Application Sunday, Part IV: The value of putting one’s work into words


Every Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I learned from a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: I submitted a project for publishing to designboom.

Lesson 4: The value of putting one’s work into words

An artist’s statement (or artist statement) is an artist’s written description of their work. The brief verbal representation is for, and in support of, his or her own work to give the viewer understanding. As such it aims to inform, connect with an art context, and present the basis for the work; it is therefore didactic, descriptive, or reflective in nature.

Artist’s statement – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Once an artist decides to give this applications enterprise a chance and start submitting work to artist calls, one of the first things they are confronted with is composing this brief text, known as an artist statement. For me this proved to be quite a daunting task, but intimidating as it was, it also proved to be quite a revelatory experience.

One would think that every artist should be able to compose such a text off the top of his/her head. After all, if one isn’t in a position to say what one’s work is all about, or at least utter a few words on the subject, then who can? But therein lies the first obstacle; In order for one to be able to define something they must first understand it. Or at least be able to trace some of its basic components. And for that to be remotely possible one has to be free from the utter state of confusion such as the one I described here, one that essentially comes from the inability to discern basic elements of one’s desire, elements of the self.

Naturally, this process that leads to a certain degree of self-coherence is gradual and cannot be forced, but, as explained in the last post, it is a development that can also be determined by our actions. We only have to persevere, to not give up, and trust in the law according to which quantity (of efforts) eventually leads to a change in quality.

Only, as I eventually realized, all these steps, all the battles won, would probably have remained unfulfilled if not for that first artist statement that forced me to put my work into words.

Plato in one of his writings has Socrates arguing that something had only to be named correctly in order for its essence to emerge. Knowing a thing’s true name was therefore enough to offer us an insight into its true nature.

There is something magical in the process of putting things into words. Something coming from the simple fact that this process forces us to make sense of what it is we are trying to describe, to see the connections, and to name them.

The opposite is also true. Failing to lend a thing its proper name leads to losing sight of its nature. Something that is especially evident in an era named and therefore ruled by whoever has control over the mass media. Yet in issues of self-coherence, the importance of a self-audit that would lead to the correct naming, and therefore understanding of things, is usually underrated.

If you are to have any chance of grasping the essence of things that go on inside you, you need to sit down and ask yourself specific questions. 

And this is exactly the service that the seemingly mundane task of writing a paragraph about my work provided me with. It forced me to name things. Connections between works and periods that until then seemed to be randomly succeeding one another started to emerge. I realized that there were indeed recurring preoccupations in my practice, but which, because they were expressed in all sorts of different forms, and because I hadn’t looked for the connections, had remained hidden. I started seeing patterns that were repeating themselves, meanings and processes revisited underneath the “garment” they happened to wear.

From this process a brand new world of me emerged, and I felt like a child with a new toy. Having named my demons I had managed (albeit for a moment) to conquer them, and break the vicious cycle of them dominating over me.

Have you had the experience, of a seemingly “mundane” task surprisingly offering you some kind of insight into your practice? Has putting your work into words at any point helped you to overcome obstacles in the work itself?


Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Metamorphosis/Kurfürstendamm, Trace A, Improvisation VI, detail, 15 x 24 cm, powdered pigment on paper, 2014