Monday, October 8, 2007

This is Not an Artist's Statement

I make pots as a hobby (see photo). Some people call it art, others may say it’s a craft. I’ve had a couple pieces in some gallery shows and the galleries always ask for an artist’s statement. The request makes me uncomfortable.

When visual artists write about their art, I fall asleep. Part of the problem is that most of them don’t write well, but the simple truth is that I don’t much care what motivates or inspires them. I’m not especially interested in their explanations of what their art means. I want the work to speak for itself; it shouldn’t need some tortured exegesis.

When musicians are interviewed about their music, I mutter, “Shut up and play!” And if they don’t, I quickly switch stations. Joni Mitchell -- who has a reputatiion for being hard to work with, driven, intense, opinionated -- doesn’t need an artist’s statement. Her music IS her statement. Just listen.

There’s an exception to this rule: when writers write about writing, I read. Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” was revealing and instructive. Paula Granquist, a writing teacher at The Loft and at the Northfield Arts Guild, provided me with some wonderful essays by writers on writing.

I like what Willie Mays said about his considerable baseball skills: “They throw the ball, I hit it; they hit the ball, I catch it.” Or what Willie Sutton told the judge who politely inquired as to Mr. Sutton’s occupation: “I’m a thief.” Or Willie Nelson when asked if he listened to his own songs: "No, not really." **

At the same time, I will not begrudge any artist for writing such a statement. It may help the artist, it may help the viewer, it may help a curator. Just not me.

So. I make pots. Hope you like them.

** I'm not sure if any of these quotes is accurate, but you get the point.


Cody Jarrett said...

Just wondering if you make an exception for filmmaker's writing about movies?

Peter Bogdonavich has written some excellent oral histories about the process. Truffaut was a critic before he began directing and continued to write about movie including a great book-length interview with Hitchcock.

Even David Mamet has written a great book about making pictures called "On Directing Film".

I agree with you that it seems musicians for the most part seem to put everything they want to say, or maybe are capable of saying, into their music. But there are artist's who are very good at writing about their art.

Jim H. said...

Mr. Jarret:

If I were interested in filmmaking rather than films, I'm sure I would read stuff by Bogdonavich, Truffaut, Woody Allen, etc. On DVDs, I'll sometimes look at the commentary by directors, but it doesn't add much to the enjoyment of the film.

Maybe you've hit upon an important distinction: I want to write better, so I'm interested in what writers have to say about writing. But I'm not going to make films or paintings or music myself -- I'm more of a consumer, so have a consumer's approach.

If I want to cook something new, I'll consult the recipe. Otherwise, I'll just eat and enjoy.

Simple minded? Perhaps...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Greg said...

Have you read van Gogh's letters? Very good writing in addition to much insight about painting. Just because you don't paint or make music, don't the thoughts & reflections of those practitioners have value for lovers of those arts? They do for me, if well expressed....

Jim H. said...

Mr. Luce:

You make a valid point. I will check out Van Gogh's letters. I like to be prodded and challenged (one reason for the blog), but still reserve the right to be cantankerous and opinionated!

Joe Posnaski's blog entry today about Eric Wedge is excellent and it (sort of) relates to what I'm talking about. Poz stongly disagrees with decisions made by Wedge, but takes pains to point out that he thinks he understands why Wedge made those decisions. Wedge does not have to explain himself to Posnanski; Wedge isn't required by the terms of his contract to submit a Manager's Statement along with the lineup card. He does what he does and the rest of us, if we care to, can speculate and ruminate and argue about it.

Whew. I'm tired!