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Often, artists want to hear from someone else that they are talented or that their art is of value. This is almost like asking someone, “Am I attractive?” It is awkward and very subjective. If we take the example of wanting to know if you are an attractive person or not, it will help to understand this difficult question. What makes a person attractive? Besides the cultural implications of where you live and what the standards for beauty are in your community, there are several issues that make you pretty, handsome, or attractive. First, there is how you physically look and dress. That is what people first see, and it makes an impression. If you use an online dating service, you can usually see a picture of the person that tells a bit about who they are. However, the description of who they are and what they like is essential, so if we like the image slightly, we read the description of the person we are considering dating. This description is akin to an artist’s statement or the artist’s story, but we will get to that in a minute.
After looking at a person’s picture, we read about their interests, and either we want to know more or we do not. That means that how people describe themselves plays an important role in what we think of them. In fact, in the example of online dating, it makes all the difference.
With art, it is not so different. You want to know if your art is good or not, and perhaps beyond that, you wonder if your art has a place in the historical narrative of art.
To begin with, how you present yourself and your art will make all the difference. If you perceive yourself as a professional and act that way, you will be treated accordingly. Unfortunately, it is not solely based on your art, because everyone needs to know more, just like dating. This is where an artist’s statement comes in, or some kind of text that helps people to understand your work. That means being able to not just describe what it is you are doing, but also to make your text engaging and inter- esting, maybe even humorous. Again, the dating analogy holds, because you do not want to write a boring description of who you are; you want to say something that will pique the reader’s interest right away.
Consider for the moment the statement of the well-known painter Marlene Dumas, who uses the line “I paint because I am a dirty woman.” That is simple yet provocative. If she wrote her statement like many people, it would sound like this excerpt on her from Wikipedia:
Stressing both the physical reality of the human body and its psychological value, Dumas tends to paint her subjects at the extreme fringes of life’s cycle, from birth to death, with a continual emphasis on classical modes of representation in Western art, such as the nude or the funerary portrait. By working within and also transgressing these traditional historical antecedents, Dumas uses the human figure as a means to critique contemporary ideas of racial, sexual, and social identity.
That also sounds interesting, but her shorter version is less stuffy and makes you smile. We will be talking more about putting together your artist’s statement in chapter 5, but for now, it is enough to understand that there is no standard for beauty in art. There are many things that affect this situation, including how the work is described and presented.
Leaving the Question Aside
For the time being, I suggest you leave the question aside as to whether your art is worthy or good or exceptional or if you are talented. There are numerous historical examples of artists whose work was not recognized in their time, and after death, it found its way into museums. Van Gogh is certainly one example, but there are many others, and what about the artists whose work didn’t survive after the artist died? Could there have been extraordinary artists that we have never heard of whose works have perished? Absolutely. It is tragic, but it is also all too common. So rather than think about whether or not your work is good enough for a museum, concentrate on how you are presenting your work. The more time you spend in the studio making art, the more time you spend looking at your work, writing about it, and showing it to others, the more you will feel that you are getting better all the time and that your work as well as yourself are valuable and of quality.
To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here. To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.