Thursday, April 17, 2014

Artists' Statements: Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them

There's a phenomenon in the art world I like to call the "metamorphosis of crap." It happens in that instant when, after having been initially bored, confused or repelled by a completely artless pile of crap, you stop to read the artist's statement. Now you are in familiar territory. Your art-schooled-MFA brain kicks in, deciphering the elitist, codified language before you. You smile, you get it, and in that moment, the artless pile of crap magically becomes Art. The metamorphosis is complete. You are no longer bored, confused or repelled. You are a wise, self-satisfied cognoscente, dashing off to transform the next artless pile of crap.

Too harsh? Maybe, but artists' statements are a gold mine for someone like me who loves to make fun of the art world. (Note To Self: You should really consider the consequences of biting the hand that feeds you.)

Let's look at the actual process of writing an artist's statement. The two videos below by Jörg Colberg and Charlotte Young, respectively, should take any of the mystery out of it. 

Got writer's block? Never fear, anyone can generate their own artist's statement by clicking here. You don't even have to be an artist. Just fill out a form, click a button et voilà, you too can turn crap into art! Here's a paragraph from my generated statement:

" Her paintings demonstrate how life extends beyond its own subjective limits and often tells a story about the effects of global cultural interaction over the latter half of the twentieth century. It challenges the binaries we continually reconstruct between Self and Other, between our own ‘cannibal’ and ‘civilized’ selves. By studying sign processes, signification and communication, she makes works that can be seen as self-portraits. Sometimes they appear idiosyncratic and quirky, at other times, they seem typical by-products of American superabundance and marketing."

To end my rant, I would like to turn to artist William Powhida and his 2009 polemic, Artists Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive), (see below)  in which he brilliantly sums up what all artists are really trying to say:

"Lacking any other means for social mobility, I have embraced the COMPETITIVE ethos of CAPITALISM and make art to DESTROY my competition so that I can LIVE forever, make MILLION$, drive an expensive EUROPEAN sedan with leather seats, FLY FIRST-CLASS, eat at fucking 5-star restaurants, marry an Italian porn star, design Louis Vuitton handbags, make 3-hour movies with NO PLOT, edition diamond encrusted GOLD dildos, and have a retrospective that TRAVELS THE GLOBE to become the GREATEST ARTIST to EVER exist PERIOD"


William Powhida, “Artists Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive)” (2009), graphite and colored pencil on paper, 18″x15″ (Image courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery)

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

Sunday, April 20, 2-5pm
Susan Sironi: Forget Me Not
Closing Reception & Artist's Talk (3pm)

May 4 - June 1, 2014
Myron Kaufman: That's Life

May 4 - June 1, 2014
Skip Snow's Pity Party


  1. First time in a long time I've laughed out loud while reading a blog. Thanks! I made an artist statement for my cat. It was right on the money!

  2. Yes, thank you, Jane. When the frame becomes more important than the painting, or the setting more important than the gemstone, then the value of the primary object has to be questioned.

  3. So pleased that you're back blogging and making me laugh too!

  4. Oh Jane, Once again you've nailed,it! Love your blog.
    Paula Pocasso

  5. As always Jane your blog really rocked this time. Way too funny and yes...I laughed out loud especially watching Charlotte Young's video. Soooooo true. I always hated writing the "Artist's Statement" and many times while doing so it came out more or less being the "Anti Artist's Statement." Some of the one's I've read over the years by others have almost made me vomit as sounded so ridiculous and absurd. Needless to say some others have helped me truly understand what I was visually looking at and the reason it was created. Keep up the good work.

  6. Wow! There's an app for THAT! Yippee!!!

  7. Axiom One: Editors of the visual are rarely good as editors of the written word – something about brain wiring. Axiom Two: It’s always easier to decipher others than oneself. That said Jane, I truly envy your iconoclastic nerve. Tell William Powhida that I married an Italian who unfortunately never became a porn star but I did manage to get my hands on “edition diamond encrusted GOLD dildos” that I’m sharing with no one!

  8. Mark Grillo SoteloApril 19, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Thanks and good to hear from you.

  9. Spot on - thank you! Now if we could just get people to stop asking what art MEANS ....