January 7th, 2013
Artistís State-room. Thatís right. Not statement; state-room. Which in normal life is a private cabin or compartment with sleeping accommodations on a ship or train. And, in normal life, it has become the norm, the expectation that artists write what is known as ďa statementĒ about their work. What it is, what they feel about it, why they took the trouble to do it, and so on. I was not the only artist to find this troubling. It wasnít that I didnít welcome the chance to say a few words about my work, it was the huge importance that seemed to be attached to writing a good statement. As if the work wasnít enough, now we had to be clever about how we expressed its meaning in language.
In the 1980s (the Reagan years) I attended a class on how to write a good statement. I donít remember what I learned because it was right after the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA, had most of its funding taken away, possibly for the first time, though I canít be sure as I didnít follow such stories, and the woman giving the workshop was up in arms about it. So thatís what I recall most about the class; the instructorís fury at the government for taking away precious Federal dollars from arts groups. This was during a time when a performance artist named Karen Finley smeared chocolate over her naked body on stage and called it art. It was also a time when artists were desecrating religious icons in their work. Things like that. Purposely, it seemed, creating a brouhaha aimed at getting attention. And it was actions like that which encouraged defunding the NEA.
This wasnít an argument I was interested in getting involved in. Meanwhile, I wrote my ďArtist Statement,Ē which I didnít think was half bad, but then the whole gallery scene at that time completely flummoxed me, and I as usual, I felt more comfortable staying out of it, continuing on my own personal path of discovery to see where it led me.
Now it is many years later and I am still flummoxed by the gallery scene. I never see any work that resembles mine, and havenít (so far) been moved enough to try and ďsellĒ myself to a gallery owner as I donít want to have to deal with rejection. I know it sounds defeatist.
I do, however, wish to talk about the work I did back then, as it meant a lot to me at the time. It was always about more to me than just creating certain pictures (most artists probably feel the same way), it was about a philosophy, a way of being in the world. It was about a way of seeing and being that couldnít be expressed any other way.
Most artist statements I have read sound overly intellectual. I stopped reading about contemporary art a long time ago as I couldnít relate to the academic language used. It totally turned me off. I like to think that art is for everyone, and we shouldnít have to have interpreters to define and explain it for us.
I stopped painting some years ago in order to take up the writing of memoir, partly because I felt a need to tell the stories behind the work. I also happen to be a narrative painter, in that the pictures are stories in themselves. I havenít posted very many paintings yet as I found the uploading a tad difficult, and then the images had to be a certain size and I didnít always have that size handy. What I do have posted is the series of the AT&T building, now the SONY building Ėthough I understand theyíre trying to sell it now. My next blog will be the story of how those paintings came into being.
Thank you for listening ~ and welcome to my state-room, my state-of-being room.
The image posted above is a self-portrait in oil, 1980.