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Monday, 27 July 2020


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“My job is to spray rectangles of ink on pieces of paper. Rectangles that, when you look at them, make your eyes feel good.”

Mine is quite simple, but it helps to keep my head straight:

I like to play with photography.

[That works. --Mike]

Only have to look at the artists' statements of Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo to see how important this is.

Sorry - sounds a bit sarcy, no? - actually the most important thing you said I think was about keeping it to yourself. A little information can be interesting, but when I go to a show (gallery or online) I'm often put off, not encouraged, by the artist's statement.

When were Artist Statements invented? I don't remember them before 1982 when I stopped being an art student here in the UK.

“Write it from the perspective of the photographer you want to be, not the one you happen to actually be.” Agreed!

“As an illuminating exercise, it will probably be more useful the younger you are.” Maybe …

Not too many years ago, I looked at my lifetime of work and decided that I did not need to make any of those same types of pictures anymore. I still do, of course, but I don’t have to. (There’s a difference.)

I, too, struggled with an artist statement until a show last year. At the age of 68, I wrote:

“David Brown works with traditional silver gelatin photographic materials, as well as digital media. After a lifetime of landscape, architectural, and documentary work, he has moved into a studio to explore the relationship of light to everyday objects and the way we perceive them. An occasional visual pun, as a comment on contemporary photography, may be seen in some of his photographs.”

Really, that wasn’t so hard …

I can't claim to be an Artist; I am an Observer. I find interesting images and try to record and share them as well as I can. Sometimes I get lucky and reality shows me some good art - see my "Prints in Waiting" album at Flickr.
Basically, no one has offered me money for a print in 50 years, so I'm just trying to have a good time. I hope that doesn't disqualify me here...

There’s no question that, for some people, constructing such a statement may have a clarifying effect that may help to prospectively focus their photographic and/or editing efforts.

But, to be honest, I don’t believe that many avocational or vocational camera owners are, or even want to be, guided by “artistic” goals or really understand what it means to live in such a mode. The former just want to take “good” pictures of their families, friends, travels, and live experiences that they can share with same. The latter just want to take “good” pictures for other people’s purposes. Yes, some are “artists” of a sort but most are technicians and producers.

To be even more honest, I doubt I know a single artist who has created an “artist’s statement” prospectively...or even by themselves. Artist’s statements tend to appear coincident with dealer contracts.

Still, I can say that whenever I’ve had to write a statement to explain a collected body of my own work it has been a healthy, clarifying experience. So I -DO- endorse your suggestion to construct explanatory statements for contiguous bodies of work. But drop the “artist’s” part unless your camera is genuinely guided by conceptual or aesthetic objectives beyond “making good pictures”.

I learned to play pool in the military. We pulled a lot of scramble alerts in which (luckily) we spent a lot of time not doing actual operations. Multi day alert facility assignments allowed for hours and hours of practice on the pool table.

One funny story from the pre-internet / cell phone days, at one base in the middle of nowhere USA, we had a terrible table with warped sticks and no chalk. My buddy got an address for a town 50 plus miles away to get pool supplies. We left in my car for the 100 mile round trip with visions of being seen as returning heroes, bringing new balls, cues, chalk, etc. That was quickly dashed when we pulled into the parking lot to see a window full of floats, pool toys and chemicals to maintain swimming pools. It was a quiet ride back.

When writing an Artist Statement, always be guided by Bill Jay's observation:

"My goodness but it's been quite some time since I read an artist speak so eloquently and clearly about the world beyond his own asshole."

As to pool, if you love it, enjoy. But consider that some of us are colossally uninterested in sports in general.

Regarding artist's statements, whenever I have read one, I am reminded of an interview in Ken Burn's Jazz with Branford Marsalis. Regarding some recent thing that he found distasteful, he said "That's just pretentious bulls--t!"

I find that comment has value in many areas.

