Over on Hyperallergic, they recently re-posted an article from a few years ago that proposes that artist statements are annoying and useless. The author makes a strong case and, as someone who has a perennial struggle with putting my ideas into words, I came to article fully ready to cheerlead for this point of view. By the time I finished the article, however, the premise felt like a cop-out.
The struggle to organize my thoughts and make my intentions clear to people who may or may not have experience with art is always difficult but it is also always valuable. For me, one key to writing a better (I can't quite say good) statement is to give myself permission to wait until a series or project has settled or fermented for a bit. Solidifying visual ideas into words can be the kiss of death. Suddenly, the openness and spontaneity of the process has been reduced to a thing with boundaries. I have made it "this" and when something strays outside of "this," then whatever is happening can feel like a problem instead of an opportunity. For me, it is better to allow time for my thinking to mature and give myself some distance before I try to have it make sense to a reader.
There are times when I have to write up a project proposal before even making any of the work. This too can be challenging since my thinking is often only vaguely formed. For better or worse, I allow that whatever I am writing in the given moment will change and shift as the project is made manifest and real. Truthfully, this has never been a problem and I can't imagine any project - art or science or structural engineered - where the initial idea and the finished project are expected to never change. Real life issues will always come up in the making no matter what you may be doing.
Even more, I would say that the struggle of making my somewhat chaotic, non-linear thinking about my work fit on a page and be accessible to a general audience has a lot of value. It is ok to not like to do it because it is difficult but that should not be a reason to flip artist statements the bird and feel justified. Making art is my passion. I endure all sorts of discomforts to make it happen and writing a clear artist statement is just one of many. Perhaps one of the real issues is that we carry all sorts of ideas about a correct artist statement should be based on reading art criticism. I am happy to challenge that idea any day of the week. But I vote yes to having to put some words on paper about my work. It is hard. Sometimes it sucks. But it has real value.
One idea that I did like from the article was that artists could video tape a conversation with a curator or other artist about their work and post a short, well-edited version on their website. This is such a great idea!
Watch for it....