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“If the great European artists of the past were alive today, what kinds of statements would they need to write to explain and justify their work?”

This summer I asked myself that question over two dozen times for a small, humor book that I have been developing. I hope you will find the sampling of seven statements below funny and even a bit poetic. Five of them were written specifically for Hyperallergic and two are from my new book.

John Seed’s Artist’s Statements of the Old Masters (2015) is available on Amazon.

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John Seed

John Seed is a professor of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California. Seed has written about art and artists for Arts of Asia, Art Ltd., Catamaran, Harvard Magazine, International...

37 replies on “The Artist Statements of the Old Masters”

  1. Do art galleries turn down artists based on their “artist statement”?
    I can imagine the conversation: “We love your art and think it would sell well, but your artist statement is a total fail, so we do not want your art in our gallery”. 🙂

    1. I bet it happens. And I bet that artists who can really write the dense, confusing statements sometimes get the thumbs up. Hence, my satire…

    2. I’ve been on selection committees — at non-profit art galleries — where it was very tempting. You had to discipline yourself to look past a painful artist statement and just consider the work. I’ve read great artist statements for bad art and horrible artist statements for really good work, and everything in-between.

      1. Serious question: why would you read the artist’s statement at all?
        And wouldn’t it be much better to judge first the work in itself and then, after deciding if it is worthy or not, to read the statement?

        1. That is often the process, yes. In general I think artists shouldn’t be expected to write statements. It’s like asking an author to do layout design and make cover illustrations for their books. Still, following Modernism, most artwork needs some context. It’s the blessing and curse of having the freedom to create without an overarching discipline to follow or react against. Statements also allow exhibition committees and panels to get a feel for the artist (in terms of professionalism), which is often important when you’re only assessing a small selection of digital images.

          But of course, the language used in this article is the overdone art-speak that is largely discredited. It’s parody.

  2. Interesting article!

    Wow, you guys did a lot of brain work for this one. I don’t even know what it all means, it goes over my head. I wrote a piece a few days ago on this topic.

    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/photogs-are-a-pretentious-bunch-arent-they/

    The only reason I wrote an artists statement is for the museums. When I place my photos there they like something along those lines. Otherwise I don’t need to make excuses or justify why my photos exist. If someone does not like my work…take a number and get in line…

    nsfw

    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/opinions-are-like-assholes-everyones-got-one/

    1. Daniel, it didn’t really take a lot of brain work. It took a few glasses of white wine and a mischievous sense of fun. I don’t know what it all means either, and I wrote it.

      1. Hilarious. When participants are invited to exhibit in my artists web venue, http://www.theartbeatspotlight.com, I request a SHORT artist statement which I use to accompany images of their work, contact info, etc. Sometimes I get looooong resumes with very similar language. Do curators actually read that stuff? I don’t.
        If the work is good, I show it – with contact info – not much more. I’m still giggling at your old masters artist statements.

  3. These statements make an artist look like they’re idiots, this type of self proclamation is ridiculous and unnecessary, if gallerists are looking for this frame of mind and insist on an over educated speech to help sell art they need to learn about passion…not words from Webster!

  4. Very funny…and yet so grindingly common. You could change a few words here and there and you’ll have what I see all too often in a Call for Entries…”We encourage applications from artists whose work seeks to address Counter-Reformist assumptions of irreducible and harmonious existence as well as a failure to oppose the dominant cultural projection of ataraxia.”

  5. Art Gibberish Rules!

    Re artist’s statements: it was Matisse who said “You want to paint? First of all you must cut off your tongue because your decision takes away from you the right to express yourself with anything but your brush.”

    1. George, Matisse was a wise man. I understand he also told a group of young artists “Paint more, talk less.”

  6. Just brilliant. Your book “Artist’s Statements of the Old Masters” should be in the library of every BFA and MFA program. You have a “gift.”

    1. Thank you John. I asked critic Dave Hickey for an endorsement and he said this: “No young art-historian should be without this book. Fills a gaping hole in Old Master Studies.”

      1. Dave Hickey once called me a “Blind Saint.” It was on Facebook. so it’s not exactly official praise.

  7. 15 words or less-
    Vermeer: I’m a traditionalist and my work uses light and background objects that define the potrait.
    Da Vinci: My portraits reflect my personal views on gender boundaries.
    Delacroix: I use neoclassic imagery to emphasize the theme of my narrative paintings.
    Hals: Underlying truths of character are used in my potraits.
    Watteau:: I use color and overly decorative images to portray the story of the upperclass.
    Ruysch and Chardin: Our still life paintings use dramatic, yet unnatural, color and light to emphasize beauty.

  8. I have been told over and over by critics and galleries that no one really cares about your artist statement. It has become a vestigial appendage without a function yet still required by many.

    1. The Portrait of Eccentricity: Arcimboldo and the Mannerist Grotesque by Giancarlo Maiorino comes pretty close!

  9. Duchamp: Because F**k you, that’s why.
    Picasso: ˙˙˙ ǝɹǝɥ uǝɯoʍ ǝq plnoʍ ǝɹǝɥʇ pᴉɐs no⅄

  10. so you think past artist statements are as pompous and impossible to understand as the contemporary statements

  11. My compliments!! I saw yesterday’s Notable & Quotable item in the Wall Street Journal and simply had to investigate further. What a devastating commentary on the pseudo-intellectualism now rampant at museums and universities. Your book should be required reading in humanities faculty lounges nationwide!

  12. Ow! Ow! – I got a side-stitch from laughing! You completely made my day! This is a very fine piece of work!
    Also: the comments are wonderful; commendations to the commenters! What a refreshing relief from the snarky snipes of Egotarians!
    Thank you, one and all.

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