And when you do put pen to paper, don't forget to write your statement in International Art English (assuming of course that's your language): https://www.canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_english

If you find it too daunting to do on your own, here's a helpful generator that will create some arty bollocks for you: https://www.artybollocks.com/

I've written one recently. Though, mine is specific to the project, and not trying to pin myself to the specimen board in general.

But then I've always thought of artist's statements as specific to the project. Being an artist is a constant process of development and discovery, isn't it? So any fixed statement you make you will move beyond quite quickly.

The only artist's statement I've written was an invoice.

Regarding an "Artist Statement" and one's cherished endeavors in the future, I disagree with you that it is any less useful for an old goat like me than a younger photographer. I have "life goals" for fulfillment of certain projects and expectations for improvement that are just as valid whether I have 3 years left to accomplish them or 50. A definitive statement regarding your present & future visions, is always useful and should be re-visited frequently.

The "3" above is merely an example, which will have me at an even 80 but hopefully not done for!

I kinda like writing- but "Artist Statements" are the Absolute... WORST. Some weird conglomeration of: stating the obvious, and in so doing making it both borderline pompous and overbearingly tedious. Make it succinct, and both you and your work can be readily dismissed as not being serious, which is why most Artist Statements sound as if written under the point of a gun. They may become more relevant decades well into the future, and they can be great if they clarify or offer insight into something we didn't already know beforehand- but that is rarely the case.

Imagine if comedians had to give one before launching into their routine... just get to the goddamn jokes- they'll tell us everything we need to know about their: philosophy, intellect, world view, upbringing and yes, even their humor!

Artist Statements are so overwhelmingly overbearing just contemplating- I've actually forgotten the main point I was leading up to make about... Artist Statements!

Most people are bad at writing poetry and they are bad at writing artist statements. Doesn't mean you shouldn't try to do it, just remember that you don't have to post it at the front of your online gallery (which I don't think Mike suggested). This is an exercise, that's all. Did Picasso write an artist statement? He was an artist, and he made statements about his art:

"I have never made trials or experiments. Whenever I had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which it needed to be said… I can hardly understand the importance given to the word “research” in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting."

The artist statement business made me for a moment very concerned that MJ lost his Wodehousean side, a potentially tragic loss for the TOP readers. The Bertie paragraph restored my faith in humanity. Artist statements inevitably lean toward my favorite wine review that described a wine as having "black currant with a hint of cassis."

Here's my artist's statement. I am not an artist, I'm a photographer. I photograph for three reasons: to see the world clearly, to share with others, and to preserve memories. Oh yeah - a fourth reason: I like playing with cameras.

If I were to put such a statement to paper I'm sure I would find it intensely embarrassing later the same day. I don't want such a commitment too result in my stopping my mediocre but nevertheless enjoyable hobby.

LOL. I have never read an artist's statement that made a lick of sense.

I have come to the conclusion that many, if not most, artists don't actually know why they do what they do, or if they know, they can't explain it. At least not in a way that is helpful when the attempt is made to reduce their knowledge to words.

Either the work transports the view/listener out of her mundane existence or it doesn't. If it does, then the artist's statement us superfluous. If it doesn't, then words won't help one bit.

To make a crazy analogy (and at the risk of bruising some feelings): I don't understand dating sites for the same reason. I have never used one, but I also don't understand why you would jump off with something that a person says about him or herself to a general audience as a starting point for anything ("I like long walks on the beach," e.g.). To be useful, the statement has to presume both truth and self-knowledge. But in my experience most people are incapable of sharing either with strangers to any great degree. I know I must be wrong about this . . . as many find happiness in this way, but therein lies my confusion.

I accidentally wrote mine about ten years ago while writing a critique of a workshop -

"To find the amazing secrets in the commonplace and the incredible beauty in the mundane".

So far, it has worked very well.

I'm rather inclined to a repurposed phrase of legal Latin: ‟res ipsa loquitur.”

