Post from 1010, October 2010

Artist Statements, Program Notes, and Curtain Speeches

Sunday, 10. October 2010 22:05

Not long ago, Bill Davenport posting on Glass Tire called the artist statement the “scourge of the contemporary art world” and encouraged other artists to not do them.  He also pointed to another posting by Daniel Grant on The Huffington Post which indicates that almost no one has any use for them.  Count me among them.

It’s true that some art can be complex and difficult to understand, but explaining in words what you were trying to do seems a really weak substitute for creating art that speaks for itself.  Not only are there innumerable ways that an artist statement can reflect poorly on the artist or artwork, but artists themselves, at least all the ones I know, hate them, and hate that many shows and galleries seem to demand them.  Artists would much rather let the work be judged on its own merits and not colored with verbal explanations or philosophy. My feeling is that if my own work really requires explanation, I have the wrong audience or I have done it badly.

Program notes serve much the same function and are just as bad.  They usually give the director’s take on the play or composition, or other performance piece. But I wonder at any art that by its very nature seeks public exhibition and yet requires explication.  If you can’t see it in the performance, what does it matter what the director thought about what he/she was trying to do or what he/she thinks this particular piece “means” or why he/she wanted to do the piece in the first place. The only legitimate function of program notes is to help pass the time while waiting for the show to begin.

Dramaturgical notes are marginally better. They, at least, provide some historical, sociological, or psychological background, usually based on real research.  Occasionally they are interesting. But again, if the piece needs explaining, why bother to show it to a public that you think will not understand it?

Curtain speeches are perhaps my least favorite type of extraneous verbiage in the art world.  They come in a large variety: some are simple begging speeches attempting to get you, the viewer, to give money or some other type of support, some attempt to flatter the audience, some are gratuitous discussions of the cast and/or producing organization or staff, some are program notes delivered orally.  In any case, they, like the other forms of art explanation, come between the viewer and the art. Just when you are getting ready to settle back and enjoy the performance, you have a director, or producer, or fund-raiser on stage in a follow-spot telling you why you should give, or subscribe, or underwrite, or understand, or some other-such thing in order to really show your appreciation for tonight’s performance. By the end of it, you are so put off that you have to do a full mental reset to put yourself back in performance-watching mode. Let the audience enjoy the show they came to see!

If it has to be explained, write an essay instead.  If you are making art, then make it, unapologetically and un-explicated.  If the world doesn’t get it, it doesn’t get it, no matter how many words you make up to go with it.

Art should be able to stand on its own. If it cannot, maybe it’s not good art.

Category:Audience, Creativity | Comments (2) | Author: