web analytics

An Artist statement- what for?

Schools are reopening, so are universities and once these events have happened, the number of varnished exhibitions is going to hit the roof, given the fact that the exhibiting seasons at various galleries are reopening as well. On this occasion, it would probably be good to remember a well established practice related to providing the public with the so-called artist statement or a curatorial text in some cases, which is suppossed to explain something referring to the event we are participating in.

Oh well, and why should we read that? One more sheet of paper containing many words, having a meaning or none… when actually the works are welcomely waiting for us just around the corner, as we had come because of them, after all. At least theoretically.

Not only would it be good to catch a glimpse of that sheet of paper, but also, on top of that, we had better read it entirely. Why? Because that is the place where we find clues related to the artistic approach, we find the explanation of the idea that had been the starting point of the artist’s works. No, you cannot understand things by only looking at the works, because everything that is transposed into art is somewhat hermetic at some point. This does not mean that every work of art in a hermetic masterpiece, but it surely does close some ways of reading. Otherwise, Pierre Francastel used to claim that:

We must not sacrifice the artist’s psychology in front of the beholder’s psychology and we must not forget that just like all human works, the work of art needs an initiation in order to be understood. The difficulty we feel when we establish even one method when it comes to approaching the study of a distant art similar to the one to be found in Ancient Egypt must not allow us to ignore that we face the very same difficulty when it comes to studying the art of the world that surrounds us. Artists say what they have to through their works. Only by examining their connections with both the social environment that surrounds them and a collection of material signs relatively as stable as the verbal or scientific signs will we be able to progressively develop an extraordinarily rudimentary knowledge of one of the most unlearnt ways of expression belonging to those which serve people to communicate among each other.1

If you please, we can imagine that we are a kind of Prince Charming travelling around the initiatic path, having that short text as our magical helper.

Thus we can see what a miraculous instrument an Artist Statement is in this context! It exempts us from a series of questions we could not have found any answer to without a dialogue with the artist. We very easily obtain information regarding what had influenced the project we are looking at, which the essential data the artist operated with is, and, consequently, we also have to operate so that we understand what lies in front of our eyes.

Most certainly, we might get along well with observing the refinement of a drawing or painting and we do not need a map which would not say: in the bottom right-hand corner you will find strokes that prove the artist’s virtuosity. The problem is that there are no artistic works which are totally dedicated to a show-off of technical virtuosity. This results from the mere reason that art is more than technical, a fact that had been demonstrated by using much effort ever since the artists had succeeded to be looked at as being more than plain craftsmen.

I do not want to imply that the written text is the central element of an exhibition, because this is apart from reality. The text remains an instrument which is to be found at the visitor’s disposal and must be treated as such. The good part is that this instrument is useful even though it seems that it does not relate to the event itself. Why? Because it helps us realise whether the artist succeeded to create what he had had in mind. More than that, we will avoid to accuse the artist of positions that might bother us, if he undertakes the forementioned positions. For example, a series of works that might seem didactic should not bother us in case the artist wanted it that way actually, remarking things that must be said more intelligibly. He might have also wanted to set off alarm bells.

Let us not ignore the ludic and borderline grumpling perspective. Before giving credit to someone for succeeding to pay homage to a certain artist, we should ask ourselves if the person in question knows that that very artist existed and created that work, a reason why he resorts to a reinterpretation and recontextualisation, or this certain person strongly believes that he had invented the wheel… Referring to the reopening of the exhibiting season in the beginning was not in vain. As you might have observed, the number of exhibiting artists is very large and not everything we see is good quality. In this context, such a text may give us countless clues regarding the quality of the exhibition we see, although technically it might seem flawlessly carried out. In this context, the text has a double valence: it can be an instrument of comprehension and one of criticism. For we must not strongly believe what we read. Moreover, the text should support the works, not act against them or give the impression that the artist had wanted more than he actually achieved.

Starting from here, I will allow myself to address my fellow artists in the following lines. Judging by the things which have been written so far, you have probably remarked that the stress fell upon the usefulness of this text as an instrument. However, in order for it to be useful as an instrument, it must be well written and coherent.

What I would like to say is that if a minimal financial effort is made so that many sheets of paper containing letters are printed, if some trees are still cut down for this and if we still have visitors who minimally take that sheet of paper into consideration, why not write it meaningfully? How about getting rid of phrases that reveal the fear of writing, such as I wanted to… through this project or phrases that do nothing but throw light on our uncertainty, such as I think that… . It is normal to have a dose of anxiety when it comes to the way in which our works are going to be recepted critically, but it does not do us any good if we explain our fear to every person.

Then again, speaking of ludic, we can play with our words the way we are able to play with our work instruments from time to time. No, we do not have to write seriously so that it seems academic. Under no circumstance should we wake up and think that there should be a thing that sounds good, we must not make a list of all the big words we know and look up other five in the DEX (Ed./ Editor’s note: The Explanatory Dictionary of the Romanian Language) and make up a text using these. We should avoid these only because amateurism will be very visible (there are people among the public who know even more big words and they can even use them) and we risk saying totally different things as opposed to what we had initially intended.

It is better to have a simple text that offers clues (attention, clues, not everything that can be said, because the beholder must be let to look for and find meanings on his own, maybe others than the ones we had initially thought of) than a complicated one which would not have any meaning.

And if it is not a capital sin not to have the list of big words- after all, the aim of the event is not a literary one- it is indeed a capital sin to to use gramatically incorrect forms. This fact does not have in view any posh people who have nothing else to do but look for the missing hyphens (Ed.: the counterpart of the apostrophe in the Romanian language), but grammar is yet another instrument which helps the ones speaking the same language to understand each other, to say the same things using the same words… depending on… spelling (here we have the hyphen issue and the number of the letter i t the end of the word) and… commas. Yes, commas might save lives in a sentence. Not to mention the risk of being judged as uneducated and sephomore (even more if the grammar mistakes are added to that list of wrong used big words). There are people who have given up reading the texts to be found at exhibitions because of the great number of mistakes, making them not want to look at what there is in the gallery. If we do not master this very useful instrument called grammar, we certainly have a friend who does. How about asking him to take a glance?

This is not a debate on what is superior: the image or the word. We do not translate the visual into something linguistic. We just offer clues to the public which may help with reading the works. And let us not forget, the Artist statement is a form of self-advertisment, in a way. Because there are many artists and many of them are good from a technical point of view. The question is who has to offer more than this. Because this should concern more than how we juxtapose two strokes.

Pierre Francastel, „Realitatea figurativă” (Figurative reality), pp.238-239, Meridiane publishing house, Bucharest, 1972, translated by Mircea Tomuș

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3