I found myself recently having to work on an artist's statement for the first time in a while. Not something I'm unfamiliar with, but due to some varying reasons, it became far more of a chore than it has been in a while. Part of this had to do with the fact it was in applying for a fellowship that I'd really like to get. The other issue was that the length of this particular statement was asked to be one page, not the usual few sentences, no more than a paragraph.
Anyone who has had to write one of these statements in the past knows that, at least once, an artist's statement can be a tedious task. Even though you as the creator of the work know exactly what your work is about and why you have felt compelled to create it, putting it into words can be nerve wracking. This is the beauty of the normal, short statement. With a restricted amount of words to work with, it is normally easy to not overcomplicate the work about which is being written. In four to five sentences, a short paragraph, it is nearly impossible to tell the viewer too much. In a short and concise statement you will give just enough information to the viewer so that they have a starting point of viewing, not the entire history of the work and where you as the maker wanted to end up. This, however, becomes a much harder task as the length of the statement is increased.
One page, although limited, allows for a lot more to be said, and often, too much. My goal, as in most statements I've written in the past, is to just provide a simple introduction to the work I'm representing. Any hint to thoughts I might have about what I might be trying to say with the work are just that, hints. The problem with the longer form of a statement is that many, myself included, can unwittingly start to lead the viewer more than they want to.
This is where I started to have an issue. In my first few attempts at putting my thoughts into the form of a statement I was struggling to get close to the required length by using the normal information that I would usually include. Typing, deleting, typing, deleting; I found myself struggling more than I had since the first time I was ever asked to write a statement.
After a few hours a day, over multiple days, with several breaks to keep my sanity, I was starting to question how much I really wanted this fellowship in the first place. Luckily for me, though, I come from a long line of stubborn people. For once this was a positive attribute that allowed me to break through the mental block on my path to completion.
I recalled a conversation I had had with a friend not too long back. For some reason we had been discussing the "joys" of artist's statements. This particular friend made a good point that I had never specifically thought about before, but made a lot of sense as I began to recall our talk. "Process" was the key word that came up over and over. This was the focus that needed to be made to make the statement more effective.
Instead of focusing on ideas and concepts represented in ones work, sometimes emphasizing the process that one goes through in the production of the work is far more effective. One major plus, personally, was that this made it far more difficult to accidentally direct the viewer into an idea that is not their own. I was now able to expound on things that would give me the length of statement I needed without handing everything to the viewer on a plate.
This is not to say that what I ended up writing was a masterpiece. This particular statement was far from the normal description one would find on the wall at a gallery. I ended up describing a typical day of shooting for the work that was being viewed. There were details that gave hints into what might be going through my head, actions that may inform the viewer to some specifics, but in the end nothing to give away the work. The statement allowed the viewer to draw their own conclusions, yet also put them in my shoes.
The statement I ended up with was definitely off-beat as statements normally go. Not everyone who has read it, and knows my work, was a fan, but that's okay. What was important was that the required goals were met, and more importantly, my intent to not lead the viewer was achieved in the best way I could come up with.
It remains to be seen if this was good enough to separate me from other people shooting for the fellowship. I'll definitely make it known if I score this one! However, when it comes to writing about one's work, I found a new way to look at things that I had never considered exploring in the past and I definitely advise others to look at: PROCESS.
On a side note: Many thanks to Emily, Tom, Ron, and Matt for all giving me your opinions in the process of writing this statement. I'm glad I have some friends who will not hold back constructive criticism. You guys are the best.