Writing an artist statement is really hard.
It is a deeply uncomfortable exercise that forces an artist who’s carefully chosen a particular medium of self-expression to take the reigns of an entirely different medium and attempt to describe what they do in a way that makes someone want to look at their art. And THEN hopefully give them money/space/recognition. Those are stakes. I work with images, not words. Not to mention, any exercise that requires reflection on something so intimate, something that you’re inside of, is a highly vulnerable experience. The whole process is fraught. But it’s also necessary. The requirement for this complimentary piece to what you make is one of the realities of being a contemporary artist.
I had the privilege of taking a class called Developing an Artist Statement with the brilliant Art Writer and Founding Editor of Momus, Sky Goodden and the paragraph above is basically how she opened what I’ll describe as our “grappling session.” If this affirmation was all I left with, I might have been satisfied. I stepped into this process with admitted resistance and doubt. What I left with was a deeper understanding of my work, why it matters, and what it means to call myself an “artist.” Sky’s insight, guidance, and keen knowledge of the topic was one of the richest learning experiences I’ve had in a LONG time.
Importantly, she also created a safe environment that encouraged everyone to lean into the experience and share sloppy statements for feedback (I read aloud what I’d written the night before from an email I’d sent to a friend with the subject line “this might be a piece of poo”). I shared this moment with a great group of artists who all felt like artist statement losers, but we did it together and the feedback was golden. What I shared is best described as a personal narrative that was honest (and a decent piece of writing), but not at all what I thought an artist’s statement was permitted to be. I left with the knowledge that there was, in fact, lots of space for it to be a piece of creative writing, for it to be raw and challenging, as long as it aptly reflected what I make and why. I knew what I needed to excise and rework. I also knew how necessary this rigour is to produce something that I’m proud to share.
The minimalist sculptor Anne Truitt said: “the shape of my work’s development becomes a little clearer every time I am forced to articulate it.” I’ve known about Anne and her work for while, but I only recently really dug into the treasure that is Daybook. Anne began her adult life studying to be a psychotherapist, so her engagement with the emotional tapestry of being human is finely tuned. The book is a collection of journal entries that wrestle with the tangled ways in which art and life intertwine. I’ve learned a great deal from her writing about this, but most importantly, she gave me permission to allow the personal to take up space in my art practice. You don’t have to be making work that is figuratively or narratively about the details of your existence (Anne is known, among many things, for making pillar sculptures out of wood that are painted a single colour), but to deny that this is where the work comes from is just as misleading.
I stumbled upon the above quote from Anne on the same night I took this class and it made me think about her again from the other side of this troublesome and revealing writing exercise. Her conjuring felt like a reassurance that my statement of purpose as an artist was cutting to the quick in a way that I hadn’t had the confidence, or bravery, to do before. It all came together. Perhaps, Anne was unconsciously lingering when I coughed up my dirty first draft. I think my new motto is: when you’re not sure what to do, just be honest. And if you have an opportunity to share some space with Sky, do it!
p.s. you can read my artist statement here: ARTIST STATEMENT