Art statements, Pitchfork, and fancypants analysis Matt 09 Mar 2006

67 comments Latest by Ditch pitch

“Conciousness - Do you have an idea of what you are trying to say with your photography, and in your statement, do you describe how the work you submitted addresses that?” That’s one of the generally desirable qualities offered by Eliot Shephard for those considering entry into a photo competition.

One of the commenters then points to Joerg Colberg’s view on art statements:

It’s interesting (and a bit sad) that when you look at what is commonly called fine-art photography it always comes with a statement, which typically contains some sort of explanation or motivation for the photography. You never get to see something like “I just wanted to take some beautiful photos” or “I liked the way those rubble piles looked, so I took a bunch of photos.” I wonder why. I have no way of actually proving this, but I am convinced that many photographers do not have all that stuff from their statements in their heads and then go out to shoot the photography…I personally find it perfectly understandable and acceptable if somebody does not want to write a statement. But that’s not how the art world works.

The thread continues and Eliot offers this in response:

As a photographer and a fan of photography, I’m all about serendipity, from-lifeness, and not getting weighted down by a bunch of conceptual bullshit when you’re trying to make things. But I also believe in thinking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it — because I think it will make you better.

It’s an interesting discussion. The thriving art scene here in NYC has exposed me to a lot more art shows than I ever experienced before in my life. And I’ve gotta say, the art statements that I read generally make me a bit nauseous. Sure, they can sometimes be helpful. But all too often they have that grad-student-thesis-feel, full of impressive-sounding words and pretentious ideas but somehow there’s no there there.

Check out this excerpt from a recent NYC show at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery:

These twelve flat screen videos are a nickelodeon of fading radiation, reminding us that no matter how saturated the hunger of the twentyaughts is, it is still a nineteenth-century shell of architecture — and of power — that it shines upon.

Just kill yourself if you ever use the words “nickelodeon of fading radiation” and “twentyaughts” in the same sentence.

Or how about this:

The exhibition offers three investigations of the ephemeral, each uniquely touching on aspects of temporality, femininity and memory. This diverse collection of conceptual and experimental works poses philosophical questions on the transience of being from three different perspectives.

Instead of making me curious about the art, this sort of overintellectualization makes me want to run away.

On a slight tangent, I have a similar problem with the record reviews of Pitchfork. Read this sentence from that site’s review of The Comas’ Conductor:

“I don’t posit that the increasing permeability of the membrane between indie and mainstream is an insidious development; instead, it should be acknowledged in the interest of foiling nonsensical Puritanism.”

“Increasing permeability of the membrane”? Aigh.

Or check out the inflated self-importance of this Pitchfork critic in his review of Destroyer’s Rubies:

Those of you who keep abreast of online rumor-mongering might be surprised to find that the rating at the top of this page is a few points shy of a 10.0. No sooner had Destroyer’s Rubies leaked to internet file-trading services than rumors (credited, as these things always are, to “reliable sources”) began to spread that the album was to receive a perfect score from this publication. It wasn’t until I actually sat down and gave Destroyer’s Rubies a few good listens that the aptness of such a rumor really hit me: The album is structurally complex, thematically dense, and labyrinthine in its self-referentiality. Dan Bejar’s vocals are, like many of his indie contemporaries, yelpy and dramatic, and many of his lyrics seem preordained to serve as mp3 blog headers. In other words, the qualities that once made Destroyer albums so “difficult” make Destroyer’s Rubies a perfect record for this critical moment.

A review that leads with a summary of rumors about what people predicted the review would be…now that’s meta!

Whether the words come from the artist or a critic, this sort of fancypants, look-at-me analysis has nothing to do with good art or good rock ‘n roll. Sometimes it’s best to not analyze the unanalyzable. Sometimes it’s better to let the art do the talking. Things that are primal don’t need to be deconstructed, just felt.

It reminds me of a quote I once read on a bathroom wall: “Academics take simple ideas and make them complicated. Artists take complicated ideas and make them simple.” If you can come up with a truly elucidating explanation of art, then, by all means, go for it. Otherwise, shut up. Actually, that’s pretty true for any writing. If you’re not making things clearer, stop typing.

67 comments so far (Jump to latest)

cuckoo 09 Mar 06

I read somewhere (sorry, I can’t remember the source, prob. somewhere on kottke.org) that art critics may serve the purpose of providing “empirical” data by which to value art (i.e., for sale). So all this “intellectualization” can be viewed as concrete attempts (metadata?) to put a price on that ephemeral quality we call “beauty”.

Dano 09 Mar 06

I find it frustrating that there are a significant number of people that reject the simple concept of art without meaning above aesthetic quality.

I once got into a very, very long argument about that and I ultimately came to a realization that even if an artist tried to create art without meaning, then people would assign meaning to it in order to better justify it to themselves as art.

Art is doomed to wankery.

