Monday, March 24, 2014

The artist statement -- TMI?

Recently I caught an exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN (through April 5) that I liked a lot.  It featured two artists who make art out of found objects, aka junk.  Since I like to make this kind of art too, I figured I would enjoy it, and I did.  But my good art friend went to the show before I did and reported back that she was disappointed with one of the artists, R. Michael Wimmer, who makes large assemblages.

Not particularly in the art, if I'm properly representing her opinion, but in the fact that she thought you wouldn't know what the pieces were about without reading the artist statements on the wall.  Without the explanations, she thought, the arrays of different objects looked like so much random stuff.

And yes, the statements were quite detailed explanations of what each element meant to the artist.  I'll show you a couple of examples.

Part of me appreciated the detailed artist statements.  How many times have you looked at a work of art, fixed in on some detail and wondered what on earth that means?  In some ways it was nice to have the explanations, almost as if the artist were standing there answering your questions.

But part of me wished for a bit more mystery.  Maybe I would have enjoyed attaching my own memories and associations to these odd figures and artifacts.  The titles would have given me a clue, and perhaps that would have been enough to point me in the right direction without hitting me over the head.  Or at least the detailed explanations might have been put in a notebook on the other side of the room, so I could look first and be explained to later, if I wanted.

Now I'll show you some of Wimmer's other works, without the explanations.  You decide whether you like the art better with or without.

Audubon's Habitat

A Child's Dream, A Mother's Nightmare (details below)

Winter Springs No. 5

So what's your opinion?  Do you like artist statements that explain what everything means?  Or do you like the minimalist approach where it's the artist's job to make the art and your job to interpret it?


  1. I have always preferred to put my own interpretation into the works I see. What the artist intended is not necessarily what I see and is kind of irrelevant to my thoughts and feelings. It can be nice to know in an 'historical' context of the life of the artist but not necessary in the eye of the beholder.

  2. My impression of these artist statements is that they are a sarcastic knee-jerk to the show's requirement for 100 words on the artist's intent. But I don't like artist's statements. And I see other stories in these works.

  3. According to my art history major friend, I am a Formalist. I respond first to form in a piece, second to color, and only after that to meaning, if any. So I found myself reading the artist's statements and saying "No! He's wrong!" A title is usually enough of an artist's statement for me.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  4. I do like to have an explanation, but one separate enough that I don't read it by accident. I like to take in the work for myself, then once I've formed an opinion perhaps I will look at the words. I think that if the work is strong enough it can bear both interpretations, however different they might be.

  5. i do like titles.
    but i find too many words just distracts-- & frankly--irritates me.

  6. If the concept can be explained in words, then what's the point? Art should convey something that can't be described in another way.

  7. I'll take the flip side. I like the statements. If someone wants me to look at their random bunch of flotsam glued together, I'd rather know what they are trying to say to me with it. I'll still decide if it's effectively expressed, or how the elements fit together, or if the design is good, etc. but I'm not really interested in making up my own stories about their art. Especially if they can't give it any better name than "Collage #10". If I'm going to create my own interpretation of a bunch of stuff, and overlay my views and experiences, I'd rather just make art myself.

  8. Great post Kathy. I love a good title--and I think Wimmer's titles are very effective. Long descriptions that are heavy on the symbolism--this means this--bother me. The work should be able to stand on its own without a lot of explaining. On the other hand, conceptual art often needs the words because it is brain art not visceral art. And I sometimes have a hard time with that. As another reader said, maybe that's because I am a formalist too. Good food for thought today!

  9. Visual art should be able to engage the viewer without words. If it needs words to explain it, the work just doesn't work.

  10. I just finished writing three artist statements for three different pieces of art and it was agonizing. I was allowed 150 words and ended up with about 70 for each. I think that the artist has so much at stake - we KNOW our own work and what the materials all mean and why we chose them - and even if we don't know anything - even if it's a mystery to us, but we just like it the way it looks because it makes our heart go pop - then how do you say that in an artist statement.
    I'm all for inviting people into the art with an evocative title - but artist statements are too hard. They are too hard.

  11. I want the statement to deal only with the individual piece. Not the world, the angst of every thing in the artist's life, or even the piece nearby. Simple, a lot left out, just a hint of the subject. Just enough to say you were "there".

  12. thanks for opening: often I prefer to arrive at my own experience. ut sometimes, think of religious art, it may be so full of rituals and symbols I do not always recognize, that some words of explation help to deepen the experience.
    Looking at my own art: words are added, but not to be taken too seriously.