Artists’ statements – do you ever believe them?

Does the ‘Artists’s Statement’ have to be nonsense?

Every so often I’m ‘required’ to provide something called an ‘Artist’s Statement‘ to go with some of my photographs.

Cup of coffee on wooden table

It really is just a cup of coffee

It’s something that I can find more difficult than taking the pictures in the first place

I was told I needed to explain my concepts…

My assumption has always been that these were things you need for essays on photography courses and dealing with art directors?

I even tried looking at some exhibition programmes to see what other people were writing – Oh dear.

Recently I asked on several on-line photography groups, just how many photographers actually believed this sort of stuff, wondering if I’m missing something?  Fortunately it seems that many photographers feel the same way as I do ;-)

That said, you can still find pretentious tosh (IMHO) like this:

“…His mesmerising work peels back layers of complex socio-political issues that are embedded in each and every of us: taboos, prejudgements and bigotry which are rooted in an intricate blend of collective, political, religious and cultural codes.”

It’s from the main LinkedIn description of someone who says they are a pro photographer (there’s more in a similar vein)

I can remember reading someone’s essay that referenced one of my photos, and wondering if it was actually myself who had taken it. The burnt tree below, seemingly encompasses the eternal interplay of primordial elements or some such.

Actually at 9000 feet on a cold snowy day on Mesa Verde (Colorado), with big storms whizzing about the sky, it’s one of those times when an object (the burnt tree) just fits in with the whole scene. I’d walked several hundred yards up a hill and realised that I should have put a coat on – I was absolutely freezing and remembering that I normally live at sea level and 9000 feet is more than enough to notice the altitude.

Burnt tree and snow - Mesa Verde, Colorado

Burnt tree with snow - Mesa Verde, Colorado

One of the reasons I find it difficult to write about such things, is that many of my best photos have had very little direct thought or planning gone into them.

They are spontaneous evocations of my feelings at the moment of capture – or as I’d prefer to say… I looked round and thought – “Ooh, that will make a nice print”.  My landscape work is not laboured, it’s not meticulously planned – I rarely have a tripod with me, it’s about the moment.

Reluctantly, I supposed that this use of longer words was just part of the ‘art business’ that I’d have to learn.

It seems that I can now do it in small amounts…
…I’ve found it helps to regard it as writing marketing copy ;-)

If it’s a straight bio that’s required then that’s no problem, I’ve plenty of things I can include, but when it comes to all that motivation, concepts and message stuff, I’m a bit lost ;-)

My bio on this site was originally written by a friend of mine – I’d really recommend getting someone you know well to help put together something like this. Hearing it from someone else can help get round that slight discomfort that many artistic people feel in saying that their stuff is actually worth looking at.

Now to go back to yesterday’s photos of new windows installed in a house, that I was processing for a commercial client…

  • Thomas

    Keith, I’m really sorry. This wasn’t to criticize your technical writing, which I find very helpful, indeed. It all makes sense.

    Nobody needs to be pretentious, ever. I laugh at such overambitious uninspiredness …

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      Thanks :-)

  • Thomas

    > … encompasses the eternal interplay of primordial elements …

    Yes, like almost any landscape photograph …

    Oh, come on. Artwork does benefit from a good concept and a good story.

    When looking for something, I guess, like a researcher looking for answers or new ways, you need a plan of some kind, or at least a strong idea to follow, don’t you?

    And there must be something to tell besides printer tech, isn’t there?

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      What’s printer tech got to do with the pretentious tosh that some feel they need to spout over their works…?

  • Rex

    What you need is a buzz word generator. In the old days these were cards (but there are now programs) with a dozen or so lines with three columns of random words. Just choose a word from each column and string them together with appropriate joining words to make seemingly meaningful sentences of utter garbage.

    Apparently a learned professor gave a lengthy talk using one of these and received a standing ovation at the end. Nobody questioned the content.

  • http://colingriffiths@blogspot.com Colin Griffiths

    Well said that man! However, I never even think “that would make a nice print”, after all these years I just instinctively press the shutter. Perhaps you do too! My photography improved dramatically when I stopped doing all that planning stuff!

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      Yes, the detailed planning works best for more of my commercial work.

  • ted

    does Andreas Gursky provide an artists statement?

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      I’ve no idea… Does he?