How do I become better at spewing BS in art college?
February 13, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I become better at spewing BS in art college?

In a previous AskMe, I asked when it was time to give up on a degree...and although I'm giving up on my art degree after April (going to do an online degree from Athabasca U), I just gotta master the art of artsy fartsy BS before I go.

When I was starting out in first year, my drawing teacher said to always be honest. If it was a cigar, say it's a cigar kind of thing. Don't write an artist statement that the average person can't understand.

This approach seemed to suit me well until I started taking second year classes. Suddenly it wasn't good enough, and when I tried to incorporate more conceptual things into my explanation, I fell flat at that too. I made a tapestry of a landscape last semester, and it wasn't enough to say it was a landscape of a favourite place. The teacher said I should have been prepared to talk more about why it was a favourite place (uh...because I go there every year?)

With my latest homework assignment, I thought I had done a good job of describing how it was about the process and the conceptual ideas surrounding that, not the final product. Somehow I sense that was not good either.

It seems people that BS the most seem to get the most favourable reaction. Personally it drives me nuts.

I'm really at my wits end. I'm a fairly practical person, but I'm emotionally honest too. If I made a giant stuffed vagina, I would say that I made a giant stuffed vagina because I was always ashamed to say the word out loud (or some such). I wouldn't say I'm reclaiming vagains and taking a stab at patriarchial systems (or some such).
posted by Calzephyr to Education (39 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I bet it would help to read a lot of bullshit.
posted by grobstein at 4:37 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


First off, ask your professors for examples of what they're looking for.

Don't think of it as BS, if that gets in the way of getting it done. Just think of it as a writing assignment with its own curious requirements. Imagine that you'll be paid $1,000,000 if you can write an artist's statement according to their standards.

To run with your example, if the professors want you to talk more about why your favorite place is your favorite place, "because I go there every year" is nonresponsive to the question. Of course you like to go to your favorite place. But why? How is this reflected in your representation of it? What choices did you make in your art to depict the landscape as you did?

If you can't figure out how to get it right by those standards, then run screaming headlong in the other direction. Make the biggest, best, most detailed, well-researched parody of artists' statements that you could ever possibly muster. But, do it completely straight-faced, and without any laziness whatsoever.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:40 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I work in an art museum and spend a lot of time trying to boil down complex statements into the kind of simple thing you describe here. I understand this won't help you in your classes, but in terms of making your art interesting and accessible to the public and describing your efforts in simple terms, you are mostly doing it right, not wrong.

But without seeing any of your statements as examples, the one potential problem I might see here is a lack of introspection/elaboration. For instance:

The teacher said I should have been prepared to talk more about why it was a favourite place (uh...because I go there every year?)

"Because I go there every year" is definitely not an interesting or even accurate reason why you were moved to make this landscape. I go to the DMV and the dentist every year, but that doesn't make them something I feel especially compelled to depict in a labor-intensive art process.

I think you can dig a little deeper. So you go there every year - so does that make you feel a certain way? Create a mood you were trying to capture? MAke you think in a certain way about the passage of time? How is the visual result of your process related to the thoughts, feelings, ideas, surprises, or connections you have with that place? What influenced the choices of color, shape, texture, etc? There's a lot to say there. It may be evident to you below the level of words, but it's not evident to others just by looking. Some of that needs to be articulated and, though it might be a struggle to articulate it, it's a gift to your viewers.

There's an old idea that art should just be, that it should reveal itself entirely just through the experience of looking. But the problem is it really doesn't. It may be beautiful or ugly or interesting or aggressive, but beyond that, most art does not tell its own story despite the general idea that it does. By elucidating a little what was going on inside you when you took the effort to make this, you open up the experience of looking at your art with interest to many more people.

