Rewriting my artist’s statement

by     /    July 11, 2008   

I find that one of the biggest challenges I face as an artist is writing my artist’s statement. Putting your vision and artistic ideas into words is a nearly impossible task. I mean, one of the reasons I became an artist was to try to express ideas that I found difficult to express! So then having to translate that art back into words can be a thankless task.

The other problem I have with writing my statement is that I have a lot of experience writing marketing copy. You might think this would help, but believe me it doesn’t. When I write, I easily drift into “ad speak”, wielding metaphors and witticisms as if they were blunt machetes on a jungle path. (Drat, there I go again!) Keeping my language simple, true, and focused has proven to be a big challenge.

All this means I am rarely happy with my statement. It often feels wrong, or too marketingy, or worse, too artsy-fartsy. So I end up rewriting my statment again and again, trying to figure out the right ideas and words that can express what my art is all about. The positive side effect of all this is that I believe it helps me become more aware of my art, and gain a deeper understanding of what it is I am doing. Instead of just making art as a reflexive/instinctive activity, I am becoming more mindful of what my art is all about.

I just rewrote my statement this morning, and am actually, finally, starting to become a little bit satisfied with it. I think, after all these years, I am finally beginning to figure out how to describe what it is that I do. (And why I seem to have this obsession with dried leaves and twigs!) So let me present to you my latest attempt. Actually, let me show you my previous statement, followed my newer one. I’d love to hear from you what you think of these, and how the connect to my actual art.

Old Statement: I create abstract photographs from what I call the ‘artifacts of nature’ — flowers, leaves, sticks, bark, and seeds. I’m drawn to the obscure beauty that can be found within these broken and decayed pieces of nature that are normally just trod underfoot. In the beauty of their organic decay, I discover scenes that feel strange, mysterious, and yet vaguely familiar. As your mind tries to resolve these abstractions into something familiar, they reveal unexpected stories and characters

New Statement: My art is about re-igniting our awareness and appreciation of the natural world that we live in every day. The closest relationship most of us have with nature is through our backyards, gardens and neighborhood parks. We experience nature as a comfortable, safe, and above all, controlled environment. But this familiarity clouds our awareness of the wildness that actually surrounds us. What appears as a domesticated landscape is actually an uneasy truce with a thriving and chaotic ecosystem. My photographs examine the familiar icons of our backyards and gardens — the fallen leaves, broken twigs and flowers — and reacquaints us with their wild and unpredictable natures.

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Comments on 'Rewriting my artist’s statement'

Mahala  (July 11th, 2008):

Hi Daniel — first let me tell you what a delight your work is to me. I found you via a photo-blog directory or some search, as I’m just starting one of my own.

I’m finding the Artist Statement supremely difficult myself. I may just break down and write a 25 Things or 40 Things About Me which one finds on many blogs. To me this is sort of “chickening out” but I want to put something up.

As for your statement, I think you always have to go with what is right for you. It’s good to have something that resonates with you and it’s nice for me to hear how you view you work. At the same time, there are no “right” or “wrong” words because your images speak so clearly.

Warmest regards,
Mahala

Mark  (July 12th, 2008):

I can definitely relate to your difficulty here Daniel. I must have wrote, and rewrote mine 20 times now or so. Each time I think it is pretty close to what I want, until I start rereading it months later.

I actually like both the old and new, I am sure that helps you a lot eh. 😉 I like the concept you are going for in the new one, trying to connect the unfamiliar with the familiar. It has a nice correlation with the interpretation we attempt with abstracts.

Jeffrey Friedl  (July 12th, 2008):

The engineer in me (which is pretty much all that’s in me) prefers the old one because it essentially tells it like it is. I don’t mean to trod on your creativity, but the new statement essentially says nothing as far as I can tell, and certainly doesn’t offer any insight into what I see in your amazing photographs.

cynthia  (July 14th, 2008):

Dan – I’m right there with you in regards to writing the AS.

I’ve gone through different phases from screw the artist statement to oh crap, I need one, but I don’t want to sound flaky. I’m sure Alyson would say, I’m copping out and making excuses.

I do like your second critique better. It might not be welcome, but, I would change just a little bit of the wording. Discard if not welcome.

I would change “our awareness” to “an awareness” (who is our? – I know what you mean though…) But, then you’d have to change “we live in” to something like “people inhabit” – see now I’m changing the whole tone which might not be what you’re going for.

“The closest relationship we have” -> “The closest relationship people have” etc. etc.

Anyway, I’ll stop critiquing since I haven’t even written one myself and I’m pretty sure you didn’t ask for one. I do like the second one best since I really get what you’re saying.

Daniel Sroka  (July 14th, 2008):

Cynthia, thanks for the edits! I appreciate the help. Your suggestions may feel small, but it’s those subtle things which can really impact the whole tone. I have a tendency to write in the third person, and drift into generalized, pompous statements, when I need to scale down the language and keep it personal.

My goal with this new statement is to avoid generalize art=beauty type language (i.e “my photography is about uncovering the beauty in nature blah blah BLAH…”), and really get at the heart of what motivates me.

Jeffrey: yeah, I like the old statement, because it tries to explain how I make my photography. But my problem with it is it doesn’t explain the motivation. And when I try to explain to people what I do, that seems to be what they are more curious about.

beth  (July 15th, 2008):

Your work has given me inspiration to look beyond the norm in photography. I wish to explore up close the intimate scapes that are waiting. Thank you for sharing your work. It inspires.

paula  (July 20th, 2008):

I like the old statement slightly better only because you sound more alive about what you are saying. The second one seems like you are trying to speak for others or change people’s views about something instead of just doing what you do for you.
It isn’t a bad statement, just not quite as zesty.
For some reason re-ignite didn’t look right.
Having said all that, not wanting to be negative, I do like the premise of the 2nd statement. It does help me to understand your process and why you do it.

Paul Grecian  (July 24th, 2008):

Dan,

I even bought a whole book on this artist statement issue. Haven’t read it yet. I think you are right though in that the very exercise of writing an artist’s statement can increase one’s self-awareness of what they do and why. Having read the before and after of your statements I find myself liking elements of both. I feel that having read both tells me more about your work than either does alone.

John  (August 1st, 2008):

Why do you feel it necessary to have an artist’s statement at all? Yours strikes me as defining – or is that delimiting – what you you are trying to create. But most do seem, as you say, artsy-fartsy, hi-fallutin – about as valuable as corporate mission statements.

Walt Sorensen  (September 11th, 2008):

I personally can not write an artist statment, I find attempting to causes a train wreck in my head. I often have found listening to people, who are looking at my photographs, sometimes can put words to what I am expressing in my photograph. Armed with those words occationally I can get it out what my art is about.