I’m going to piss off a whole lot of MFAs right now. You contemporary artist types, I’m calling you out!
Your artist bio makes you sound like a complete douche. How do I know? Because you use words like dystopian, amorphous, nebulous, and architectural to describe the work you do. Sure, some art can be represented by those terms, but when everyone starts using those terms to describe the work, maybe you should reconsider.
Sometime during the 20th century, artists decided against talking to their customers, and instead thought it best to talk above them. They conjured up ridiculous statements about meaning behind their work to sound more profound, intelligent, intellectual, or inspired.
Many years ago, I picked up a copy of New American Paintings magazine—a compendium of artists that were either on the rise, or making a big name for themselves. Obviously, the work was what drew me to the magazine, but as I read through some of the artist statements, I was wondering if either I lacked the intelligence to understand contemporary art, or I was not the target demographic for artists. The bios were so esoteric, I questioned my grasp of all artistic concepts because I lacked the brain power to understand what the hell the people were talking about.
I don’t recall what spurred today’s new rant on the subject, but when it came to mind, my instinct went immediately to picking up a copy of New American Paintings to share some of this wonderment with you. Allow me to elaborate.
“The [objects] are autonomous, independent, non-referential objects that hover between materiality and immateriality, providing the viewer with varied perceptual experiences.”
“In my work. the cosmetic cover of reality has risen to the surface of the canvas, with no resolution offered: the paintings are anti-transcendental and finite”
“My paintings represent complex pictorial situations that synthesize historical idioms”
Seriously, who talks like this? I never attended a traditional art school, but it makes me wonder if Mystical Double-Talk 101 is a required course, or an elective.
“My ‘paintings’ are focused on explorations of the workings of the ‘pictorial window’ and it’s relationship to space.”
“Using historical painting tropes such as sublimity and vanitas, my work comments on the elements of growth, decay, and extinction in a contemporary, and often regional, context.”
And my personal favorite, when an artist speaks of themselves in third person…
“[Name withheld]‘s world on paper is composed of images both familiar and utterly abstract. His narratives lack a beginning, middle, or end… It is most likely because [artist] is a wandering poet and talented musician that he is able to create worlds of beauty that feel so completely of the moment.”
I especially like how the artist isn’t even really sure of his own intention when he says, “it is most likely because…”
If I owned a gallery and any of my artists tried to use a statement like these above, I’d smack them over the head with a canvas rail. I’m not sure where this gibberish comes from, but I never learned it in school. If this is how you speak about the work you do, perhaps now is the time to rethink it. These words provide no value for the viewer and/or art collector, and you do nothing by distance yourself from your potential tribe. I wonder why none of these artists have taken the time to question the status quo on this idea. It’s self-perpetuated bullshit and someone needs to stand up to the tyranny.
How about this instead:
“I make drawings of contemporary, urban landscapes. My colored-pencil drawings deal with modern themes of uncertainty and longing within our cities.” – Susan Logoreci (landscape surrealist)
Simple, concise, tells the story with a little flair, but without completely eluding the viewer to her point of view. Reading her statement while looking at the work, the connection makes sense, and I don’t feel like I left my educated mind in the trunk of my car after reading it.
Trying to sound deep for the sake of selling your work to a more savvy art crowd is a dying trend, or at least it should be put to death. The average art fan doesn’t want to read this junk. They want to know your inspiration, your thoughts behind the work, but they want it from a real, human perspective. These artificial incantations you create in order to make the work appear bigger or more important is a ruse, a sham, and you only end up sounding like a self-important douche.
The new order of business for artists and other creatives is to give out your true, authentic voice. Share yourself—not some manufactured version of you created by art college elitism. When you share the real person within you, people can relate. Sure, you can have an air of mystery to your work. Nobody said you had to give up the keys to that proverbial castle, but really, we should be letting the work speak for itself and stop trying to put random words from the thesaurus in its mouth.
The Curse of Knowledge
This all boils down to a bunch of people who have followed the paths of their contemporaries until it became a thing. One ethereal minded artist gave this momentum, and then his whole circle followed suit. Before long, it became a movement, and then the norm, so much so that art collectors and critics started talking the same way, and now it’s a language unto itself, but really, it’s all just bullshit.
Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation with a group of people and one of more of them are savvy to design or art direction, the conversation can take a turn for the vernacular. The few of us that “know” end up talking shop while the others at the table look on confused and bewildered but because we’re so impassioned in our chatter, the outsiders try to stay engaged for fear of missing out.
When I catch myself doing this, I feel like a ass, and I will apologize for my douchey actions. No one wants to be excluded from the cool kids table, and we don’t necessarily mean to exclude people, but it happens all the time.
If a group of artists want to talk to each other in their metaphysical doublespeak, so be it, but when common folk like me are in the room, how about putting away your pretense for a moment and remember what it’s like to be, you know, a person. This goes for anyone who has a tendency to break out the nomenclature of their particular craft.
Whether you’re a designer, photographer, crafter, sculptor or random creative soul—embrace the language when with your peers. However, when presenting yourself to the general public, how about putting it on a shelf for a bit?
The beauty of acting human is that more regular humans will appreciate you, and you just might find that your core customer has been waiting for you to come back down to earth to talk to them.
Turning the lens around
So now I ask you, are you using language in your work that distracts and confuses your fans? Are you using industry vernacular that keeps people from understanding your work or your process? If so, is there a way you can remain sounding like a professional but still bring the level of conversation more into the realm of the layman? Let me know your thoughts below.