I don't think you should reach for "BS" and make a description conceptual when it's not honestly conceptual - if it's representational, figurative, evocative, whatever, it may not have to be conceptual and it is going to sound like BS when you just make it up. I think art school can be miserable because there are a lot of people who have talent but have not yet developed their ideas about either the world or the commentary on life that they want to make using art. It's actually fine that you don't have that kind of thing going on for you yet and actually may never. Not all art is conceptual! But all art comes from somewhere and you can say more about it. Perhaps record yourself talking about it during your work time, or do some free-writing in a journal about it, or try describing it to a friend who can't see it as ways to generate words and phrases and ideas that can end up in your artist's statement.

But please don't just aim to write BS. God knows there's enough of that already. Sometimes the BS is hard to read but contains real ideas, but I think a lot of harm is done by the idea that every artist statement has to be rambling around in the fog of postmodern critical theory and basically incomprehensible to everyone.
posted by Miko at 4:44 PM on February 13, 2012 [49 favorites]


Miko gives a great answer. But in the interest of fun, perhaps one of the many artist statement generators available? Only partially kidding. (mobile device so no live links, sorry)

http://www.playdamage.org/market-o-matic/
http://www.artybollocks.com/
http://10gallon.com/statement2000
posted by Cuke at 4:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I regularly aced art essays -- what I would try to do is get into a mental mode where I was just sort of free associating words and phrases while thinking about the topic, then forming them into coherent paragraphs. I don't think of it as BS because there's a great deal about art that's impossible to describe in concrete, clearly defined terms, especially if you're trying to get at something really primal or subtle. In some ways I think it's most effective to think of art writing as an academic form of poetry.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an artist who has gone through school and probably talked a lot in a way that you might consider "BS" I would like to point out that maybe what is falling flat is your attitude. Just because you arent feeling the conceptual side of things doesn't actually mean that everyone is pulling stuff out of their ass when their turn to talk comes up. There are those among us who care about our work and think about it a lot and therefore are able to talk about it and take it into deeper places. If you are disgruntled and dissmissive you aren't going to garner much respect or appreciation from your teachers...
posted by Bengston at 5:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yes,a lot of your peers are learning to BS. They're getting positive feedback at this stage because they're attempting to talk about what's going on while most others, like yourself, have nothing to say about anything. "I go there every year" is not only not an answer to your teacher's question, but it reads as a teenager saying, "like, duh!"

Fine. it's your favorite place. Why make an image of it? What does it being a tapestry have to do with the place or your feelings about it? What about it were you specifically aware of when you made the tapestry? Did you discover anything you were unconscious of before while making this thing? These questions aren't BS, they're asking about your experience and how that makes your tapestry worth making in the first place and worth it for others to consider once you've made it. if you can't answer those questions, then your piece isn't going to be very meaningful. If you think those questions are BS, then become a graphic designer and you won't have to worry about it.

At higher levels straight BS will not fly. You'll have to learn to talk meaningfully about your work and about others' work. This can't be taught that I've seen and it's the main distinction between the 95% of art students that won't go anywhere and the 5% who will go on to actually be artists (although to be fair, some percentage of those just learned to BS really well). I have to say that the attitude that you have to "learn to BS" reminds me of a lot of first and second year art students I went to school with who didn't make it to the third year.
posted by cmoj at 5:01 PM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


As an artist who has gone through school and probably talked a lot in a way that you might consider "BS" I would like to point out that maybe what is falling flat is your attitude. Just because you arent feeling the conceptual side of things doesn't actually mean that everyone is pulling stuff out of their ass when their turn to talk comes up. There are those among us who care about our work and think about it a lot and therefore are able to talk about it and take it into deeper places. If you are disgruntled and dissmissive you aren't going to garner much respect or appreciation from your teachers...

Whoa! Whoa! I am not being disgruntled or dismissive of others in critiques. I don't hate conceptual art. I generally have a positive attitude :-D But if you had been in some of my classes last semester...I'm sure you would have said something different :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 5:13 PM on February 13, 2012


But please don't just aim to write BS. God knows there's enough of that already. Sometimes the BS is hard to read but contains real ideas, but I think a lot of harm is done by the idea that every artist statement has to be rambling around in the fog of postmodern critical theory and basically incomprehensible to everyone.

