I sound like a right wanker. I am writing an artist statement, and wondering if coming across as a pretentious, self-important arsehole is obligatory, or if there’s a choice. The overwhelming response from artist friends is that sounding like a wanker is sort of the point – in fact, it’s the law.
Finalising an artist statement is something I’ve been dreading, but I’m applying for a residency, and can’t put it off any longer. For the those uninitiated in the dark magic of arts applications, creatives vying for dwindling public funds are keenly aware that the perception of a cash-strapped public is that they are subsidising wastrels to make pretty pictures or incomprehensible installations. Consequently, when applying to art-school or residencies, artists/supplicants beef up their statement with philosophy and big words: this isn’t ordinary art – this is essential art: if you don’t fund me, the world might end and we could all die.
Artists take different routes: oblique, hopefully humorous non-sequiturs, or deep, deep (…so very deep…) philosophical (did I say deep?) musings which compel readers fall to their knees, thanking the god they do not believe in that they do not know the artist personally, and will never be stuck in a lift with them. Then there are the reluctant ones: believing that work should speak for itself, where the artist shrugs rapidly through ‘explications of studio practice.’
When my friend Leah was wrestling with her statement, I jokingly suggested google translate, converting: “Please give me a place on your fine MFA, I am a good artist,’ into notions, exploring, interfaces etc. Behold, enter the Arty Bollocks Generator which helpfully provides baffling testimony like: ‘As shifting forms become transformed through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the possibilities of our condition.’ Seriously, that’s what people write.
My statement is dreadful so I ask my friend Shelton Walker for assistance. Tactfully, she points out that my proposed offering does not contain enough high-quality bollocks, and that I must incorporate testicular communication about the importance of ‘text in my practice.’ Damn she’s good.
Websites agree with the fatuousness of many statements: ‘At its worse, an artist's statement is difficult to understand or rambles on, is pretentious, and irritates rather than informs (or, even, provokes laughter).’ says one wisely, confirming all my worst suspicions.
It continues: “An artist's statement should be an explanation of your painting style and subjects or themes.” Fair enough.
“Add a bit about your approach or philosophy if you wish.” Must I?
“Mention your education, specifically if you've studied art (the closer you are to the date you left art college, the more relevant this is).” Well the Institution I Decline to Name is a prestigious Turner Prize factory…
“Consider mentioning which artists (living and dead) have influenced or inspired you.” Bob and Roberta Smith, Piranesi, Jean Arp, Sophie Tauber, Jenny Holzer.
“Mention any significant awards you have won, exhibitions you have participated in, collections your paintings appear in or significant sales you may have made, and painting organisations or societies you belong to.” Exhibitions? Tick.
Ultimately what I have written is mix of weapons-grade cojones, and the relevant, sensible shit above. At least it’s honest. Will it work? I shall keep you informed.