Rant 66: Words Fail

Rant 66: Words Fail Anne Charnock, Uncertainty Series No.11, 2009

How do you describe your work? Artist Rosemary Hogarth delves into the murky world of artists' statements and finds it hard to grasp the meaning behind the hyperbole. Could we do better? And if so, how?

"My work explores identity through a subtle combination of linear and non-linear modes of production."
Or maybe it "attempts to instil in the viewer a sense of uncertainty through a transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar, a blurring of the boundaries between the real and the imagined." 

Perhaps it even "examines the process of art making ‘as such’, challenging and redefining what it means to make art in our present historical moment." 

Basically, it investigates the complex relationship between A and B in order to determine the nature of C and D.

The pressure to give an accurate account of what you do while at the same time remaining vague so as to not limit interpretation, not to mention avoiding dreaded art-speak statements such as those above, means that writing a statement is something of an ordeal for most artists. 

What often results is a formulaic text filled with half-truths at best and pretentious lies at worst.

When Matisse wrote Notes of a Painter in 1908 [1], his words reflected the investigative nature of his work. Conversational and honest, there is no sense of a desperate artist eager to prove the depth of his knowledge

The contemporary statement, brought into being by bureaucrats with no time to analyse images, has forced nervous artists into collaging bits of text culled from other people’s statements found online

Of course, describing your practice in a logical manner shouldn’t be understood in wholly negative terms. It can function as a way to challenge ideas and prevent complacency, as well as provide an opportunity to adopt the position of the viewer and pre-empt questions. 

However, everyone knows that words can never completely capture what occurs in the creative process, that there is more than one stream of thought and never just one desired effect. 

Yet the cycle of hollow rhetoric in artists' statements continues. 

[1] Matisse, Henri ([1908] 2002), ‘Notes of a Painter’ in Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul (eds.) 'Art in Theory, 1900 - 2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas'. Blackwell Publishing: Madden, Oxford, Victoria: pp. 69 - 76

Contributed by Rosemary Hogarth

View Rosemary Hogarth's profile >

The views expressed in The Rant are those of Rosemary Hogarth and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions


Next Rant