Mark 09 Mar 06

Not to be pick out a minor point in an excellent post, but going meta in the review of Destroyer’s Rubies is entirely appropriate in that Dan Bejar himself is almost painfully meta in his song writing, going so far as to comment on how he thinks a song is going even while he is still singing the song (see Looter’s Follies). In this case I think the reviewer was using references to the internet rumors to comment on Destroyer’s own style.

nate 09 Mar 06

You could pretty much sum up the entire Pitchfork review for someone by swinging a pendulum in front of their face and repeating “I’m smarter than you” until they start to believe it.

art school confidental 09 Mar 06

I personally avoid reading artist statements at all costs, mostly due to being a recovering art student. If one is a “professional artist” one does need to have a rap about one’s work, albeit it would be great if that rap was not tedious, onerous and/or pointless.

Analyzing and understanding a body of one’s own work can be rewarding and even fun (?), but in terms of the viewer it doesn’t really matter because no matter how hard you’re trying to ‘remind us that no matter how saturated the hunger of the twentyaughts…’, each viewer brings their own stuff to the piece and has their own relation to it. In my mind, that’s the real beauty of it all…

ML 09 Mar 06

…recovering art student…

Heh, I bet a lot of great artists would fail out of art school.

each viewer brings their own stuff to the piece and has their own relation to it.

Good point. I remember seeing an interviewer ask Eddie Vedder about his lyrics to a song once. Vedder refused to discuss them because he thought if he gave an explanation it might ruin the meaning of the song to fans who had given those lyrics a different interpretation.

dmr 09 Mar 06

How post-modern; ha! The artspeak is getting to be trite and trying much too hard to be thoughtful. It’s a reflection of high art attitudes and probably why so many of us under 40 are turning to street art for the relevant and real art. This is why we started an art product collective; just because we’re so sick of the high art attitudes. I’d rather sell $40 wallets with a design on it than hang a painting in a gallery for some artnerds to see. Art in galleries isn’t very relevant for most folks. Art products are (I guess a painting could be considered an art product, but I’m running with the Warhol factory concept and merging modern production with the artist’s image.) It’s accessible and on a level people can relate to. The affordable price sure makes it accessible if nothing else.

I go thru a vicious art cycle of making and overthinking. Considering how many other people there are right now making stuff; paintings, prints, toys, tshirts, sneakers, wheatpastes, stickers… it’s overwhelming and makes me feel insignificant, redundant and empty. Where does anyone fit in? At the same time you can’t deny a prolific artist; sometimes you just have to make things and block out any ill-thoughts about making something revolutionary. Stick with making relevant stuff. Creating a large body of work (thousands of pieces) is when you start to get a sense of the power of a single artist; the relevance of 500 pieces instead of one.

There’s a lot to be said for just making. It’s positive and constructive. There’s also value in writing thoughtful text about art; it just shouldn’t be so serious.

sxates 09 Mar 06

You can thank the art schools for this. I’m not sure who started it, but the schools definitely push the self-righteous aspect of making art. The ‘art for art’s sake’ of dadaism is taught in art history, but nobody seems to believe it. You certainly don’t see evidence of it in other classes. I found half of my BFA to be ‘how to use the tools to create art’ and the other half to be ‘how to sell it.’

When you have to stand up in front of a room full of people and present a piece, and explain why you made what you did, rarely does “I like the colors” cut it. You’re expected to have a better justification than that, and your grade depends, on large or small part, on how well you can sell it. If you can belt out a bunch of nonsense that people can barely follow or understand, it makes you sound like you know what you’re doing, and you’re less likely to be called down for making crap. Same sort of thing in the professional art world—if you can justify it you can sell it, and buyers just love to feel like they’re putting money into something really sophisticated and intellectual.

But this is how things have been forever pretty much, with the exception of dada which was it’s own kind of self-righteousness. They can call it a rebellion if they want, but I’m sorry, anybody who pulls a bottle washer out of a kitchen and demands thousands of dollars for it as art has a similar condition :)

The world of commercial art is in a way a more honest art. It’s art/design for money’s sake, and few people will argue otherwise. End of the day, that’s what 95% of art is, at least we can admit it :)

Anonymous Coward 09 Mar 06

I too was an art student in college and I couldn’t/can’t stand the pretention of most young artists. I know plenty of artists who have developed a style and a language that is unique and personal and it isn’t portrayed as self-important bullshit.

I think that’s what the problem is. An intellectual discussion of an artists’ work (fine art or music) is valuable. Art criticism is a strange pursuit. There should be discussion of technical elements of the work, and also the mystical elements. But when the discussion moves to the critic placing the meaning or inferring something (without saying that that is just their inference) it becomes very much like self-promotion and, like nate discussed above, trying to prove that the critic is smarter than the reader. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the art. Tell me about it and then get out of the way.

