An artist statement is a necessary tool for reflection and explanation of an artist’s work. It is a constantly evolving piece of literature. It is modified as your focus evolves and when you change the focus in your work. It is a tool to help others understand your work more and a tool that helps your work to evolve. Putting together and reflecting upon your own thoughts and goals with your work would is a great reason for working on your artist statement as a piece of writing that is always growing and changing.
An artist's statement is also a good marketing tool. People who like your work want to know more about why you make it. Offering your audience more ways to connect with you increases their understanding in what you do. An artist's statement builds a compelling bridge between you and your audience. For the buying public, the artist's statement provides a better understanding of the work and more reasons to take your work home.
Working on an artist's statement can be difficult when the artist doesn’t really know why they are making art or what they want to communicate with their work. It is very difficult when you are starting out in art. For intermediate and advanced students it is very important to start finding a direction of their own. Often when someone starts thinking about their first artist statement, they will say because I like to make things, I like to paint, I love clay and how it feels, because its fun and pretty much other very superficial reasons. These reason really get down to yes it is enjoyable to create something. But it is very important to get your thoughts down about what you want to accomplish with your work and why you chose a particular subject matter or direction with your work.
The idea of a subject matter or focus in your work is a real starting point. Why did you chose to make work that was of a political nature, what are your concerns, what have you researched in that particular direction, or what do you know about the natural world and how does this illuminate your expression of nature in your work. It basically does get down to why do you chose to do what you do. The content of your work can be extremely weak and hard to really write about. Many students start out with ideas that are not so mature or are somewhat sophomoric in a way. Sometimes these ideas need left behind for something of a more personal nature or a subject they can really reflect their feelings in, leaves them room for growth, and has many avenues of research.
When you start to write a statement, every thought you ever had about your work needs to be systematically scribbled down. Free writing is helpful, try and write in a way your don’t really care about spelling or grammar, you just let your mind go free and write thoughts about the subject you are interested in. Do not fake it or you will end up with insubstantial or flowery words that are not true to why you make your work or what your work is about.
Edit the writing and then do more research on some of those thoughts. Research your subject matter past the superficial layer and understand it from many other angles then you may presently understand it. It is important to use your own words. But at the same time it is wise to look at artist’s statements from others working in a similar vein as you. Other statements from a historian, scientist, philosopher or any other discipline that may relate to the content in your work, can add meat to the content of your own statement. Of course if you do site another professional within or outside the field of art you need to site your source and quote them properly. Maybe there are parallel ideas that are a part of your thoughts on the why of what you do in your work.
The Outcome of this Venture
Your ability to write an artist's statement will improve with practice. There will generally be no remnants of your first artist statement a year after you write it. Just as your work grows and changes, so will your artist's statement. Your ideas will grow and new ideas will be added to your thoughts and new subject matter for your writing and your art will also add to your enjoyments and excitement about the creation of your work.
An artist's statement is not a resume, or a historical summary of your work, a critique or a list of accomplishments. Nor is it how the work is made, however technical considerations and material choice may be part of your statement. But the main meat of the statement should be reflective of what your work is about. An artist's statement is a reflection on your work, a personal revelation about your work, a psychological bridge between you and your audience and helps to illuminate some of your concerns that may not be right on the surface layer of your work. It is somewhat of a back door to the work that allows you and your audience to look at it from a more informed perspective. Introspection is the main tool you will use to start your statement and also even more of an important tool for you to have your ideologies to continue to evolve, which in turn makes your work evolve.
So the main outcome may be not really be an outcome at all, but as I said a continuing process of growth for you and your work.
For over fifteen years one concept that has dominated my work incorporates vessels with bulbous forms and surfaces related to openings or holes combined with visual references to diatoms and viruses. I want the viewer to also be the user of this work, so these pieces retain their function as containers, pouring vessels, drinking vessels and for serving food. Tactile considerations remain important elements in my work but form, surface and negative space are the primary focus. The forms and surfaces of some viruses and diatoms have been a great source for abstraction. What they can do for us or do to our world is fascinating and frightening to me. Genetic virology is not always going to be understood by the observer, but I don’t find that to be crucial for the work to be appreciated. Much of this body of work has been collaborative in nature with my partner, Guss. We have been working together occasionally for 25 years and we also continue to make our own bodies of work as well. I also have had notable opportunities to collaborate with many other artists in the field. One highly regarded artist that I worked with multiple times was an alum from RISD, Kirk Mangus. He carved some fascinating surfaces on my pieces once when he and Eva Kwong invited me to give a lecture and teach a workshop at Kent State. I have been fortunate to be able to work with so many amazing artists in the field. I feel like we are all a part of the same team and I truly relish in working with others. NCECA gives me that sense of everyone working toward the common goal of moving the field of ceramics forward. I think that teaching with my colleagues is also a constructive form of collaboration. When my colleagues and I work as a team at Central Washington University, the result is a focused commitment to our students that has paid off repeatedly. Our MFA program would not be the same without this commitment to collaboration. Another way I engage in collaboration is around the loading and firing of electric, gas and wood kilns. The dynamics of everyone working as a team is most remarkable around the firing of wood kilns. This is perhaps the primary team-building exercise in the field of ceramics. In some instances, this discourse becomes a part of my decision-making and relates to the final outcome of my work. Teaching is included in my artist statement because I consider my pedagogy to be an integral element that informs my own work. As I expose students to contemporary and historic work, I often bolster my own sense of understanding.
