My Artist Statement (2015)
Thank you for requesting my artist statement. Whenever I receive these requests I am reminded to the combination of puzzlement and pleasure that I feel when I get carded at a store or a bar: at the very least one is flattered to be considered that young. And maybe I am delusional, but I hope at least that in the case of the artist statement request there may be some kind of benevolent insinuation that one is being considered a young artist.
On the other hand, of course, I confess experiencing a certain discomfort, since the gesture, usually bureaucratic and impersonal in nature, puts me in the place of the aspirational artist, hoping to receive some kind of benefit or favor from an art institution or individual, and arguing for deserving such benefit or favor, as if I had not done anything in the last three decades of my career to be spared from this stern requirement. One would hope that it should be considered that some artists, while we never stop promoting our work, our promotional dynamics nonetheless evolve into something slightly less commercial and overt. They may consist in discreet conversations with curators or colleagues, which sometimes, maybe, hopefully, evolve into exhibitions or invitations to other things.
But maybe I am just getting old, which brings me to what I said earlier about feeling flattered.
I do understand the concept that there is a certain degree of vanity in an artist who believes that he or she doesn’t require any introduction. Way back then, when the art world was a handful of galleries, a handful of bars, and handful of artists, everybody knew one another. But I also know that we are now far away from the time when Diane Arbus, who I am told knew that everyone knew who she was, wrote a Guggenheim Fellowship application with only two scant paragraphs, mentioning that she wanted to document American society (and receiving, of course, the grant). These days, where there are so many of us, we all seem to require an elaborate introduction and a long resume (and even a very lengthy one still may mean nothing).
I am, for example, pretty certain that I might know pretty much nothing about you, the reader. So I take it as a good thing that, in at least this impersonal process I am considered an anonymous individual trying to present his case for your consideration.
There is also the “explanation” part of the artist statement to ponder. This type of text is traditionally the only official document in which the artist is required to provide some kind of “key” to his or her work— outlining its guiding principles, his or her “interests” (with the full weight of the cliché that this word carries, as I will soon try to demonstrate). The problem with that perception is that the artist statement then becomes an impossible task for the artist: the one text that must be understood and analyzed in relation to everything else the artist has made in the past, or will make in the future. So while we are on topic I should take this opportunity to state that there is simply no way of creating a text that would sufficiently summarize the intricacies of an artistic practice, and if there would be such a text, then that would be a sign that the artistic practice in question is perhaps in trouble.
The problem is that there is, seemingly, no reasonable escape from this. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we were ok with writing: “my artistic practice cannot be explained”, or “My work is statement—less”? This has been the case of some rebellious artists in the Warhol mold, opting for becoming blank screens onto which we, the avid viewers, would project our hopes, our fears, and all our criticism onto it. The “blank screen model” still works today— but the problem is that too many use it currently, so it is a bit outdated. There are too many artists out there who are ok with being thought about in whatever which way as long as they are being thought about. So we are thus back to having to write a statement if we want to prove that our work is, indeed, about something.
Now, the practical problem when we actually make the choice of writing is, perhaps, that the artist statement as a form is a vague remnant from the modernist spirit, where artists were supposed to subscribe to some type of revolutionary credo — so in this sense the artist statement becomes some kind of contrived manifesto. But given that today we are so doubtful of so many things, can we be emphatic anymore, aside from being emphatic of our constant doubt and skepticism? This problem, I think, is the cause of so many terrible artist statements, which are limited to what I would term the “interest clause”: vague and unresolved sentences like “I am interested in exploring tantric imagery”, or “I am interested in issues of urban decay.” The persuasion strategy in this regard is to project oneself as an interesting character with a mysterious or exotic set of references that somehow find their way to become expressed in the work. And since we have no obligation to explain or understand why we are interested in anything in particular, even if it’s the most absurd or stupid thing one could conceive, we essentially are ok with presenting to the reader (a curator, a funder, etc.) a complex psychological case to be examined. We position ourselves in the old-fashioned way of the illuminated demiurge who is full of visions but at the same time slightly, and maybe innocently (or strategically?), unaware of him or herself— leaving thus the reader with the opportunity to “discover us” and make intellectual sense of our (often) strange and extravagant “interests”.
Given the above, and given that I recognize I have no reasonable escape from the request of artists statements, I can state with certainty that, at the very least, I am interested in the reasons why some people request artist statements, in the conventions that inform them, in the way in which artists become “interested” in things, in the unique social status that allow them not to be held accountable for whatever they are “interested” in, and in the reasons for which, when we are confronted with art that we can’t understand, the first thing we usually turn toward is an artist statement.
Brooklyn, june 2015