I believe writing about what you want to say with your photography forces you to actually think about it more seriously. Some people are just walking around taking snap shots with the newest gear and they don't want to say or show anything else with their pictures than how sharp their lenses are. I believe that this is perfectly fine, but if it is the case, then it is still good to realize it and be content with it. There are many comments talking about how the great artists didn't need an artist statement. Photographers today may not need artist statements either, but it certainly helps knowing what you want to do. If you are just compelled to photograph trees every day, and you are actually doing it, you don't need the exercise, but if you are struggling with what to photograph, a little reflection might be a good thing. In any creative field, outright rejection is usually not the best method.

I recently responded to a juried exhibition 'call to artists' which asked for an artist's statement. I'd already had my first cocktail of the evening, when I submitted this:

"Providing more words here will only add unnecessary confusion for the viewer; thus I'll let the image stand on its own."

[And did they accept you into the juried exhibition? If I had to bet I'd bet not. --Mike]

It does strike me that a few of these anti artist statements might make good artist statements.

I wish to leave behind an image that my great-great-grandchildren might look at and wonder, why did I take that photo? What went on in my head at that time? And perchance they might see something in it that they can relate to. I will of course never know, and yet that is what I wish I could do.

Easy: "A picture is worth 1000 words."

[That's another way of saying "I prefer not to do this exercise." Which I understand--it's why I began the post by acknowledging that it's not for everyone. --Mike]

artybollocks.com is looking a little dated to me.

Our work practice must no longer explore but interrogate.

And no mention of narrative?

would there be a difference if the person writing an artist statement likes pool or not.....

Can someone please explain to me why most artist statements are written in third person? An artist statement is obviously a statement written by the artist. Why do they want to pretend it is written by someone else? This is one of the many reasons I struggle to take these things seriously.

Mike, I think you may have been referring to my comment on your "Access" post of a few days ago, where I talked about my artist's statement.

I tried to add this to the comments on your "Sunday Support Group" post, but I was having problems with my computer all day yesterday and am not sure my comment actually went through. Likewise, I'm never sure my emails to you get through.

Anyway, this is what I wrote:

Sometime after my book "Rock City Barns: A Passing Era" was published in 1996 and became an instant best-seller, I received a letter from the well-known art photographer Maria von Matteson, who proposed arranging a joint exhibit with her and the great Florida Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher.

The show never happened, but one thing that Maria said to me stuck: she said "You need to write an artist's statement that defines you." So I did, and this is what I came up with.

"My domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. I am a visual historian of an earlier America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life."

As a commercial, architectural, and occasional wedding photographer, I've done a lot of things that don't fit within that statement. Yet, for the past 22 years I've known who I am as a photographer and have sought to work as much as possible within that vein, including magazine articles and my most recent book "Backroads and Byways of Georgia." I wrote about this on my blog A Life in Photography. http://alifeinphotography.blogspot.com/2020/02/who-am-i.html

+1, Mark Hobson!

My artist's statement: I like light.

Years ago, I used to shoot pool once a year when I got together with a particular friend. He's no longer on this earth and I haven't played in 40 years or so. We usually played for an hour and a bit, we were students and couldn't afford to rent the table for long. This is what would typically happen. I would make 3 or 4 good shots in the first 15 minutes and then spend the rest of the time getting more and more frustrated till we decided to leave.
Whatever people think of pool, one thing is true, it ain't easy.

Pool schmool. What about snooker?

Here's mine:

My work explores the relationship between multiculturalism and urban spaces. With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Miles Davis, new synergies are distilled from both simple and complex dialogues.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of the universe. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of lust, leaving only a sense of failing and the chance of a new synthesis.

As shifting derivatives become transformed through emergent and academic practice, the viewer is left with an epitaph for the darkness of our condition.

Okay, I didn't write that--I just generated it from the artsy bollocks generator

I could never be that brilliant.

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