Artist’s Statement (Or, the Duality of Man)

What do you know, it’s an update! I’d be sorry about the gap between posts, but we’ve had an absolutely gorgeous week weather-wise and I don’t regret a single one of the many hours I spent outside and away from boxes which beep at me. Anyway, there are a few quick bits I want to get out of the way before I get settled into what will assuredly be a long, nonsensical rant.

First, I now have a “proper” gallery for my photography. It’s sparse, poorly-organized, but it looks halfway-decent and you should check it out.

Second, I’m using Instagram pretty hard. I’ve put some of my “real” work up there, but mainly it’s a place to experiment with my phone’s camera and have fun.

Lastly, I’m getting a number of my more “traditional” or “accessible” photographs together and will soon be offering them for sale in one form or another. I can’t really give you any specific details right now, but that whole project should be ready in another week or so.

And therein lies a tale…

Something I’ve been lead to believe is that, as an artist intending to show or sell your work, you are expected to write something called an “artist’s statement.” This would be a paragraph of text crafted to explain your motivation, vision, or goal as an artist. One (hopefully) brief manifesto which answers the question: “Why are you an artist?”

Related to this, I’m further told that each piece of art you present should also come with a statement, necessarily related to your overall statement, but specific to the work. It answers the question: “What is this piece about?”

There is, I am assured, no way out of writing these statements.

And I assure you, there appears to be no way for me to write these statements without sounding like a pretentious douche or a total fraud.

Every time I put my hands on the keyboard to knock out something which sounds even vaguely like I know what the hell I’m doing, I flash back to that scene in Full Metal Jacket:

Pogue Colonel: You write “Born to Kill” on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
Private Joker: No, sir.
Pogue Colonel: You’d better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you.
Private Joker: Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you’ll be standing tall before the man.
Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
Pogue Colonel: The what?
Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Whose side are you on, son?

I can’t even begin to count the number of times this scene has cropped up over the years, in conversations with the various artistically-inclined folks I’ve counted as friends. We use it as a joke, the very archetype of an on-the-spot, talking-out-of-your-ass explanation for the inexplicable.

Someone asks you to explain your work and you’ve got no idea what to say? Mumble something about “the duality of man,” look bored or disgusted with them, and you shut down the conversation without revealing yourself for the imposter you believe you are.

If I was being honest, I’d say that the photographs I’ve taken thus far are motivated by one (or more) of three different impulses:

  1. I saw something pretty.
  2. I wanted to experiment with my camera in order to hone my skills.
  3. I just needed to take it.

I’m pretty sure numbers 1 and 2 aren’t what most people typically think of when they think about art at all. But as for number 3? How can I give you an answer when I don’t even have one for myself?

Q: Why did I crawl up under an overpass, through four-inch-deep piles of dried bird shit, risking an out-of-control slide into high-speed traffic just to take a photograph of some steel beams and graffiti?

A: Because, at that moment, no other choice in the world made sense.

Yet still, I’ve persisted. I’ve taken a few stabs at both a “general” artist’s statement (you can find one sorry attempt over on my Photography page, but I hate it so, so very much that I expect to replace it soon), as well as a few token efforts at describing just what the hell I was going for when I took a particular photograph.

I wonder if it’s always going to feel like this, or if it’ll get better once I know what I’m doing.