Historical and contemporary use of visual language and utilitarian objects are two main sources for my research. Vessel, landscape, architectural, and figurative formats all serve as platforms for my conceptual and spatial investigations. This allows me to communicate more than purely the use of the object. Working outside of sculptural considerations, I have the ability to focus on utility and create an intimate connection between the audience and the piece. Some of this work include pieces that people can hold in their hands, put their lips to and drink from, and serve food on. I feel that this is something special and inherent in the work of a potter.
Objects of use that have a domestic nature do have a deep-rooted common language that a large and diverse audience can appreciate. This appreciation can be the initial allurement to my work but the appreciation of the concepts and esthetics may seep into the observer after further investigation. The sense of humanity that a well thought out handmade object can obtain is generally not found in objects that can be purchased at Wall Mart or produced by the machines of industry. Thoughts about the user are often negated for practical reasons such as cost and durability. This results in objects that fit very well into our disposable society. Furthermore, content in objects of use has turned into nothing more than trite or kitsch reflections of hallmark holidays or tributes to watered down sentiments about one’s mom, their kitty cat or sports logos. I have a firm belief in the connection of the mind to the hand and the hand to the media. Like the lips to a reed, technology cannot replace or even come close to the sensitivity that the artist has made with their material. A major intent of mine is to create tactile qualities in these objects that offer an intimate relationship with the user. I also want to provide the objects with an inherent value that gives them a life of their own; a life that is connected to their utility but not reliant upon it. I cannot do this without touch playing a part in the creation of the object. Generating a pleasurable and reflective experience while being used and viewed creates new challenges with each object made. Visual balance by using proportional perspectives, physical balance within the weight and pivot points of the piece and tactile qualities are all issues I address to achieve these goals in my utilitarian pieces. Ultimately, I want the vessels, especially the more strictly utilitarian objects I make, to be used.
The functional work I make is firmly based in utility. It employs brushwork with slips and glazes along with multiple firing and glazing techniques. This body of work is comprised of primarily everyday use pots such as coffee cups, platters, plates or bowls. With this more strictly utilitarian work, the esthetic still prevails. With formal constructs in combination with either surface design or imbedded conceptual concerns, I am able to achieve this. It is almost more difficult to work within the restraints of a utilitarian piece, but I prefer to look at these restraints as parameters because it sounds more like guideline than rule setting.
When I work on sculpture, I still set parameters but they are slightly more flexible. I set those rules based not on an already prescribed vocabulary in the vernacular of utilitarian ceramics, but more in the forms I see in the visual world along with what I’ve seen under the microscope in my study of viruses and diatoms. Other influences in the art world such as Ernst Haeckel, or contemporary artists like Lee Bontecou, have held my interest for some time. Many of my other major influences revolve around contemporary and historic objects that I have been exposed to. Through books, web research and most importantly, museum research, I search out information in the visual sense and add it all to the conceptual relationship I have with my work.
In a recent sabbatical to Ireland, Germany and Denmark, the museums and architecture I was exposed to all had a profound impact on the future trajectory of some of the work I plan to accomplish. I see my work as a conglomeration of appropriation with a mixture of interpretations that are my own. I see the set of parameters in utilitarian grounded work and sculpture to be road maps on how to get there, wherever there is. In a recent installation, I planned one of the parameters as the physical site. It is a ceramic swing-bridge that relates to growth and stretches over a clay lined stream bed on the Olympic Peninsula. This piece has pockets in forms where soil and seed can either naturally gather or be placed by the observer and allowed to grow. It is a metaphorical bridge also pertaining to growth in knowledge, as some intelligence is gathered and some is placed. Another example is of the two main parameters I set for coffee cups and pouring vessel: they must evoke a pleasurable tactile experience and the handle placement must be physically balanced. For my work, parameters are spring boards to jump from and can be looked at as starting points.
I allow intuition and evolution to occur outside of any preconceived parameters. This occurs in the making and the firing of the piece and includes additive form, color and surface after the first firing. Some of my work has been fired multiple times, using the voice of wood and wood-soda firings along with mid-range and low fire techniques. This seems to be only technical consideration but I do use technical and materiality choices for specific reasons in each piece. Presently I am working with mid-range black bodies, high-fire porcelain and stoneware clay bodies. I am using a variety of techniques using slips, underglazes, cone 6 terra sigillata, glazes and atmospheric effects to achieve my surfaces. I am primarily working with high fire temperatures and using some mid-range and low temperature techniques over these high fire surfaces. Gas and wood-soda firing and wood-firing are sometimes a primary focus and are still used to add subtleties to the surface of the forms but I am beginning to branch out from there. Building techniques are on and off the wheel. I use throwing, altering of thrown forms, slump molding and other molds along with additive and subtractive techniques.