Kendall 09 Mar 06

I too was an art student in college and I couldn’t/can’t stand the pretention of most young artists. I know plenty of artists who have developed a style and a language that is unique and personal and it isn’t portrayed as self-important bullshit.

I think that’s what the problem is. An intellectual discussion of an artists’ work (fine art or music) is valuable. Art criticism is a strange pursuit. There should be discussion of technical elements of the work, and also the mystical elements. But when the discussion moves to the critic placing the meaning or inferring something (without saying that that is just their inference) it becomes very much like self-promotion and, like nate discussed above, trying to prove that the critic is smarter than the reader. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the art. Tell me about it and then get out of the way.

Gary R Boodhoo 09 Mar 06

Art == Commerce. When has this ever not been the case? It’s hardly a tragedy. The idea of “art for art’s sake” (which I loathe) is a modern one, although I’d argue it predates Dada by 40-50 years, having roots in Impressionism & the Pre-Raphaelite school.

Kevin Klein 09 Mar 06

I thought David Cross’s parody of Pitchfork’s prententious was spot on:

http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/features/artistlists/c/cross_david-05/

Give Pitchfork credit (I guess) for the self-deprecation.

Raskob 09 Mar 06

Have you ever browsed the messageboard I Love Music? It’s like Pitchfork x 5000 and extended to Brittney Spears.

Jared White 09 Mar 06

This reminds me of that really funny Dilbert cartoon:

Rat in front of canvas with French bonnet on:
“I use Art as a way of finding myself.”

Bob the Dinosaur:
“You’re over there, in front of a bad painting!”
walks away saying:
“…and I did it without using any art!”

Rimantas 09 Mar 06

Picasso:
“When critics gather, they discuss content, form, composition, but when painters gather, they discuss where to buy the cheapest terpentine.”

ian 09 Mar 06

Do you have an idea of what you are trying to say with your blog post? Because as much as I agree that pitchfork critics and 90% of those who would write about art are obnoxiously pretentious, these people aren’t writing technical manuals.

As for your final statement, “Actually, that’s pretty true for any writing. If you’re not making things clearer, stop typing.”…

Well, that’s just ridiculous. Would you then discount great works of literature because they were ‘unclear’?

The only clear purpose of this post is to let svn readers know that you dislike a majority of art and music criticism, which seems out of place. Maybe you can rewrite it so that it better fits the running svn simplicity theme.

RS 09 Mar 06

Well, that’s just ridiculous. Would you then discount great works of literature because they were ‘unclear’?

Of course literature doesn’t need to be ‘clear’ or anything else. It’s art.

It’s a problem when art schools ask photographers, print makers, and so forth, to produce literature to justify their art. That’s like telling a painter she has to write a song to justify her latest work.

Adam James 09 Mar 06

Beauty for beauty’s sake is fine.. but there just isn’t much to it. It’s not to say it’s worthless but.. there’s other people who try to communicate thru the medium they choose. I do think there is too much pretention at times but don’t knock the legit people.

Maybe an artist statement is a cheater’s guide for those people who can’t “figure it out”.

ML 09 Mar 06

The only clear purpose of this post is to let svn readers know that you dislike a majority of art and music criticism, which seems out of place. Maybe you can rewrite it so that it better fits the running svn simplicity theme.

Actually, I think it already does relate to simplicity (not to mention that this is also a weblog about, among other things, experiences, pop culture, and more). So not really out of place.

ian 09 Mar 06

I agree that people who write technical manuals should be clear. I don’t think they’re the only ones though.

Neither do I, I was responding to your statement: Actually, that’s pretty true for any writing. If you’re not making things clearer, stop typing.

Actually, I think it already does relate to simplicity (not to mention that this is also a weblog about, among other things, experiences, pop culture, and more). So not really out of place.

Understood. My point was that your argument for clarity was itself unclear. The majority of your post was a simple compilation of quotes from easy targets followed by pat and derisive statements regarding their writing style.

If your point was specifically aimed at art and music critics (and the ‘pretty true for any writing’ section seems to suggest that you aren’t), then it would benefit by being bolstered with a short explanation of what it is that you find wrong with each quote perhaps followed by what you feel would be a satisfactory rewrite. As it is, you’ve written a rambling diatribe in simple language against rambling criticisms in artificial or overblown language. Again, not what I feel you meant to do.

I suppose the moral of the story is: ‘By the same blog post you use to judge others, so shall you be blogged’. Or, ‘Let he who is without sin blog first.’ Or something. And for the record (and just so that I am clear), I agree with what I think you are trying to say.

ML 09 Mar 06

…it would benefit by being bolstered with a short explanation of what it is that you find wrong with each quote perhaps followed by what you feel would be a satisfactory rewrite.

What I feel is wrong with each quote is, as I mentioned in the original post:

“…the grad-student-thesis-feel, full of impressive-sounding words and pretentious ideas but somehow there’s no there there.”

I could try to rewrite those passages but my gut’s telling me that, once you boil them down, there’s not really any worthwhile content there. The advice I would offer is to use simpler language and, more importantly, actually have something to say. If you don’t, just say nothing. I assumed that was kinda obvious.

Pete Baker 09 Mar 06

This is one of the better summaries I’ve seen of this subject. I’m attempting to move into photography more seriously, and I frequently run into this issue of not having a prepared, wordy, conceptual explanation of the work that would obviously be an afterthought. The “gatekeepers” at galleries, museums, etc, put *huge* emphasis the concept, because that is what they will be selling the show on, unless the artist is significant enough to be sold on name alone.

Most of the really useful statements I’ve read were not written by the artist, but by someone who viewed the artwork and wrote about what feelings it invoked for them, which is what anyone would do anyways after reading such a cryptic, pretentious statement as “… a nickelodeon of fading radiation.”

RyanA 09 Mar 06

The whole eNormicom thing is very much akin to the whole Arty Farty explanations thing…

Never thought (stereotypical) Arteeeeeists and (stereotypical) Corporate Execs would have so much in common!

August 09 Mar 06

I’ll let Jeanette Winterson speak for me:

Art cannot be tamed, although our responses to it can be, and in relation to The Canon, our responses are conditioned from the moment we start school. The freshness which the everyday regular man or woman pride themselves upon; the untaught ‘I know what I like’ approach, now encouraged by the media, is neither fresh nor untaught. It is the half-baked sterility of the classroom washed down with liberal doses of popular culture.

[…]

The solid presence of art demands from us significant effort, an effort anathema to popular culture. Effort of time, effort of money, effort of study, effort of humility, effort of imagination have each been packed by the artist into the art. Is it so unreasonable to expect a percentage of that from us in return? I worry that to ask for effort is to imply élitism, and that the charge against art, that it is élitist, is too often the accuser’s defence against his or her own bafflement. It is quite close to the remark ‘Why can’t they all speak English?’ (“Art Objects” 15-16)

Adam 09 Mar 06

Completely agree!

Art is supposed to communicate from the art itself - not from a caption next to it.

Did that make sense?

Andre 09 Mar 06

Alot of people miss out on art as an experience to be enjoyed.

I think it comes down to selfishness, and so many artists feel the need to make their work so self important, where as my favorite artists (tim hawkinson, dan graham, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer) develop an experience, which makes for much more interesting and enjoyable work.

Josh 09 Mar 06

Well, those examples you cite are pretty bad, sure. But, that certainly doesn’t mean that critics should “shut up” and that “fancypants” analysis is worthless. That sounds awfully anti-intellectual to me. Don’t let some bad criticism push you into thinking that all criticism is stupid or that art is “primal” and speaks for itself. It’s not and it doesn’t. In fact, lots of art is incredibly complicated, and, especially as it gets older, it gets harder and harder to hear it speaking.

I’m a graduate student in literature,* and I teach a lot of undergraduates how to read fiction and poetry. You’d be surprised how complicated a poem or a painting can be. We can spend an hour on 14 lines of poetry, and it’s not “fancypants,” it’s just trying to figure out how to enjoy and appreciate an incredibly complicated object. Thinking is what you do when you encounter a complicated thing. T. S. Eliot once wrote that criticism is as natural as breathing—what you do when you see a work of art is “criticism”; you think about it, respond to it, try to understand it, and so on.

Really, I think you’re underestimating the complexity and difficulty of art. Artists don’t make anything simple. A great book poses the most difficult questions and problems imaginable. And art isn’t a primal activity at all; it’s a learned one. There’s nothing “natural” about a photograph or a poem. Art is weird, not natural; it’s culture, not nature.

I understand where you’re coming from, I think: the SvN simplicity angle. And definitely the artist’s statements you quote are deliberately verbose and complicated. That doesn’t mean, though, that there shouldn’t be artist’s statements, museum plaques, or critical discussions. Bad criticism doesn’t mean that criticism is bad.

* “that grad-student-thesis-feel, full of impressive-sounding words and pretentious ideas but somehow there’s no there there”: That might be true of these statements, but it’s certainly not true of what the graduate students I know write and teach.

August 09 Mar 06

^5 Josh

Tim Almond 10 Mar 06

cuckoo,

Top 10 critics lists of movies, music charts and sometimes the groups you are in are also about this. About giving legitimacy to your choices, about your choices being OK.

If Doris Day movies, The Grateful Dead or Jackson Pollock make you feel more human, then embrace them. Everything is OK.

steve 10 Mar 06

Couldn’t agree more. But what I hate even more is being asked to explain an image to someone who professes “not to get it”.
I can’t explain.
I know what i wanted to create. I know what i had in mind but part of the joy of any artform is knowing that interpretation is subjective.

Keane 10 Mar 06

“That doesn’t mean, though, that there shouldn’t be artist’s statements, museum plaques, or critical discussions.”

Don’t worry, museum plaques are safe. Matt does think (or at least used to think) there should be museum plaques for those cases where the art *can’t* speak for itself:

http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/titles_and_the_typical_museum_experience.php

“I don’t like that you see and experience a piece of art before you learn its title.”

Keane 10 Mar 06

p.s. What’s wrong with “Increasing permeability of the membrane”? I think it’s a clear, succinct metaphor for the point the writer is trying to express. But then my education was in biology, so perhaps I’m just comfortable with that particular vocabulary.

p.p.s. I agree, for the most part, with ian’s criticism of your article. I took me a long time to work out what your point actually was, though I think this is partly because the article (with its blockquote/commentary/links/blockquote style) is quite busy.

I am interested in knowing what, in your opinion, makes a good music/art review. I agree that the quoted reviews (more so the art reviews, I think that Pitchfork has a defined style, and they don’t care if they alienate people with it) are over the top, but I wonder where the happy medium is between that and “I like this. It’s, er, colourful.”

Mottram 10 Mar 06

Well said, Josh.

I write about visual art for a living, and used to write about music for a living, so obviously disagree violently with the idea that art should be left to speak for itself ;-)

That said, I have a huge collection of these statements, press releases for shows, etc., and for a long time, I’ve wanted to curate a show of work commissioned by handing an artist a random artist’s statement - aside from making a little joke about the validity of all the post-hoc justification that goes on, I think such a show would work well, at least in the comparison of the work made from statements with the work that prompted the statement originally.

(Less usefully, I’ve also wanted to curate a a show that simply presented statements from other shows, accompanied, of course, by an especially pretentious, verbose and obscure meta-statement about the statements. Oh yes.)

Josh 10 Mar 06

I’ll just add to what I said above that I agree with one of the basic ideas of the post: that beauty (“I think these rubble piles look beautiful”) is justification enough for art. If a picture or a composition or a poem is beautiful, then there you are. In my experience as a teacher, getting students to simply admit that a scene in a novel is beautiful, and to accept that as “the point,” is surprisingly hard.

At the same time, as everyone knows, forms of beauty change over time. In the early days of photography people didn’t think that photographs could be beautiful. Conversely, a lot of my students find it hard to understand why something written 500 years ago is beautiful, or why or how something not conventionally beautiful—like a comedic novel—could be beautiful. Part of what you get from new art and from art criticism is a broader sense of what can be pleasurable, exciting, intriguing, and aesthetically meaningful. These artist statements cited in the post certainly don’t achieve that, but, again, that doesn’t mean that the idea of an artist’s statement is silly or that criticism is silly. Sometimes finding the beauty in something, like a Schoenberg piano composition or a Miro painting, can be complicated and can require some seriously complex thinking and study.

Anyhow… this is just to say that I understand the impulse behind this post, if it was an impulse, and agree with it in some ways. Perhaps my post above was a little peeved because of the hasty and overgeneralizing qualities of the original article…

ian 10 Mar 06

haha. you trollhatted me?

did you feel was my post off-topic, blatantly inflammatory, vapid or otherwise inappropriate?

or perhaps you were feeling a little insecure that i interrupted your eye-speck-removal session and suggested that you check your own reflection?

i don’t mind wearing it, but considering the circumstance i feel reflectes poorly on of the state of svn. and i say that as a fan.

ian 10 Mar 06

sorry, i had a late night - wilco played. great show, btw.

that next to last sentence should read:”…i feel it reflects poorly…”

Matt 10 Mar 06

Man, this is rich. 37signals doesn’t like pretention!

Ian hit this on the head—this isn’t an actual critique, but rather a cheap shot against a few examples of bad writing. Of course, many artist statements are written poorly and pretentiously—does that invalidate the whole lot?

If you think about the topic at hand, translating a visual language into a written one, it’s not an easy task. But it just polarizes the field—the bad is really bad and the good is truely enlightening.

Anyone reading this post who agrees that artisit statments as a whole are pretentious should read the articles at the end of Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places.” His thoughts on his own work are approachable, give you an insight into his process, and make you re-think the notion that his work is /just/ a bunch of pretty-decaying things (Elliot mentioned this in his post, I believe).

Anyway, I think art could be served by more people /trying/ to write good artist statements, rather than giving up for fear of falling to ‘pretention.’

SvN: Dudes, take the troll hat off Ian. This post is more inflammatory than anything he wrote.

Karsten 10 Mar 06

I only know Project Pitchfork. This is realy good music.

Electronic music from germany ;)

WmD 10 Mar 06

Did you take a picture of the bathroom grafiti: “Academics take simple ideas and make them complicated. Artists take complicated ideas and make them simple?”

That would just be beautiful.

RJB 10 Mar 06

What if our complete understanding of Ansel Adams was that he took “pretty pictures”? Or that Robert Frank “liked Americans”?

If one were to write on the array of human emotions would you expect them to limit their vocabulary to, happy and sad?

In what profession or business are these “pretentious” words permited without asumming some perceived ulterior motive?

Is it harmful to try and figure out what it is about things you find interesting? THX1388?

ML 10 Mar 06

Of course, many artist statements are written poorly and pretentiously—does that invalidate the whole lot?

No, I assume that some artist statements are helpful and unpretentious. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to come across those ones.

And clearly not *all* art criticism is bad. I do think “fancypants, look-at-me analysis” is bad though. Clear, helpful, informative analysis is good. That’s the challenge I guess.

And fwiw, I didn’t put the troll hat on ya Ian so it’s nothing personal. And anyone can still read a post that’s been trolled and decide for themselves. I hope you had a blast at the Wilco show.

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

What I don’t understand is why people outside of the art world care in anyway what so ever if someone was justifying their work with a statement or not.

If you don’t get it, it’s not because you are an idiot - do you feel like an idiot when you don’t understand quantum physics? No!

When someone is offended by intellectual art, it just seems to be a result of their insecurities, and not actually because they take issue with the justifications themselves.

Not all art is accessible, intellectually (or technically), to everyone, just like EVERY OTHER FIELD. Too assume that art SHOULD be accessible to everyone is just naive.

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

And also - I hate when artists tell you how you should be effected by a piece - and a lot of them do that.

But at the same time, a great piece work exists on many levels, and a statement or other literature about a work can also illuminate different facets of the project that make in infinity more interesting, but are not first or second or third reads.

Martin Parr is an excellent example of someone who creates aesthetic work, but at the same time is very poignant commentary on British and Worldwide cultures and obsessions, as well as his own - but not everyone would immediately absorb the purpose and intent of his various bodies of work.

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

excuse my typos.

and IAN #1!!!!11!

ML 10 Mar 06

OK, I think we can agree on this:
Statements that illuminate = good!
Statements that are merely self-important and don’t illuminate = bad!

ian 10 Mar 06

i think we can also agree that martin parr makes pretty pictures with pretty colors.

and thanks for the shout-out, ross. wink-and-a-gun.

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

Statements that are merely self-important and don’t illuminate are very easy to ignore and have no bearing on my happiness in general nor my interpretation of the work, but maybe on my opinion of the artist.

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

And to that i say

Who cares?

Ross Evertson 10 Mar 06

OK, I think we can agree on this:
Blog posts that illuminate = good!
Blog posts that are merely self-important and don’t illuminate = bad!

Joerg Colberg 10 Mar 06

Boy, that’s quite the discussion, and all that (partly) from an entry on my blog.

It’s interesting, though, how so many people started to read things into what I wrote. Some people (the art-school crowd) immediately got offended - I guess they have been told so many times that a lot of art discussion are bullshit artistry (not my opinion necessarily) that that’s a sore spot. What they didn’t/don’t realize is that by circling their wagons and by accusing others of misunderstanding art etc. they come across as excatly the kind of out-of-touch art theoreticians that they don’t want to be. Ironic, innit.

It’s also interesting that lots of people started to talk about critics. My post actually didn’t talk about critic. Even though I have my own thoughts about art critics I was talking about statements written by photographers. Shame, though, that that got drowned a little.

What I was really interested in is what somebody addressed here, namely why if you take photos and you hand them in they won’t be accepted unless you start to write some high-brow stuff about it. Eliot was talking about “insights” that you could give and all that stuff, and even though he is trying to make it sound as if statements really are very useful - they can be - in many cases, that’s just a smoke screen for wanting to read some high-brow statement. You just can’t take photos any longer and say “I just loved the way those rubble piles looked.” (And it turns out this is a real example, I’m referring to a friend of mine…)

ian 10 Mar 06

if you take photos and you hand them in they won’t be accepted unless you start to write some high-brow stuff about it

that’s interesting. and tragic. is this the case in the majority of art schools? if so, why? there are masters in their respective fields that categorically refuse to discuss their intent. eggleston, for instance.

though i’ve never heard him explain that reluctance to divulge meaning, i personally believe that at worst some of the magic of art is rendered impotent in the face of an explanation of intent and at best the statement will color (or taint) the viewer’s interpretation of the work, thereby limiting it.

for the most part i believe that explication should be left as an exercise to the viewer. that said, once i’ve formed my own interpretations, i enjoy reading or hearing the interpretations of others.

And fwiw, I didn’t put the troll hat on ya Ian so it’s nothing personal. And anyone can still read a post that’s been trolled and decide for themselves. I hope you had a blast at the Wilco show.

well, okay. i still think it’s unwarranted, especially considering some of the other comments i’ve seen go untrollhatted around here. it makes the svn admin look rather petty. and yes, wilco was excellent. i even got to take pictures.

Ross 10 Mar 06

Not every fine art dept and certainly not every photo program requires a ton of writing - but it is an inevitable part of art and the art world.

This statement - “why if you take photos and you hand them in they won’t be accepted unless you start to write some high-brow stuff about it” - is a wholly incorrect assumption, having been through a photo and a fine art program. It’s not about justification, it’s about accountability.

I don’t understand why people care, because it’s not like we are ever forced to read artist statements (unless you are in school), no matter how worthless or worthwhile they are. And if we do read them the responsibility is on us to deal with it.

And if you are IN a fine art program, and you don’t like that aspect of it, get OUT of it. If you just want to make pretty pictures and are not interested in a dialogue then why bother going to school?

August 10 Mar 06

Clear, helpful, informative analysis is good.

Personally I think that a little education goes a long way in determining what meets those criteria. I find most non-highbrow criticism and statements boring as all hell because they are, frankly, written more or less for beginners. And I am not a beginner, and I really don’t give a damn about the basic things that I can 99 times out of 100 see for myself (and fairly quickly). I’m looking for something I won’t see right away and maybe wouldn’t at all because of my perspective. Like any field, art has its own technical language (each art has its own), and that language has genuine and useful meaning(s) to people who speak it and who really want to be involved in that kind of discourse. It’s not always appropriate, and it can often be pretentious, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ever appropriate and always pretentious. But here’s the thing: a merely superficial understanding of that kind of discourse is not adequate to determine which is which. If you don’t make an effort to understand the language you can be sure that a) you aren’t the target audience, b) nobody really cares that you’re put out by it, and c) you are not the sort of audience we want anyway (to paraphrase the SvN comments earlier about choosing which clients to cater to).

99 11 Mar 06

Having seen many of the photos that prompted Eliot to write his guide — and it was a rather specific post, and not quoted out of context per se, but more context may have made it read rather differently — I will say that though most statements seem overwritten, there is also a strong negative correlation to those who don’t write them, write them badly or use the “it just felt good argument” and a lot, and I mean a lot, of trite, obvious and mediocre photography.

Artists are writers, but we judge their statement as writing, which is a little unfair. Later in their careers, much the writing is done by gallerists, PR people and curators, who have their own agenda, and intended auidence (and in places like NY, it’s a very small auidence, most likely excuding you and I).

But that is a seperate discussion from what Eliot — who I find to be unfailingly direct but also introspective in his ability to talk about his work — was saying in his post. He was just trying to get people to stop taking photos of shopping carts at sunset and empty parking lots and thinking people would find it immediately insightful or artful. Cause after the twethieth shopping cart, boy does it feel tired.

An even better indication of formal laziness in the I don’t think set is feet. Eliot doesn’t argue this himself, but I believe the preponderance of feet in photos is because it is the only body part you can shoot alone. That’s lazy. You have an urge to best Westin and abstract forms of the body? Get a model.

Cheshire Dave 11 Mar 06

Artists’ statements are frequently impermeable because, by and large, writing isn’t their first love (or strength), or perhaps even their second. I liken this to the frequency of titles such as “Untitled #…” I posit that visual artists simply use a different language, and sometimes it doesn’t translate well into spoken or written words, or at least they can’t translate it sufficiently themselves. If they’re fluently bilingual, however, so much the better.

But I think it’s a good opportunity for visual artists and writers to come together: writers can pen the artists’ statements, and visual artists (at least the photographers, but hell, why not the watercolorists or sculptors?) can take the authors’ photos for their book jackets.

p.s. Whoever put the troll cap on Ian deserves the dunce cap. It was a well-written, non-ad-hominem critique. To be honest, I mostly skimmed after that.

Lane 12 Mar 06

As a recent art school graduate, I pretty much agree. They have us write artist statements and 10 page papers analyzing films like Vertigo because they think it’s important that we’re able to write and analyze and verbally express ourselves as artists, not just make the art. I guess in some ways that’s true and it’s definitely good to be practiced when you’re applying for grants. But as an artist, I would rather not make an artist statement to go along with my work - or, if I do make one, keep it simple and very short. I feel like the intention should be to help the art be more accessible, not feel closed off, cold, and smarter than thou. Besides, I don’t read introductory pieces at places like SFMOMA, so why the hell would a read a page-long statement by an artist showing in a cafe?

August 12 Mar 06

You know, Van Gogh was an excellent writer and if you look at his letters and such they were all about colour theory and not just “I painted this because it was beautiful” or some similar non-theoretical and “simple” explanation. Lots of other visual artists have been astonishingly good writers, and a lot of them have some fairly complex and sophisticated ideas and systems of ideas behind their work. We wouldn’t have cubism, for example, without such artists.