I really, really, really want to second this, hard.

I work as an editor in the publications department at a major art museum. The incomprehensible pomo/critical theory/stram-of-consciousness art school babble we receive on a regular basis from curators and authors is astonishing. The common thread with the vast majority of it is that it is almost exclusively sound and fury, signifying virtually nothing. My response is usually to either start laughing at it (I confess that my colleagues and I collect and share the most egregious examples), and then to bang my head slowly into my desk, and then to sigh heavily before trying to cut back the thorns with an editorial machete so that it A) is readable, and B) conveys something meaningful.

Luckily, this sort of crap is not the only stuff we receive. We also receive thoughtful, intelligent, and intelligible work from curators and authors, whether for an object label or a catalogue essay. There is little to no jargon or specialized language -- just interesting, clear writing. But this kind of clear writing starts with clear thinking. Jargon won't get you there; vomiting up a million catch phrases might sound smart on the surface, but it's really the equivalent of playing tennis without a net -- anyone can do it, but how do you know it's any good?

Don't be reluctant to truly engage or challenge yourself. You probably can push yourself to go deeper in discussing your work, but you don't need to do it by BS'ing around.
posted by scody at 5:18 PM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I went to art school for two years and so could not handle the bullshitting and the high school atmosphere. Oh and the tuition bill.
I can honestly say that the only thing bs-ing is going to do is teach you how to market yourself, and it happens in the professional non-art world as well. So many Linkedin profiles resemble artists statements, it's really quite amusing. Many of my full-of-shit art school friends are fairly successful, they either market their art for the sake of being a working fine artist or they started small businesses that may or may not have been directly related to what they "did" in school.
So, with that in mind, if you can see yourself working with the public in order to get their business, you should probably learn to bullshit. Or be incredibly good at what you do, and only bullshit a little bit to get to where you want to be.
posted by ohmansocute at 5:25 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you think of explaining why you like something as 'BS', then it just sounds like you have
a) a terribly inarticulate and unexamined inner life
b) a lack of awareness that other people don't already see/think/know the same things as you.

If I made a giant stuffed vagina, I would say that I made a giant stuffed vagina because I was always ashamed to say the word out loud (or some such). I wouldn't say I'm reclaiming vagains and taking a stab at patriarchial systems (or some such).

So...why are you ashamed to say the word, and how on earth does that prompt you to make a piece of art about it? Surely there's some thought process going on there? Maybe you think you shouldn't be ashamed of this word? Why not? If you shouldn't be, then why are you? What is the point of making art about it? (Doesn't sound like a piece that you could justify based on 'it looks nice').
posted by jacalata at 5:26 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and here's an amusing jeremiad from a few years ago on precisely this topic:
I am driven by nothing more than the frustrations of a reader who is interested in art and who simply cannot believe the mass of linguistic strutting, moral imposture and lazy thinking that is inflicted upon him by this genre. [...] Texts on art rarely explain what they profess to explain; they simply simulate the explainability of their theories. [...] This is not to say that there is no possibility for a sensible discussion about aesthetic judgement. Because even if our likes and dislikes have no universal authority, they are anything but unmotivated. Indeed our passions are our most compelling motivations, nothing interests us more, there is nothing we can talk about more. Why don't we do just that? And why do we try to do it with such inflated intolerance, instead of just promoting them honestly? We have to do this in our daily lives. And even outside the world of art it rarely happens that other people share the same interests, feel the same affinities, foster the same sympathies as we do. [emphasis mine]
posted by scody at 5:30 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's not BS, it is learning how to really talk about "process". There's a lot that goes on when deciding to make a tapestry landscape. How did you get from A, the question asked by the assignment, to B, the end product? You essentially want to make an argument and support it. You can't do that with bullshit, though many people try to.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:37 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should have been prepared to talk more about why it was a favourite place (uh...because I go there every year?)

I don't see what this has to do with artsy-fartsy conceptual language.

