Originally Published: March 4, 2002
Father refused to back down on the sculpture, saying they could consider themselves lucky the Weary Soldier had two arms and two legs, not to mention a head, and that if they didn’t watch out he’d go in for bare-naked realism all the way and the statue would be made of rotting body fragments, of which he had stepped on a good many in his day. As for the inscription, there was nothing willing about the sacrifice, as it had not been the intention of the dead to get themselves blown to Kingdom come. He himself favoured “Lest We Forget,” which put the onus where it should be: on our own forgetfulness.
Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin
I am faced with the uncomfortable prospect of having to write an Artist’s Statement. It is for my show next month. It’s not strictly required, but I felt it would be cowardly and unprofessional not to take a stab at it. This is where my first meanderings took me:
I believe that humanity and inhumanity are the brackets surrounding the equation that is life.
Do not underestimate the power of suggestion: you will agree that these works possess an insight and beauty the likes of which has not been seen since the Italian Renaissance.
Any statement would, I feel, inhibit the viewer by imposing upon them the Artist’s will.
Is it obvious right about now that this is my first show?
Well, at least that’s honest.
I sit and stare. Do artists really do this? Put into a sentence, or a paragraph, (or onto page after page), why it is that they do what they do? I immediately experience bad flashbacks: applications for Grad school with the page known as Statement of Purpose, or the “Please feed me some bullshit about why you plan to attend our school and waste our time for the next 4 years - and you’d be wise to do it in the amount of time it takes me to finish this cup of cheap swill they call coffee in this sink-hole of an admissions office” page. Let’s be honest and agree that less than 1% of these statements have the slightest basis in truth.
Statement of Purpose:
I want to attend your school because, as an artist, I don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of ever being able to afford my own place. At least this way, when my friends find out I live at home, I can say I’m in Art School, and they’ll think I’m cool instead of an antisocial poser, which is what I think I might actually be. And by the way. my medium is spackling compound, snot, and collage elements taken from TV Guides published between 1978 and 1985 – the years of my tactile awakening on my Mom’s couch while I smoked her Kents and pondered the post-modern irony of One Life to Live. I can find most of these materials in her shed, so it’s real economical. I think I would be really great at your school and I’m sure I could teach you stuff, too. Let me know when I should show up. August is ok, but September would be better for me.
Lucky for me an Artist’s Statement differs from a Statement of Purpose in several respects:
1) It is usually shorter.
2) It is designed for Art teachers, and so can legitimately use words such as
“texture”, “pithy” and “whizzbang”.
3) It is not necessary for all the words to be spelled correctly.
4) It does not need to be coherent- in fact, this is a detriment.
My show opens on April 6. By my count, that is 4 weeks from this coming Saturday. This week I am supposed to send the gallery proprietor, a patient and benevolent man named Chas. Carron, my Bio and Statement. The Bio is no problem: just put in the good stuff and gloss over those 6 years it took me to make it through college. The Statement is more problematic. It forces one to analyze impulses one would rather just blindly act upon. I don’t know why the hell I do this! Perhaps Artist’s Statement should be Psychiatrist’s Statement, instead. I am deeply concerned I will sound like a ninny.
I can say that the 3 figures that are to be the focus of my show are sculptures of human figures that I have integrated with objects I found in our house when we moved in. They were things that had been abandoned by the previous elderly owners. They had raised their children here, kept the garden in much better shape than we are able to, and were active members of the community. I had liked them. It had taken me a long time to feel like the house was no longer theirs. It was so steeped in their history I felt oddly beholden.
We’re getting somewhere, I think. This may lead me down the road towards the Statement. Let’s play a little association, throw in a few words I connect with these pieces and see where they land:
discard, cast off, left behind, abandoned, story telling, history, connection, significance, choices, acquisition, dismissal, owner, adoption, rebirth, inner life, shadows, echoes, traces, fingerprints…
…self-indulge, self –conscious, self-doubt, self-abuse. Yecch. I need to sleep on this – for 14 or 15 hours.
(Two Days Later)
Having scrawled out a few rough drafts (no, you may not see them) here is my Statement:
The abandonment of things is as significant as the acquisition of them. I have always felt that cast-off objects, especially common things used for common purposes, retain some imprint of their owners.
The items in "Everyday Household Objects" had been left in our basement by the elderly couple who owned the house for 35 years. The house was empty and well-kept, yet these things remained behind, clean and carefully placed. I found the lone items oddly inviting. It was as if the couple hadn’t had the heart to actually discard the things, but hoped we might somehow find a use for them.
I joined – or conjoined - the abandoned objects with human figures, giving them arms and legs, the power of thought - even sexuality. The figures themselves are made from powdered newsprint that once held headlines, personal ads, obituaries. As I worked, I felt most often like a biographer, interpreting someone’s past of which I wasn’t even a part- merely the archivist who comes after.