How Clarifying My Artist Statement Hatched a Creative Breakthrough

Most artists i know hate writing artist statements. For many of us, writing isn’t really our forte to begin with and visual art often is difficult to explain with written language. It doesn’t seem to be a requirement for other art forms: I’m pretty sure neither Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Miles Davis nor Stanley Kubrick had one.

But for dance, music and movies, there’s a built-in human connection that arises naturally from the people performing. When we hear a particular sound, we respond on a subconscious level to the inflections, the uniqueness of the performance. When I hear Jimi Hendrix’s bold rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock I get a little choked up.

Visual art is rarely performed. It’s something we ship out to the world for viewers to experience on their own. Sometimes they just stand on their own, but history has proven out over the centuries and people often don’t “get it.” The Impressionists were shunned as having “unfinished” paintings. The Fauves were “beasts.”

How can we invite a connection for people in a way that’s meaningful for them?

That’s the reason for the artist statement.  It might be intended to be cryptic – just beyond language. Dreamlike. Or completely abstract with no intended “object”. That’s ok, it helps if the audience understands that. Otherwise people will stare at it like clouds and try to make sense of it, deciding it’s a poodle or an alligator. The brain naturally tries to make sense of things and when sense is made, a light bulb comes on.

I needed to rewrite my artist statement recently for a submission I did and it forced me to better clarify what the hell it is I’m doing. It was hard, mostly because I wasn’t sure myself. I sat down for several sessions and wrote with absolute honesty about the place it comes from. I wrote about the process and after I did that, I realized my new process is a natural “way” of painting that was born from the ashes of my life to that point. A light bulb came on for me too and I’m feeling a little less “stuck” lately. I used to call this part of my life the “growing pains” of becoming my new true self. My paintings will just have to experience those pains along with me.