Artist not a writer

I’m an artist not a writer

As an artist, you are frequently asked to write about your work, whether it’s for an exhibition submission, an application for funding or a personal statement for a web site. It’s not something I find easy to do.

I am a people person and like nothing more than talking to people who have come to see my work at an exhibition or to a group of schoolchildren who are taking part in one of my workshops. To me, this is both rewarding and enriching. But ask me to write down on paper what my work is about and I completely dry up.

Perhaps it’s because my work is based on an emotional response and it’s very difficult to put that into written words. It’s like asking ‘what is love?’ You can make it a lot of flowery statements around love, but it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what it is – and as soon as you say love is eternal it becomes overwhelming, whereas in my opinion love is much more about the everyday stuff. And that’s the crux – love means different things to different people.

It’s the same with my work. Some people completely connect with it and for them the photographs speak for themselves. For those who don’t immediately connect, I don’t want to interpret it for them; rather, I want people to draw their own conclusions, to have their own thoughts, likes and dislikes.

The difficulty with work based around an emotional response is that there is a lot of ambiguity about it – because emotions are ambiguous! And if my work begins as an emotional response, along the journey from thought to final object there are many twists and turns that add to these ambiguities. For example, I incorporate signs and symbolism, Biblical referencing, allusions to natural habitat and tradition – but I would never write these aspects down because they are so personal to my creative process.

My fear about revealing my emotions is that they are just that – feelings. How can your own feelings be grounded to anyone but yourself? How can I explain emotions that stretch back to my childhood to anyone else? There is a danger that you give your work too much gravitas by revealing your emotions – you put weight where there should be a light feeling so that something becomes dark to others even though that wasn’t the original intention.

Consequently, there is always a struggle between making and writing – on the one hand, I don’t want to mystify my thoughts nor do I want to write them down because I don’t want to interpret them to others. By trying to encapsulate my work in a written statement I feel I am walking a tightrope between the sky and the floor.

However, I can’t avoid writing about it if I want to apply for exhibitions and funding. It’s understandable that selection panels need to grasp my rationale and assess whether my work achieves what it sets out to do. Yet writing is so one dimensional – and there is no opportunity to debate or influence when selectors are only reading about your work.

We are taught that words are 7% of communication, tone of voice is 38% and body language is 55% – and from this we can conclude that words are only markers. It would help explain why I find talking about my work so much easier than writing about it – to me it is natural to want to communicate face to face and when that is taken away there can be no dialogue. My big strength is people skills which doesn’t come across in writing.

And that is perhaps what frustrates me most of all about a selection process – that you are denied the opportunity for a discussion that would enable the panel can get a better grasp of where you are coming from. They are making judgements on a written statement and images of work, and unless you are good at writing there is a strong chance that you will lose out in this process.

I know I have no alternative but to write about my work but it is a painful process and there is a coldness in not getting feedback and having no opportunity to influence. I wonder how other artists find their way through this minefield? Do they feel the same way as me?

Surely, every artist’s work amounts to much, much more than 500 words typed out on a piece of A4 paper!

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