Fuck The Artist's Statement!
It all started innocently enough. Tyler Green was interviewed by somebody over at the Walker, and had this to say about the infernal artist's statment:
When an artist receives his/her BA or MFA, he/she should be required to burn anything resembling a written artist’s statement. An artist’s statement is his/her work.
This resulted in fist pumping here, but twisted knickers over at AFC, where Paddy fired off two in a row: First, a defense of the statement, and then a little blurb about how she's requested 100-word statements from her emerging artists this summer.
And with all due respect to Paddy, I think it's entirely possible to write well and be an artist while actively hating the artist's statement.
The thrust of the AFC argument is that statement-writing clarifies "artistic objectives" and helps artists to build effective arguments. But art is not a term paper, and great art is great because it denies one clear argument or objective! To frame one's art verbally, with an artist's statement, is to close doors that could remain open, and to depend on verbal explanations of visual and spatial expressions dulls the potential for art to actually do that voodoo that it does so well. Visual and spatial expressions of ideas are non-linear, non-hierarchical. Multiple reads can co-exist in time. Writing doesn't kill this. But writing an artist's statement can.
The artist's statement as taught in school asks me to tell you what my art means. It answers the questions: What is my art doing? How is it doing it? Why is it doing it? And these are great questions for a viewer to ask themselves when looking at a work of art, but my relationship to what I make is different, and these questions are uniquely unimportant to me. These questions privilege one meaning, expressed in a linear fashion, over the tapestry of simultaneous and interlocking meanings that compel me to create visual art. The whole reason I make visual art and don't write for a living is because of this tapestry and what it can do, and the very nature of this love affair I am having with this tapestry of meaning is that it is impossible to verbalize with anything other than the most hackneyed, imprecise, insufficient metaphors.
Like tapestry. Tapestry for chrissakes!
I make art specifically because I am trying desperately to understand something that my verbal self can't touch. Writing a statement about what my own work means is therefore an unhelpful enterprise. This is not because I am an illiterate artist, but because I am compelled to make visual art for specifically nonverbal reasons. I want to embrace paradox, not resolve it. I want to ferret out all those fat spaces of uncertainty and becoming that an essay cannot get at.
It's not that art is better than writing an essay. They are simply different. Writing is beautiful and clarifying for all the reasons AFC describes. It privileges linear argument, and therefore is the ultimate tool of rational thought. I am not an enemy of rational thought! It's just that I don't like it in my art. I don't like art that makes one honed argument... unless of course it admits that it's propaganda. And frankly, the day I can just state my artistic objectives is probably the day I will finally stop hurting my body and ruining my clothes and be able to join Clean Society once and for all. I don't know exactly what I am doing, I can't quite put my finger on it, and that is the whole point. The problem with the artist's statement is it argues that I should know, and that nagging feeling that I should know is at the root of every stupid choice I make in my studio. Every time I force a quick conclusion, flirt with political art, close a form before it closes itself, cleave to the middle (ugh, the worst!)... it's because I am afraid that I don't know exactly what I am doing and am searching for a quick answer. I am writing my statement in these stupidest moments, when I am most off the mark. This is why I believe strongly in everything Tyler Green has to say about 'text love'. My art is at its strongest when I am mute.
Writing is an integral part of my practice. More and more, I need it. But this important writing is never a statement. There is a difference between being a writing artist and being a good writer of statements, and next time I will write more about what I think that difference is.
In the meantime, Paddy, I humbly admit that my statement is bullshit. It has little to do with why I make art, even though as someone who loves words I do try my hardest.