Just a couple of days after writing and posting, "More On Artist Statements," some interesting things happened.
I embarked on an interview with a "new" artist I had met online. The artist's work is great and I was quite curious. As I began to read the answer to my first question, I felt a thud in my stomach.
"Here we go again!" I thought.
Yes, the artist was speaking in the dreaded "art speak" that I addressed in "Artist Statements" and "More On Artist Statements."
As usual, the artist's words were over-the-top intellectual and convoluted. In short, they made no sense. With that, I emailed the artist and said that I thought it would be better if he/she could be more direct and down to earth.
The artist responded by defending the approach and continued to answer the question using this dreaded "art speak." Once again, I responded to the artist. More on what I said in a moment.
Another interesting thing happened this past week. While at work, one of my journalist colleagues commented about a local politician who emailed a press release stating that in observance of Earth Day, he was participating in a "Reforestation Project."
"Reforestation?" My colleague asked out loud. "Doesn't that mean he's going to be planting trees?" "Yes," the rest of us in the newsroom replied ... knowing full well the point that was about to be made.
"Then why doesn't he ... JUST SAY THAT!" my exasperated colleague yelled out.
You know, I think that as human beings we believe that things should always be done a certain way simply because that's tradition. No one respects tradition more than me. However, what do you do when tradition no longer - if ever - serves you?
You've got to make a change.
The subtext of practically ever artist interview I've ever done focuses on how artists today face so many challenges, if not barriers, when it comes to their work and getting it seen by the general public and potential buyers.
Art is an expression, but contrary to what many artists want to believe, art cannot SPEAK, nor has it ever spoken for itself. Art must be SOLD as a concept and a commodity. Every artist is expressing themselves, but in the midst of that expression, like it or not, some salesmanship is also involved. The work must be compelling enough to make people stop in their tracks and look. That's the "sale" that must be made before even the thought of any possible monetary purchase can happen.
Selling art - even conceptually - begins with the artist statement or the exhibition statement. There's no way around it. Everyone with a brain knows that in order to sell anything, you have to make your sales pitch; you must be honest, quick, clear and direct. You must also tap into something that captures the heart and mind of your subject. Then and only then are they SOLD.
The art world today is full of horrible salesmen - artists, curators, writers, museum directors - who torpedo exhibitions right out of the gate with terribly written artist statements. These statements reflect their desire to be seen as authorities and gatekeepers of art rather than true educators and promoters of art. Sad.
It all begins with words. Simple words. Please indulge me for a moment as I present this example...
The world was in utter darkness until God said, "Let there be light!" That was the beginning of ALL creation. God could not have been more clear, concise, simple, commanding or elegant. It was the ultimate artist statement. Every person on the planet knows what "Let there be light!" means. Don't we?
Whether you believe in God and the creation story or not is your choice. My point here is that WORDS ... clear, concise words ... speak things into existence. God's words connected Him with all of creation. When the lights went ON, it was all love.
This is what's lacking in the art world. Too many people in the art world don't realize that the TRUE power of art lies in our ability and willingness to share it and not hide it away for ourselves by shrouding it in mystery with nonsensical, self-indulgent words designed to maintain power and social position in the art world. So sad.
Yes, the true power of art lies in our willingness to share it. When our intentions are pure, our words will be clear and simple. It's called "transparency." Sorry, is that a big word?
Nothing is more elegant than a simply-worded sentence. Whose heart doesn't melt when they hear someone tell them, "I Love You"? It gets you every time, No?
Artist and exhibition statements give the art world the opportunity to say to people ...
"I love you and I respect you so much, but don't just take our words for it, come and see what we've created for you!"
With that, people who are looking at art - either in an art museum, gallery or even online - WILL FEEL that they are valued and respected and they WILL connect with the art that they see. I guarantee you.
Here's the funny thing ... while writing an artist statement, you think it's about YOU, but it's really about THEM. If you're doing it right, your ego flies out the window, your personal passion takes over and the words of love and respect for yourself, your work and for the audience - those words will just flow right through you.
Before you know it, you've got a kick-ass artist or exhibition statement for what will be a blockbuster art exhibition. Yes, your audience will see the light and BE enlightened by your words and then - your work. So simple.
Now, back to that challenging, "art speaking" artist.
I sent the artist an email saying - in a nutshell - what I've just said here. I was even nicer in the email. The artist responded and we're chatting on. Of course, the "art speak" is still there, but it's fading. Slowly. It's a crutch.
Simple change is tough. Even when so much seems to be at stake.