Musings on Photography

Artist’s Statements

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on October 19, 2006

I hate artist’s statements. I hate having to write them for my own work when I hang a show, and I almost always hate reading them when I look at someone else’s show.

I hate writing them because writing a decent artist statement is hard. One reason it’s hard is that you’re often trying to articulate the thoughts behind the work, and that task always brings to mind the Lewis Hine quote “If I could say it in words, I wouldn’t need to photograph.” Or, as Robert Frost put it when asked to explain one of his poems, “You want me to say it worse?” As if this torture wasn’t enough, when I go back and read previous artist’s statements I’ve written, I invariably cry out “Oh! The HORROR!”, and want to withdraw from human society in shame for my past transgressions.

I hate reading them because artist’s statements fall into several categories, only one of which is an improvement over displaying the work unadorned by any statement.

First, there’s the ‘meaningless but flowery prose, which seems to bear no relationship to the work”. My favorite example of this is

Some have said my pictures possess a beauty, high and light, like the works in silver of the ancient Irish. Within my photographs a simple line can swell to a great size and a looming mass can disappear in movement. Passion always informs my work, exposing darkness rimmed with humor. My art is fierce and exact and my ideas are cool. I force my compositions to resonate, to shudder. My pictures emerge as a moving surface to my eye, like wind on water.

I’m guessing, just guessing, that the person who said that the artist’s pictures “possess a beauty, high and light, the the works in silver of the ancient Irish” was probably the artist. When I read that, I laughed aloud, and it still makes me laugh when I read it.

A second category is what I’ll call ‘a serious attempt to comment on the work or process, cloaked in Academic Bafflegab.” My example of this is:

In formal terms, my current work is an exploration of how form is determined by, and conversely determines, space. My work references the figure, though more recently it has explored similar figure/ground relationships utilizing basic geometric shapes, particularly the square or cube within a vertical, rectangular format. I am interested in the tension that exists between a form — such as a human head or a square — and the space which it both occupies and is contained by. My long history with drawing has driven my most current work, as I have returned to such traditional materials as graphite and paper to produce works that focus on the process of drawing itself.

A friend of mine translated this into English as “I am interested in how shapes and spaces interact and define each other, their relationships, and the tension between them. I like drawing. I’ve always drawn. I am drawing again as part of the above work, partly because it works better, and partly because I like it.” Written in English, I actually think this is an interesting artist’s statement; it comments cogently on the work and the artist’s process, and after reading it, you’d examine the work more closely.

And then there’s the final kind of artist’s statement: the plain, unadorned, honest talk about the process and work. My current favorite is

These images are seen through the camera, they are not manipulated in the darkroom or computer. I am often amazed at the shapes and forms that have appeared in my work. My intention has always been to explore the body, not to alter it. I want to find the camera angle from which the forms can be the most that they can be – whatever that is. If it is a grace to the limbs, then I want the angle from which that grace becomes the absolute most it can be at that moment. And so it leads me on, to explore angles, space, reflections, and light. I strive to make forms make sense visually and trust that the metaphor, the poetry, will follow.

-Connie Imboden

Now, if I could just write like that about my own work.

2 Responses

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  1. JohnJo said, on October 20, 2006 at 12:12 am

    John Beardsworth has some entertaining pointers to artist’s statements. No direct link possible but enter artist’s statements (without any quites) into this form to see what I mean:

    You’re mentioned, but in a good way.

  2. chantal stone said, on October 21, 2006 at 6:06 am

    I agree, writing an artist statement is the worst….mine would read something like “I take pictures of things I think are cool. I think these pictures are cool, I hope the viewer thinks they are cool too. Cool?” Too many words often come off as pretentious. Not cool.

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