When I write profiles, the standard questions I start with are often
the same as you’ll try to answer with an artist’s statement… what
inspires you, what do you try to express through your art, etc. The
key is to go beyond the easy answer: Not just, “I’m inspired by
nature,” but the journalist’s Who, What, When, Where? Why? How? …
Who taught you to appreciate it? What is it about nature that
inspires you… the symmetry, the aesthetic beauty, the sense of
communing with God, what? When do you encounter Nature? Where? Why do
you go there, and why does it inspire you? How do you translate it
into your art?
One of my favorite interviews was with an artist who expressed her
frustration with not being able to give me a nice pat answer to the
"what inspires you" question. As we talked further, though, I
discovered she worked in a very tactile way, and her inspiration was
less visual, and therefore easily defined, and was more from the feel
of the metal in her hand and the way it took shape. Listening to her
describe how she worked, I knew I had hit on a wonderful statement
about the artist’s inspiration, one that she didn’t realize existed.
My idea if you’re struggling with a written artist’s statement would
be to draft a friend, preferably one interested in what you do but
not necessarily deeply knowledgeable about jewelry making technique,
and ask him/her to play “reporter.” Put some of your favorite pieces
on the table and let her/him ask questions about how they were made,
why you chose this stone or that pattern, where you learned to do
such and such, etc. DON’T stick to a pre-written list of questions,
though. This should be a conversation, and should range as far
afield as it wants to. Starting questions are helpful to get the
conversation going, (or get it going again when it stalls) but the
best interviews are those that go WAY beyond the anticipated
questions (and answers!) Don’t worry about giving the "right"
answers… just try and talk about your work and why you love it.
Tape the conversation, and then listen to your answers later. Listen
for “sound bites” that perfectly describe what you’re trying to do,
and write them down. You may want to listen a couple of times, just
to pick up the points that are obviously most important to you AND
most interesting to your friend.
Many visual artists are a bit uncomfortable expressing themselves in
writing. (And there’s no reason to feel bad about that: you should
see me “express myself” in the visual arts ) Writing can feel
foreign and awkward to a creative person who, when handed metal or
clay, simply FEELS the creativity flow. If that describes you, verbal
conversation with a friend may get the descriptions and explanations
flowing in unexpected ways. The feedback and questions from your
friend can also take the conversation in new directions, and offer a
rich source of material. You may or may not “quote” yourself
directly, but it can get you thinking in new ways about what
you can share with the viewers of your art.
Oh, and just one additional side note: I’m with Andy on the
"organic" “nature” etc. terminology. I’d like to add “inspired” to
the list, at least when it’s not described further. For example,
“Mary Smith is inspired by the stars and the Cosmos.” Yeah, aren’t
we all. Better: “Mary Smith draws on her nightly ritual of star
gazing to create jewelry that expresses the limitless possibilities
of the night sky.” I’m still not sure what the jewelry might look
like :-), but there’s concrete activity that gives me a sense of HOW
the artist creates – she goes out every night and looks at the sky.
BTW, the more unusual the activity, the better. Frankly, I’m
fascinated by artists who say they look at medical journals or
engineering texts to find inspiration, versus those who sit on the
beach or take nature walks. But no matter what you do, the more
concrete the image you paint with your words, the better it will stay
with the reader, and the more he/she will understand the source of
your, well, inspiration.
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