Stating the (Less Than) Obvious

Artists are constantly being required to write Artist Statements* in which we talk about the methods and motivations behind our artwork. When I say "constantly," it seems each time I need to supply one there is a different set of parameters attached. I can't just write one statement and use it for everything. For instance, Zapplication, one of the online show-application sites, requires 100 characters or fewer describing methods and materials, while certain shows using the service require an additional, more detailed statement. Another site allows almost unlimited space for a statement. Others ask for a more philosophical discussion of why we do what we do. Some shows require all of the above plus personal background and a photo (oh, joy).

There are artists who seem to thrive on this, rattling off pages of artspeak with apparent ease and relish. I am not one of those artists. Each time I am asked for an Artist's Statement I sit and stare at my notes with no idea what to say or how to say it without sounding pompous, ridiculous or both. If there are no specific requirements for the writing, I look at my earlier statements, only to be horrified at the embarrassing drivel contained within.

In this situation, I often think of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin questions Hobbes' motive for sculpting a tiger. Hobbes' reply: "Because I wanted to make it." Shouldn't that be enough?  If only.

So I've developed a set of mix-and-match descriptions that I can usually tailor to various circumstances, but there is something that always bothers me. I don't feel that I have ever come remotely close to capturing the reason I paint what I paint. Just for my own satisfaction, I'm going to try it now.

First of all, I paint because I have an obsessive need to make things. I used to make all sorts of things but eventually managed to channel my energy into what I think I do best. I love having a studio full of paintings and sort of freak out when I frame them all for shows, leaving empty walls.

As for what I paint, well... people often comment that I must really love leaves. I suppose, but not so much more than anything else. They just seem to be the best means to the end I want to achieve. As far as I am concerned I may as well be painting abstract pieces. My work is much more about mood and emotion than subject. I am intensely affected by light and color, and they are what I actually paint. 

When I am planning an individual painting, something really has to get me before I go ahead with an idea. When I see a shape or colors or line I think is beautiful, then start to create a composition around it, my reaction is visceral. I feel a nervous excitement when an idea appears to really work. 

Ironically, if I had to state my ultimate goal for my art, it would be to take away the edge of nervousness and to create a sense of calm similar to what I feel after an hour of yoga. I want to use light and color and line to bring myself into the moment and create a space for quiet and peace. I want to make art with which I would want a long-term relationship, not just a quick fling. I want to make paintings that help me to feel good and to just chill out. None of which would sound very good in an Artist's Statement. But that's what I want to do, and I hope in the process I am making paintings that do that for others as well.

 

*that phrase just screams to be capitalized, doesn't it?