Sunday, December 10, 2006

Creating an Artist Statement.

Ok... so this weekend I sat down and constructed an artist statement for my show in February. I mentioned having to do this in a previous post, and unfortunately I procrastinated... and it's therefore a bit late. Constructing these documents is exacting... yet the product is far from "exact". This is an abstract body of work- far different than the images I displayed in my previous shows, and thus writing about them was a good deal more difficult. Writing about the work of others is (I think) a bit easier. As part of the audience, I find it simpler to pick an impression and stick to it. I'm not inundated by the many conflicting thoughts and feelings I have about my own work. And obviously, it's a much more objective task to write about "the other".

In the past I have shown documentary and representational photography. During my first show I wasn't even aware that anyone would expect an artist statement. It would have seemed like a presumptious expectation. I culled some of my favorites from an immense body of images, threw together a short bio and price list, and hung the work. What could be more direct? When it came time to exhibit again, I had a series of photos that were characterized by a conceptual theme. I had specific intentionality before even shooting my subjects. My purpose was clear, and subtly political... and I had no problem conveying that. And on we go.

But putting words to abstract work provoked a lot of ambivalence. I felt that it would be a disservice to the work to merely describe its aesthetic. If I had meant to communicate a specific thought I would have just framed it in words, and then been done with it. But these images were the result of an involved process... rather than some thematic concept. To my mind it made a lot more sense to try to get at the essence of my artistic evolution. Of course I ran into the danger of coming off like a pompous ass. In my frequent gallery trips I take the time to read artist statements. Many of them come off as pretentious, or so general that they lose any useful meaning. Artists are by nature visually oriented and it's not reasonable to expect them to display an especially articulate facility with language. Truly they are more concerned with conveying their concepts through the work itself. So why even bother with an artist statement?

I am honestly not drawn to a lot of abstract art. That's what makes its exposition so complicated for me. I don't have a vocabulary for it, and therefore I feel out of my depth in analyzing and describing it. The point of this type of work is that it's not demarcated... it contains an elusive and shifting meaning. It suggests that its subjective nature is its point. Therefore it follows that the most qualified party to attach meaning to it... is its creator. And so despite my reservations, I feel obligated to provide some context. As I said... a simple description of the product does a disservice to the work, and outlining an interpretation of it would disenfranchise the viewer. I don't want to muck about and remove the possibility of a multitude of varying reactions. So I have focused on commenting on the process that led me to its creation.

Now that I've written the statement, a press release must be generated and forwarded to media outlets. This step presents an entirely new set of difficulties. Happily, the onus of that task does not fall to me. It would entail one further removal from the work itself, and I would feel unqualified to achieve such a distance. That job will fall to the gallery itself. Of course there is the risk that the work is entirely misrepresented... but with good communication, the chances of that happening are slim. It's fascinating to see one's work deconstructed by its own commodification... an inevitable consequence of showing it to the public. And the fun never ends... because the majority of the people that attend the opening aren't even going to care. I just hope they like looking at the background while they enjoy their wine and conversation.


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