You Deserve An Artist's Statement

  • Posted on: 27 July 2013
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

“I’m a piece of art in a field of potatoes! And everyone wants potatoes!” screamed my angry, brilliant daughter.

An artist’s statement intends to explain, justify, extend, and/or contextualize the body of their work. It places the work and the artistic motivations in relationship to art history, theory, society and the events of the day. A statement demonstrates than an artist is conscious of their intentions, aware of their practice and its position within the world. Not only does it describe and place the artist, but it indicates the level of the artist's comprehension of their field. These statements are tailored to satisfy the audience: funding bodies, galleries, patrons, and the curious public.

Ignorance is a lack of context, through wilful avoidance or a lack of exposure to the details. When one gains context there is an opportunity to align one’s understanding with what they are exposed to. When someone understands where someone else is coming from, they gain an appreciation. They broaden their own understanding.

Look at the Voice of Fire painted by Barrett Newman in 1967. The National Gallery of Canada purchased the painting for $1.8-million. At the time of purchase, there was outrage. It’s three fricking lines on a big canvas! In isolation, it seems like flim-flam. With an artist’s statement you may be able to appreciate why the artist did what he did.

Artists demonstrate how context can establish respect and value. I contend two things:

  • you are art
  • you deserve an artist’s statement

In chemical terms, you’re worth a couple hundred bucks. In terms of how the butcher sees meat, you are worth maybe $500 should cannibalism gain cachet. Employers pay that much or more per week to get you to sit at one of their desks. You have to have value. You have much more value than what could be measured in a beaker or some butcher paper. I say that you are special-- you are a work of art that was a lifetime in the making.

So you’re special. What about other people? How often do we discount the value of others? We collapse a lifetime’s worth of a person into “that guy.” Then we can mentally position these cardboard cutouts into the background and factor them out as ambient noise. It’s easy to discount someone who doesn’t present value and who’s life doesn’t hold a context of visible value or a narrative of how they are special, unique and vivid. This mindset goes two ways. If you don’t present your value to others, you become easy to factor out. You want to be considered as the $1.8-million piece of art; you don’t want to be considered three frickin’ lines.

To establish your value, build your narrative. Your history. Your views. Your job. Your hobbies. Your family. Your favorite TV shows. Your favorite music. No one is without value. Even bad people hold value: it used to be said that Ronald Reagan would give you the shirt off his back; then sit at his desk in his under-shirt and sign a bill into law that would ruin your friends and family. You are interesting. The trick is to wind the story of why you would be considered interesting to others. Part of that work is simply describing what you consider remarkable. Part of that is a matter of describing how you are unique in one particular way. If all else fails, take the common and make a case to the world why those three frickin’ lines are worth ever so much. Half of the world is made of women-- if you are a woman who talks about your issues you may be seen as pioneer in the discussion of women’s issues. Heck: everybody eats food. How many people gain notoriety (and a sprinkle of infamy) for photographing their food and posting those photos on the Internet?

Discovering what is interesting about you isn’t going to be too hard. If you are stumped, make a diary of your week. You don’t need the details, just note what you are doing in the simplest terms at the outset of each activity. “Going to sleep at 10PM,” “Turkey bacon for breakfast,” “I’m watching Mythbusters.” Everyone is equally fascinating but not many people are going to consciously build a narrative to give themselves a dimension in the eyes of others.

This isn’t about ego. You’re not better than other people and doing this won’t make you better. What you are doing is making a conscious effort to discover and share who you are. This leaves you ready to connect with others with your personal topics that have in common with others. This gives you something to present so that people can see the artwork that is you. If you feel like you are that unwanted exception in a field of potatoes, making your artist’s statement will grant you things that the potatoes don’t have: a narrative, a value statement and what may be a fascinating context. When you have your artist’s statement intact, share it. Tell people about you. Then pause and probe people for their story. An artist’s statement is a static description of their art work. Your artist’s statement is the first round in a conversation with other people who have their own partially formed artist’s statement and their own capacity to appreciate you as art.

Addendum: Since posting this, I kicked things into high gear. In 2013, I started a process to overhaul my life: The Rebuild

Last updated date

Monday, September 30, 2019 - 17:12