“Don’t talk. I can’t hear myself see!”

a post inspired by Slow Muse

As an art critic I have for a very long time been concerned about all kinds of written statements accompanying art exhibitions. In our post-conceptual area written descriptions and declarations more often than not dominate the art arena, at the expense of visual sensibility.

As a critic I expect an art exhibition to be self-explanatory, as a viewer I expect the artist to be able to express what she seeks to articulate in a visual language, not having to explain herself in any kind of written document.

I see the need for written instructions to be a sign of deficiency, of the artist not being able to express herself visually.

I know artist statements have become fashion. And just as trends and fashion shifts, I really hope the artist-statement-trend soon will find itself to be out of date.

I want to see the show the way a viewer would see a show—with no inside information. I might ask, “What’s the material?” or “Which one came first?” Something simple, but I don’t want to hear at all what the artist thinks. And I’m not writing for the artist. I’m writing for the reader, and I want to tell the reader what I think.

– Jerry Saltz 

An important thing for a critic is a kind of disinterest…I think the work of art, whatever form it takes, is the artist’s statement. And I don’t want secondary statement—

– Roberta Smith

Of course the artist can also be a writer, but then the written work would be an integral part of the exhibition’s totality, and not understood as a kind of secondary explanatory document. It could for example look like this:

tn_750_500_Chiharu-Shiota-Love-Letters-2013-Installationsansicht-Kunst-Textil-Stoff-als-Material-und-Idee-in-der-Moderne-von-Klimt-bis-heute-Kunstmuseum-Wolfsburg-Courtesy-ARNDT-Berlin-.97c7be9ebdd6b142b154e57e6c1453d8Chiharu Shiota, Love Letters, 2013, Installation, Size variabel, Courtesy ARNDT Berlin, Foto: Marek Kruszewski

A studio space is an intimate space, which puts the critic in an awkward position. You are no longer objective. It’s almost like hanging out in someone’s bedroom and thinking you can still be on their jury at trial.

– Christopher Bollen

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    That is a beautiful image, thanks. Regarding texts and art, that’s an area I have mused on for 2 years now… much to mine there. Currently, I am meditating on the capitalist, advertising copy nature of much art-writing in Canada, and how this selling is combined with 19th century aesthetics (in the writing and seeing), the privileging of certain viewpoints over others, and the usurpation of a critical stance by an adoring, uneducated stance that has been properly indoctrinated with terminology. I am about to explore how comparing this to similar developments in poetry might shed some light on the whole thing. It’s a complete boondoggle, I’d say. But, wow, look at those love letters, and their shadows! And then imagine what they’d look like without the woman standing there, or if a newborn baby were there … heck, anything that was placed there in that photograph (even emptiness) would make a powerful statement. Or any different hand gesture than that 19th century pose that she has. Photography as criticism. That’s very cool. I had thought of that, but not so clearly as in this image. Thanks for that, too!

    1. Sigrun says:

      HA! boondoggle – BOONDOGGLE????
      OED here i come

  2. C P says:

    Thank you for stating this.
    I always feel as if I’m doing my art a disservice with an artist statement. My thoughts go into so many little places during the making of a painting. And often, more than thinking, I feel my way in the process of making art. To reduce a body of work down into few paragraphs is to reduce my work into just few simple thoughts when it’s more complex than what I can understand myself.
    If I can write well to express my thoughts, I’d be a writer, not a painter.

  3. Harold Rhenisch says:

    There is also the intriguing effect of painters using words to describe paintings, as if the words were paint, or visual objects, or felt objects, or processes, or visual gestures, rather than if they were words, which meant something and led to written descriptions. That is revolutionary, I think. It does lead to weird cross-genre effects, though, as it does diminish the paintings and render the words rather meaningless, as thought pours through field effects rather than through the words. Personally, I think writing like that is decades ahead of what writers are casting up these days. BUT, apart from that intriguing departure, I agree with you and CP completely.

  4. jane tims says:

    Hi. I love the image … reminds me of the hedgerows I see in my virtual cycle through Cornwall. As for artists statements, my perspective is of someone who both paints and writes. Personally, the two don’t ‘mix’ for me but each has its own expression. When I write a poem, I include an image in my blog for the sake of my readers, but the image never truly matches the words of the poem. In the same way, I’d like my watercolours to speak for themselves. If I include a statement about what the painting means to me, the artist, it somehow limits the reception of the viewer. Thanks for an interesting post! Jane

    1. Sigrun says:

      I’m not against artists writing as long as it has literary qualities, my worries is that theory, or words that might seem as theory, takes the place of art.

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