You may have a clear idea of what your work is about, but show it to 10 different people who have never met you or seen your art and you just might end up questioning your skills; some might get your work, and that’s great, while others will uncover narratives that you’ve never even thought about before, and some just won’t get it, even say that what you do just couldn’t be considered art. But why should you care?
It’s the same with anything that we’re passionate about and know quite a bit of; if you’re whole life revolves around fixing cars, the idea that someone doesn’t know where to pump-up the tire pressure just feels bizarre. But in the end, no person is alike, and the share amount of things happening in the world makes for an even greater number of people, who might (or not) be interested in them.
While we get a big head-start when we are growing up (everything is interesting to the toddler; rocks, sticks, his or her own feet, you name it), as time passes we create our personal selection of interests and soon end up with two opposing mental collections. The things, people, ideas, places …, that matter and those that don’t (and for all we care don’t even exist). And the likelihood of what you put in the interesting pile ending up in the same place for your viewer or potential buyer isn’t that big to be honest.
Sure everybody may have heard about environmental issues and gender questions and vegan or vegetarian politics, but caring about them is in another ball park completely. And even someone who makes beautiful portraits of people may find that, even though everybody likes a nice, representative picture (let alone a painting) of them, not many will care about it enough to actually buy one. Now imagine the chances of someone being passionate about abstract video installations exploring the intersection of light phenomena and religion!
That’s what artist statements are for, even though they might appear like a load of pretentious art-talk (which many of them sadly are), they serve a very important purpose – presenting your passion in a bite-sized (3-5 sentences is ideal) package, to be easily consumed and understood by the reader or listener (you can, and should know how to pitch them too).
But what many of us present as an artist statement (I was guilty of this for a long while) is usually exactly the opposite of what it should be; we focus on intellectually sounding words and sentences like this: “As wavering phenomena become rediscovered through subversive personal practices, the observer is left with an awareness of the boundaries of our era.”, rather than actually trying to communicate clearly.
Now, don’t get me wrong, such phrases have their time and place, but read the sentence again – I dare you, try to get the point it’s making. Hard isn’t it? Because most probably there is none to be made. Like a politicians answer to being asked about how he or she feels about taxes, when done talking, you kinda don’t have any clue about what was said, apart from having a feeling it was a positive thing, since he or she is smiling after saying it.
So let’s not be smiling intellectuals when talking about our drip paintings, and let’s stop thinking that everyone we meet is just dying to know more about what immensely intriguing circumlocutions we can offer up. They don’t, because nobody likes to feel dumber than the person they are speaking to and if your goal is to get them event close to as excited about what you do, as you are yourself, it might be better to talk to them like you would to a curious friend rather than a judging professor.
And for all the times you really want to go hot-air-ballooning with words, you can visit my new Artist Statement Generator and experience the magic of semi-randomness in action. A good way to tell if your artist statement is OK or not; if it looks like the one you can generate in the link above, it probably shouldn’t be on your CV or Portfolio.