs? Perhaps. However, I think it is important for an artist to be able to communicate strongly about his or her art in other ways-- specifically in writing. If it were not important why would some artists be plagiarizing artist statements in the first place?

As for art writing in general-- the Internet has paved the way for the advancement of art writing as a whole. True, not all of it is of “point blank” use-- but now, due to the Internet, critics and art writers who would have otherwise not had an audience can find one-- or be found. The steering wheel-- in some ways-- has been yanked from the hands of art magazine publishers and other forms of traditional art writing. While it is not clear where this new road will take us-- I think it is clear that there will not be any stop signs.

Links of Interest:

Artist Statements say Nothing when Plagiarism is Involved

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Patrice said...

What a great topic, and a fascinating point of view from your reader! I agree with you in regards to plaguerism. I would suspect the artwork of someone who stole the words of another artist. As for art speaking for itself - I think it should, and good art (technically speaking since enjoyment is subjective) usually does. As both an artist and art appreciator, I've definitely enjoyed pieces without knowing anything about the artist. But I am much more likely to delve further into an artist's works if I am priveliged to know his or her inspiration.

I've seen many artist statements very short on words, and not perfectly written... why not? There is nothing to critize if the words come from the same place in your heart as your artwork. Appreciating art is appreciating the artist.

Anonymous said...

I know of few artists who like to write those things, but the successful ones I know all write them and write them well. A good statement shows charisma and charisma can make or break a sell.

Michael Smith said...

I understand the artist's desire to have the artwork stand for itself and need not be supported by any oral or written statement.

I struggled to "explain" my art even while an MFA candidate where critique and defense was supposed to be an invaluable part of the process of growing as an artist. Every artist gets the "I don't get it comment" at some point, and it can be easy to dismiss such individuals as tasteless or unsavvy.

But this past summer I've started a digital archive project that looks at old art works of mine and includes an origin story of sorts with each piece. It's been a process – some of the posts have been easy to write, but others require a lot of research to identify where the ideas and influences came from.

This form of "art writing" has become a way of making the work more accessible, but it's also becoming work unto itself. And for now it's an online project, but I believe eventually it will lead to new work and places that I wouldn't have found without having spent the time writing.