I received an email from the Springville Museum Spring Salon assistant curator asking artists accepted into the show to submit a statement to be printed alongside their painting. This gave me a little bit of anxiety as I hadn’t composed one yet, and on top of it she wanted it in 24 hours.
Now there’s nothing like a deadline to get me to hold off until the last minute and then rush to get something done, but I wasn’t too worried about it as I had jotted something down somewhere for just this purpose. So, I dug through the files on my computer and found my cleverly titled Ideas for Statement word document and searched for the nuggets. Almost none of it was usable. So, I threw some words at the page that kind of went together and sent it in time, but it prompted me to think a little.
Does any artist know why they paint what they do?
I’ve read dozens of artist statements and a lot of artist’s talk a good talk and I take them at their word, but then I try to think of putting what I do into a single set-in-stone mini manifesto and none of it makes sense anymore. On any given day the why of what I paint can vary from the simple “Hey that would be cool to paint” to abstract social and spiritual themes, and to vague feelings and images that are too complex for conscious thought. Sometimes I’ve been compelled to paint something and six months later I finally figure out that it had a meaning and what it was.
How is an artist supposed to write a single statement that includes all of that, and not come off sounding like they have serious mental problems?
Another of my worries is the idea of being shackled to a set of ideas that I wasn’t too sure of in the first place and now I have to fit everything I do into this little box of my own creation. Am I allowed to break out of my own box? Most of us would say yes, that I can do anything I want, but what happens if I start out painting purple monkeys and then a year later I decide that Japanese tea cups would be a more compelling subject? How can a statement extolling the deep meaning of purple monkeys be made to fit tea cups?
And what about the people who bought my monkey pictures and can’t understand why I would choose tea cups and flee in disgust? Or to make matters worse what if I still paint purple monkeys and I also paint Japanese tea cups? I think calling the white coats would be seriously considered at that point.
These thoughts have made me consider using more than one name to paint under, maybe I could paint purple monkeys under Fitz Fitzgerald.
The artist statement is a cold-hearted indifferent dominatrix that doesn’t care if you have multiple galaxy spanning interests. It wants you to conform to a single path and follow that path to its bitter conclusion. My guess is that someone interested in beans and counting came up with it in the first place. (And I bet he didn’t paint.)
Unfortunately none of this matters, the artist statement is here to stay as long as marketing and selling art matters (and it does).
So, I’m trying to make myself think of an artist statement in a new way. I’m trying to sell myself on the idea that an artist statement doesn’t have to last a career, but can be changed at my whim to fit my new habit of painting tea cups. I’m trying to convince myself that lovers of purple monkeys will also love tea cups and will keep following me down the dark and twisty path.
I’m also trying to give myself permission to paint the many forms of dryer lint in all its glory if the tea cups don’t work out.