In my first essay about artist statements, we explored the importance of being real and approachable with our words and not using, "art speak."
Now, here's a little history to put things into perspective.
Several years ago, I attended Art Basel Miami Beach, which I love. During a visit at one of the major art collections in Miami, I started reading a huge exhibition statement that was emblazoned on an entire wall at the gallery entrance. It was nicely designed, but here's the rub ...
The statement was utterly unreadable. Keep in mind, I'm a writer and even I needed a dictionary and thesaurus on hand to figure out what the hell the curator was saying. This was before we had iPads or hand-held devices with dictionary apps. More on that in a moment.
The exhibition statement was the very first thing people could see as they made their way into the gallery. In short, apart from the young lady sitting at the reception desk, those words were the "first impression" that this gallery was making on visitors.
Do you see where I'm going here? Why on earth would you make the very first thing that people see cold and distant? It's like warmly inviting someone into your home and then immediately giving them the cold shoulder. It just doesn't make sense.
But wait. There's more.
As I tried my best to actually comprehend what I was reading, I looked over at several other people who were also gazing up and reading ... or should I say, trying to read. It was just so overwhelmingly clear that these poor folks had no earthly idea what was being expressed by this huge, beautifully-designed exhibition statement that was making the absolute wrong impression.
It was a big disservice to the artist, the curator, the art institution and most importantly, the visitors. I mean seriously, this institution spent all of this time and money to plan this exhibition only to post a statement that made no sense and was clearly designed to give the impression that this was a highly-intellectual place that was above it all when it comes to contemporary art. Really?
I've experienced the same thing over and over and over and over again during art museum visits and even when I read some artist statements online. It's just so clear that these over-intellectualized, pretentious meanderings - like I'm doing right now for example - are designed to create mystery and separation between the art and the viewer even while they claim to be about engagement. No offense to the artists.
During a visit at another international art fair, I was chatting with a writer for a highly-respected art magazine that everyone knows. The magazine has the word "Art" in its title. Does that narrow it down enough for you? LOL.
Anyway, I told this writer how much I loved her magazine, but I often found the writing to be completely incomprehensible. She was very nice, but needless to say, my well-intentioned words did not create a friendship. As we continued to chat, some guy came over to us and joined the conversation ...
As she introduced herself to him, he said, "Oh, I love 'Art...' but I totally can't read it!" With that, the guy and I cracked up laughing. Needless to say, the woman was - again - not happy. I mean, what could she say? We were speaking the gospel truth and she knew it. She was in the uncomfortable position of representing something that she knew has a fundamental problem. It's not truly connecting with its customer base ... even though the publication THINKS that it IS. It's a joke. It's beyond a joke. It's really sad because the joke is on them. They're only fooling themselves.
By the way, this publication requires that you always have a dictionary and thesaurus on hand while you're reading it. I dare say that many, if not most artists who are trying to make a name for themselves have modeled this approach with their own artist statements.
Look, I'm all about literacy and education, especially when it comes to contemporary art. For writers, there's nothing more empowering than a good dictionary, thesaurus and other reference guides. That's something we all learned back in English Composition classes. HOWEVER, what's the point of having those guides if your words are not connecting with readers? It makes no sense to use pretentious, 20-dollar words when you're trying to express sometimes difficult concepts. There's nothing wrong with big words, but are your words meant to engage and connect or elevate yourself above others? Believe me, people know the difference.
Here's yet another example. I have an artist interview posted on ArtBookGuy that I find completely laughable. I love the artist's work, but the artist has a raging case of "art speak." It's so bad that it's embarrassing. The interview reads like the Dead Sea scrolls. There's no figuring it out. I published the interview because we both had spent so much time on it and I didn't want it to go to waste. However, I have vowed that I will never, ever let an artist or anyone in the art world get away with such talk. Not with me anyway. It's pure nonsense.
I am convinced that a true sign of genius can be found in those who can take tough topics and complicated concepts and make them simple and relatable to people. It's also a BIG indicator of graciousness and humility. If you REALLY want to impress people with your brilliance, be real, be simple, be accessible and unpretentious. Be YOU. Drop the pretense. I am not talking about “dumbing down” things either. Just be warm, respectful and considerately direct. It's "Salesmanship 101."
For God's sake, I've heard scientists discuss the cosmos in more accessible ways than some of us explain art! I mean, isn't promoting contemporary art the whole point? Surely we can do this with contemporary art. It deserves no less. Art for all people!
Again, art institutions spend all of this time and money trying to attract visitors and then when - or even if - they arrive, the visitors are smacked in their faces with these incoherent statements that seem better suited for aliens on Neptune. Is that what we want? Of course not.
This all reminds me of America's Civil Rights Movement. It remains characterized by a single, utterly simple sentence...
"I Have A Dream!"
Is there anyone on the face of the earth who does not understand that sentence and what it means for them? That simple, elegant statement energized an entire movement. It was like the first brushstroke of a painting on its way to becoming a master work.
We can do that too. Come on art people! Let's change our words and paint a new picture. If we do it right, we'll attract a HUGE, all-new audience for contemporary art. Heck, you might even sell a painting or two.
Wouldn't that rock?