I have been asked to write statements for my art exhibitions for over forty years, and they keep getting shorter and shorter, which exasperates gallery directors and others, who seem to want my innermost thoughts.
One collector said, “Your statement. It’s not very informative. If we were to collect, we would want to know more about you, your inspirations, you know, your analytical genealogy.”
I think he thought he was buying a race horse. He wanted to know how I was bred,
before investing in me.
I believe that statements should be brief. Once embroidery pays a visit, and symbolism along with it, including moments of transcendence and spiritual yearning, I head for the door.
I think they should be haiku, seventeen syllables or less.
Georges Braque said, “I like the rule that corrects emotion.”
Juan Gris said, “I prefer the emotion that corrects the rule.”
Simple and eloquent and sufficient.
But some of my brothers and sisters get carried away, and ornate words show up all
over the place. There are websites that mock them. There’s even one — appropriately called artybollocks.com — that will provide you with a statement immediately, if you are having a problem trying to obscure your way through a tedious list of your virtues and purposes: “What starts out as contemplation soon becomes finessed into a manifesto of defeat, leaving only a sense of failing, and the inevitability of a new beginning.”
Invariably, I am expected to list my motivations and influences. When I was in high school, it was a woman named Jane Duga who lived next door and painted in her basement. She could paint a landscape from a photograph of a landscape and make it look like a landscape.
It seemed like a magic act. And that’s exactly what it is. Sleight of hand and mind.
But as soon as it becomes “shifting derivations frozen through studious and critical
practice,” I want a sandwich, a bottle of pop, and a nap.
Artists are vulnerable and full of ego at the same time. So we confess, and reach for a thesaurus, frame something that is not conversational, and start to sound like imbeciles.
When a fruit painter tells me that fruit symbolizes gender, sexuality, and nourishment of the soul, all I can think of is the colorful 1940’s bombshell, film star Carmen Miranda, who wore bananas, grapes, and cherries on her forehead.
Ornate wording must work on some people, or it wouldn’t keep coming out of us. The art world is full of overthinking. Admit it. From down here on the ground with our
statements, all the way up to museums. Therefore, trying to explain it becomes an art, and exhibitions are always giving self-consciously titled, themed exhibitions.
I don’t like themes any more than I like statements. I want to see paintings. I
want to see sculptures. I don’t want to see an exhibition titled “Women in Art Who Drink Chocolate Milk.”
But if it has to be that way, I have a proposal that is straight out of the day when John Lennon met Yoko Ono (November 7, 1966, to be exact).
Ono was exhibiting something called “Hammer a Nail In,” and Lennon wanted to hammer a nail in. But the gallery didn’t open until the next day, so at first she said, “No.”
She changed her mind, and said, “OK. You can hammer a nail in for five shillings.”
Lennon said, “I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings, and hammer an imaginary nail in.”
My proposal? An exhibition that consists entirely of statements. Think about it.
It would become a roomful of bodies on the ground, snoring, while others were doubled over in laughter, a few in tears, and some in attendance haplessly drooling.
My own statement is down to next to nothing: “I just paint. Cane mala, non biscoctus.”
It means, “Bad dog, no biscuit.”
Craig Marshall Smith has been making, showing, studying and thinking about art since he was five. More on his website at craigmarshallsmith.net.