Telling Secrets: Artist's Statements
Updated: Aug 17
And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know you're alive
And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
- from “Iris”, by the Goo Goo Dolls
If I am writing an artist’s statement, on one level I am selling my works or my services as a teacher. I am trying to sustain my inner purpose in this outer world. When I sell works or get jobs, I exchange something on the inside for something on the outside. I used to think this sort of transaction diminished me, as though I only had a finite amount of soul to give. I now, to paraphrase Dave Hickey, know that art and money do not touch and are not equal; they are exchanged in an act of faith. This mutual act of faith is a fountain of life for both involved. The soul is a fire that burns more the more it burns.
I am looking for union: between material and spiritual self; between my world and yours. The task of writing an artist’s statement is the task of building a bridge: between my set of experiences and sensibilities and yours. I assume our shared humanity. I assume that we already connect but do not yet appreciate that connection. An artist’s statement lights up the highway where apparently there had been a sheer drop.
This statement reveals not only a thought/sensibility connection; it also reveals or even suggests a social connection. My writing might signal to you that I belong to a certain tribe, maybe one you belong to yourself. My writing may make you resonate with me personally. My words may transform me from a stranger to someone you trust. Care must be taken; neither of us are our story or what surrounds it. Still, if I am indeed worthy of your trust, that aforementioned fountain, that act of faith has room to flow.
Authenticity is key. If we have a shared humanity, trying to be liked only throws us off course. Trying to be liked only makes it worse, like trying to dig your way out of a hole. Trying to be liked proceeds from the underlying assumption of my un-likability, which after some machinations, becomes self-fulfilling. Rather, if I accept my vulnerability and frailty, I earn trust by trusting. When shadow is illuminated, it ceases to be shadow; the poison becomes the medicine. I now have something real to offer that you can actually use.
Having said that, I am not sure what I can say that will turn the light bulb on to make you understand. After all, being presented with ideas does not create understanding. Of course, I must have a philosophy, some mental building blocks, that help hold me up and serve as stepping stones. I need some framework that explains to me what it is I am doing, how it operates, and what it means. This is a practical necessity, a way home when lost. Having this game to play gives me something to do with my hands. So too, I must derive my work from something of my own, what they call personal: from my own story, from my inner dialogue, from the ringing of my voice.
However, these ideas and this narrative are separate from my work’s content or meaning: what it’s worth, why you should care. My thoughts and feelings moreover say little to you on how to look at the work. There is no teachable method to look at an artwork.
The best and only thing my words can do is entice you to investigate the work further. To pay attention. It’s like we don’t usually notice the clouds moving until we lie still upon the grass. When we approach a work of art, it may seem like some unfathomable, indifferent mystery; that is, until we lie still and watch it happen.
That is where trust and authenticity come in. I can’t make you understand while we are both standing here on the ground; but maybe I can inspire your trust to come fly with me into the clouds. If my thoughts and feelings seem familiar or, even better, strangely familiar; perhaps you will take that leap of faith. If you trust me, you will trust your experience looking at my work. Maybe you can attain the eyes of a traveler, who once they have seen the world, comes home to find magic in the front yard — maybe the eyes of a lover, where every fold of skin is a song. I am not here to teach you anything. In my words, I make room for you. You teach yourself.