Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

About | Summary | Events | Media | Backers | Contact/Sign Up | Donate

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Getting it all down in 150 words

Few prospects are as daunting for an artist—or yield as predictably sub-mediocre results—as writing an artist statement. At one of the #class sessions I attended last month, writer Sarah Schmerler co-crafted a working artist statement for a quasi-volunteer in real-time.

It was an interesting way to lay bare some of the reasons why it can be so difficult, and although there are no easy answers, understanding the obstacles makes them easier to overcome.

Most people reading this blog are aware of my deep appreciation for excellent writing and my consequent disdain for the majority of artist statements, issue of authors who have never studied writing with anywhere near the seriousness of their chosen métiers—if at all.

To be fair though, fixing an artist statement is not just about improving one’s general writing skills. The form is difficult because one must translate into words ideas and emotions that are inherently non-verbal. Writers employ language and artists visuals.

An artist statement must cover a lot of ground. It needs to describe the physical nature of the work, including the size, scale and materials—the what and how. Then it must tackle the more difficult question of why, while placing their specific work in the broader arc of art and civilization.

Every genre has its conventions and an artist statement should really be 150 words or less—far fewer than I have already devoted to this post (we’re currently at the 225 mark). So it is easy to understand why artists are so vexed at the prospect of baring their souls in such a way, and why they understandably fail more often than not.

For my part, I have traditionally ignored the hard word count and simply tried to be relatively concise. Before Sarah and Jen’s session, my statement weighed in around 600 words—four times the recommended length. Clearly I had work to do.

With the goal of creating a more perfect—or at least acceptable—artist statement, I challenged myself to craft something better than before, while being brief enough to honor the 150 word convention. Here’s what I came up with; an ever evolving essay but ready to share.

Comments are always welcome.
My drawings, prints, and scratch boards probe the membrane between Earth and sky, terrestrial life and the vast beyond. Tree canopies, silhouetted treelines, and occasional human interferences such as telephone poles act simultaneously as intermediaries and embodiments of the aspiration toward that infinite mystery.

Ranging in scale from tiny to gigantic, and often designed to be presented high on the wall or on the ceiling, they recall childhood afternoons on the grass, gazing upward through a net of foliage, or a glance toward the darkening horizon when it is time to run home for supper.

Our shared affinity with trees predates history, reaching back to primate ancestors who lived among them. Even still, forests and reforestation hold the key to our species’ survival. I can feel that synergy when I work and I’m glad to be part of an endless chain of precedent that will always be contemporary and relevant.

No comments: