Art statements, Pitchfork, and fancypants analysis 09 Mar 2006
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“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.