As I stood in front of a row of paintings at an outdoor gallery, pointing out both defects and successes in each to a cousin that had joined me, I made the comment that, "No matter what degree art majors get, they all have an unofficial BS in art critiquing." It was a joke, of course, but I've always found it amusing that art critique seems to be less about the work the critic is talking about and more about how much the critic is able to justify choices that the artist made. I could tell you how a circle painted onto a canvas is actually a brilliant statement about the overstimulation of the modern world, and pretend to be entirely convinced of it. Artists are very good at doing this with their own art as well, defending flaws as stylistic choices, if they have to, and convincing others that their artwork is worth supporting. It's a good skill to have, since we are constantly having to give our opinions and defend our choices, and we can't all be as openly critical of things we don't like as the teacher I once had who would take a short look at something and say, "That's crap. Start over."
This skill of exaggerating and romanticizing process and product is something artists also use when writing their artist statement. For those who aren't familiar with this term, an artist's statement is a self-imposed personal rulebook, the raison detre of the artist, outlining their goals, dreams, processes, philosophy, and/or lots of fancy words. In college, I remember doing an assignment early on where my classmates and I had to write our own and critique other's artist statements. A lot of them sounded a little like the writers had gone through the dictionary and tried to write, "I just like painting trees," in a way that made them sound like a very grown-up and serious artist. I'm not trying to point fingers. Mine was no better.
So are artist statements useless things meant to pander to an artist's ego? Absolutely not! I think the naivety of many of these statements came from the fact that we were, in fact, naive about our art at that point in our lives. We didn't all know what it was that drove us to create, so how could we articulate it? Once we grew into our work, I think it became easier to understand and explain it to others. At that point, the statement became a tool to quickly convey our purpose for making art in a way that clarified our individual artistic choices. It turned from a clumsy add-on to a helpful friend in our gallery spaces.
It has been a while since I wrote a proper artist statement, so as I created this website I kept wondering what I would say, in short, if asked about my philosophies as a graphic designer. I wanted to be concise, but I also wanted to encompass as many of my artistic interests as possible, not just design, because my interests often overlap and meld. My ultimate solution is the following:
To me, graphic design is a bit like storytelling — taking a message and wrapping it into a sensible but enticing package to communicate an idea to an audience. Being able to express that idea in a way that is appropriate to the individual project is important to me, so I will use photography, illustration, or even hand craft something to convey the message in a unique and fitting way.
I could say much more, but I think this does a good job of succinctly explaining the basis of my work, at least at the present time; artist statements are as alive and changing as the artists who write them, after all. My goal is to show that I am more than just a designer, that I like to tell stories and communicate clearly in every type of art that I do, and that attention to the practical goals of a project is just as important to me as "making it pretty." I know enough about myself and my art not to fill this with fluff now. But if I hadn't learned how to write the fluff, I never would have appreciated the true value of a well-written statement.
What does my statement convey to you? Does it succeed in giving you the message I'm trying to convey? If you had to write your own personal statement (you don't have to be an artist to do this), what would it be?
It's awfully flowery and long, but if you click "read more" below you can read the first statement that I wrote for the class I mentioned above.
For me, art has always been about telling a story. At the beginning of my art career, I was inspired by the children’s books that I read, the ones with beautiful pages of epic art that I could study for hours without being the least bit bored. These books had art that caused me to love reading, and stories that inspired me to make art. My brain always seemed to be brimming with new stories, waiting to get out, but I was no master at writing. I felt like the only way I could share my brainchildren was through drawings. I was never satisfied, though. My people had no anatomy, my landscapes were flat, and my costumes were cliché. I not only wanted to get better, I had to get better. Improvement was not an option; it was a necessity.