What artist could possibly want to limit the ways they are capable of expressing themself?

pylbug 13 Mar 06

Glad to see someone else calling out the sophomorically over-written drivel that passes for music reviews at Pitchfork. Artists’ statements frequently suffer from the same sanctimony, which results from the sore lack of an articulated, underlying concept. The mis-use and abuse of theoretical-sounding language is a cry for help; the authors are literally trying NOT to be understood, by obscuring the meaning (or lack thereof in many cases) of the work. For some artists, it’s clear that NOT being understood could be a strategy, but for a site that does music reviews it’s just plain stupid.

fisher6000 15 Mar 06

I think this is missing the point. Of course artists are responsible for telling people what their art means. Art can be anything, it’s so full of inside jokes and is so self-referential that it is rendered completely opaque, and it doesn’t matter to anyone, really.

(thank you Kimmelman for the barnacle clinging to the cruise ship of popular culture image…)

The whole system is set up to blatantly gyrate around a small number of people with extremely huge wads of cash. And since artists are the workhorses of this party (what am I doing today? Being my own secretary. Then I will be my own PR person. Then I will be my own grantwriter…. then I will make some art), it only seems reasonable that artists would be responsible for creating a justification for all of this shuffling of wares.

Disclaimers:

1. I just spent a lot of time at the armory show.
2. I don’t want it to be like this, but the first step toward solving a problem is admitting the problem exists.

bootchec 16 Mar 06

Another bullshit about art?
This entry just shows how underintellectualized you are my friend. Why is that? Ah it is because simply some people didn’t read enough and understand anough to make artistic statement that is why you might be confused about they writings on art. Yes, indeed there are plenty of rubbish theories but the fact that you do not understand something doesn’t mean that someone is an idiot. Think twice. Looks like you are frustrated that someone calls art something that you wouldn’t and not your ‘artworks’. To find out what art is read couple of books and try to figure out it yourself that art has couple of meanings depending on your commitment and yours knowledge of contemporary art which is intelectual these days. The time of tacky impresionism hass passed, thank god for that.
And thank god that majority doesn’t create (yet?) proper art.

fisher6000 16 Mar 06

Whoa, friend. It’s okay to wake up and smell the coffee: art is not important. Whether or not Britney Spears is pregnant again is more important than the Whitney Biennial. Period. There are reasons for this. There is an art historical legacy that got us here. It would be “underintellectual” of me or anyone else participating in this conversation to ignore the relationship between art and pop culture, and to know which is on top and which is on bottom.

Artists bear an ever-larger responsibility for giving their work meaning because there is an ever-increasing amount of cultural noise and an ever-decreasing number of interested participants in the larger cultural exercise.

The dreaded artists’ statement is born.

It is what it is. If I can haul my butt to my studio knowing that what I do is ridiculous and that nobody cares anyway, then maybe I can be free enough to do something that really matters. The whole world is a total mess. Might as well do the most absurd thing possible.

Lawrence Krubner 19 Mar 06

New York City is one of the top three global centers of commerical photography. How should fine art photographers distinguish themselves from commerical photography?

katiepearce 17 Apr 06

I have to say the discussion in that blog is quiet intense. I have often thought about the conceptualization of art and the artists’ need to articulate this. I find myself talking excessively about many of my design to fully express the thought and meaning behind this. I enjoy diving into the intellectual ideas not to promote the worth of what I am trying to do but to just explain what I did. If what I say becomes elaborate or difficult to decipherer I perhaps became too wordy or perhaps these are the only words I can use to properly express the meaning. I too believe the clarity of the work should be enhanced by the written ideas assigned to it. If the text is there to place the work in context and allow the reader/viewer to intellectualize these ideas faster then the possible month(s) long process the artist took to get to this point, I applaud it. However, if it is post process articulation of non existent ideas then it does not enhance the work but comes of as intellectual jargon. There is not point in conceptualizing a thought process which did not exist. The only point of these articulations is to clarify, to express, to recreate the thought process, to create context or to harmonize the visual art with a dialog. Generally, I appreciate what the artist has to say about their work and find that most often it is not academic bull shit.

Ditch pitch 04 May 06

Pitch ‘reviews’ are not incomprehensible to me; they’re actually transparent. I would hardly commit the act of calling it the ArtForum or something of music (though both are completely conservative, nay, reactionary, the latter *sometimes* has a trace of intellectual substance).

Who ARE these people? I’ve never heard of any of them.

Radiohead (et al)? I think Pitchfork Media is not nearly elitist or snobbish enough. They just sound like some self-fancied bureaucratic appointees of amnesiac Kool that too happily fulfill the indie stereotype - because the mainstream needs something to walk on, right? (Yikes, that was close to being Pitchfork-esque.)

Besides it being utterly institutional and clone-producing, I can never decide what powers such a contraption - corporate greed or complicit fame (it’s always that toss-up, isn’t it?). Or maybe just general dead boredom. Simply, I feel sad for music.

Pitchfork is over.

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