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The Importance of Writing a Clear Artist Statement

Desert-night-no-7-Paul-ShankEver glance at the artist statement while wandering through a gallery and wonder what the heck it’s actually saying? The artist’s own explanation of the art often contains confusing words and complicated sentences, leaving everybody unsure of the artist’s intent or what the art means.

Sometimes I think this is a deliberate attempt by artists to create a sense of superiority and to make their work seem “deep” and thought-provoking. Other times I can see how it’s probably just difficult to put visual ideas into words.

Whatever the case, many gallery visitors end up thinking the artwork that they’re looking at is over their heads, and simply decide to act impressed without trying to understand it.

Well, that doesn’t cut it for me. Art is a form of communication and should be understood by everyone, so today I’m going to do my part and “translate” the statement of an artist I found online.

Paul Shank works mostly in abstract paintings and has exhibited primarily in California and Missouri. He seems well-established as an artist, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that any confusion from his artist statement is unintentional. Check it out.

Artist Statement

Although non-objective in a literal sense, my painting more concerns itself with the vague territory between abstraction and the known and seen world. There are still some objective fragments carried over from recent representational work, but the more those elements break down and the more unstable the ground beneath my feet, the more challenging the process becomes. Dispensing with familiar objective goals and forgoing comfortable points of reference, I may lose my bearings. But in that climate where I am compelled to grapple with new and unknown forces, ideas can be pushed and tested.

As significant as the work itself is the process wherein I am exposed to an ambiguous terrain, a conflation of objective and abstract elements, which allows me to develop a personal language that refers to both disciplines without definitively planting my work in either.

The very first sentence is awkward, but I started having serious trouble reading it when I got to the part about “elements” breaking down and “unstable ground beneath my feet.” I understood the figure of speech, but didn’t know why it was necessary to include it. He went on to get more personal and stated, “I may lose my bearings,” which is kind of how I felt after reading the words, “climate where I am compelled to grapple,” and heard for the first time about ideas that were “pushed.”

Desert-night-no-3-Paul-ShankPersonally, I’d also replace “wherein” with its modern equivalent, “in which,” and avoid words like “ambiguous terrain” and “conflation.” I don’t think I’m just being picky; for the average person walking into a gallery these sentences would only leave them scratching their heads in confusion.

After looking up a few of the stranger words (conflation, anyone?) and spending a few minutes revising his original, I’ve come up with the paragraph written below. I think it pretty much covers what Shank was trying to say in the first place.

Artist Statement (Revised)

My paintings are technically considered abstracts, but I think of them as mixtures of both Abstract and Representational Art. They’re influenced by other, more realistic paintings I’ve done in the past, with pieces of reality creeping into them almost unintentionally. It’s become increasingly difficult to paint the further I’ve moved away from representational art towards abstract art, and it’s often easy for me to lose sight of my original intent. The value in that struggle, however, is that I usually end up trying out new ideas in the process.

I’ve also found that the process is increasingly important to me, as much as the finished work of art. Allowing realism and abstraction to combine makes my art unique and suggests both in my work without getting locked into one or the other.

You can see how just changing the statement has added new meaning to the work; an opportunity missed with the original.

Domes-Paul-ShankIf you’re interested in Paul Shank’s art, you can see more of his paintings here. They remind me a bit of Cezanne, and personally I enjoy that geometric quality in a painting. The combination of reality and abstraction is obvious in his work, certainly validating the intent behind it.

And for those of you interested in improving your writing, check out this tutorial on how to write your own artist statement.

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