It's worth remembering that art is a form of communication.

I go a lot of places every year that aren't my favorite. Sure, it might be interesting to make some art about getting a checkup at the gynecologist, but if I did that I'd expect to be questioned about it.

If you just want to paint happy little trees, with no underlying thought about why these trees make you so happy, maybe you're in the wrong program. It sounds like you don't like art school, and no offense, but if you don't like it, why are you there?

Of course, if you're happy in your program but just hate talking about art, yeah, there are artists who evade explanation via bullshit artspeak. You could say, for instance, that you chose to make a tapestry of this landscape because you felt that the homey and comforting nature of this traditionally feminine craft medium evokes the way visiting Happy Tree Pointe made you feel as a child. Or whatever. But I don't think this sort of thing is your problem. I think your problem is knowing how to talk honestly about your art.

Remember that honesty and silence are not the same thing.
posted by Sara C. at 5:48 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stop thinking it's BS. That's just an excuse that's keeping you from learning. In my philosophy courses the students that are most convinced that we're not doing anything but mental masturbation are uniformly the ones that have the shallowest understanding of the material. Professors generally have a point when giving assignments and feedback. So, go speak to your professor, explain that you are having a hard time understanding what he/she wants and then be open to their response.
posted by oddman at 6:20 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was good at this, actually. It's more about showing your investment (in the subject, or the piece) and what's interesting about it to you, and less about stating the facts.

In some classes I could have written a 5-page essay about why Shakespeare may have had toe fungus. Whether or not this was actually the case = irrelevant. I was graded on actually putting some thought into it and articulating the idea, and it helped that I was demonstrating my familiarity with the material and having a response to it. You can still be honest, but it's the honesty of trying to make a very puzzling internal process public. Why did I draw a green woman? Seriously, how the hell do I know? I had a green marker and I just did it. BUT .. I can write about the process anyway, and make a stab at it.

Might help to focus on what you want to say about your work and not so much directly answering the question. Some free-writing and journaling might help with that.
posted by bunderful at 6:24 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really impressed by the all the answers. Had to run for dinner, but I realize that "BS" probably sounded very flip, but I'm just at my wits end. Please don't mistake frustration and sincerity for close-mindedness, because I'm not close-minded.

If you want to squash a milk carton and call it a drawing, sure. I've been in critiques of rotting fruit on tires and squares of electrical tape on the wall and I could find very constructive things to say about all of them. I don't feel compelled to make a laundry list.

Too often things are couched in terms that try to make it seem more than what it is and I find frustration with it because I can't replicate it. I have been working on this degree for eight years and more and this year really noticed just how florid and obtuse things have become in critiques. I've spent eight years getting halfway through the degree and have seen a heck of a lot of interesting art. Some that was an obvious all-nighter, some that was well-crafted, some that had brilliantly simple ideas.

I suppose the examples I gave were not very good. Jacalata, the vagina was just something that came to mind as an example, and I think it would be derailing somewhat to go there. But hey, I say vagina loud and proud :-) I could say the theoretical vagina is really a "tense psychological journey springing from a desire to make the private public and transforming vaginas into objects for contemplation and personal triumph". That sort of purple prose gives me a hard time, especially since I can't replicate it and especially moreso when it's concering said squashed milk carton.

a) a terribly inarticulate and unexamined inner life

Nope - I have extremely examined inner life, trust me on that. Anxiety causes me to overanalyze.

b) a lack of awareness that other people don't already see/think/know the same things as you.

No, I don't think it's that either. I am actually quite sensitive to the fact that others don't see/think/know the same things. I was a youth mentor and often find I end up mentoring younger students because I am older, patient and enjoy helping others. I always end up making friends with the most awkward or shy person in the class, helping them and encouraging them.

I just want to know what the trick is that I'm missing and it looks like with this thread I'm going to find out :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2012


so...why was the landscape your favourite place? This may be a poor example for you, but it's the one you came up with. From the answer you gave in your question, it sounded like you literally can't explain why you'd claim it as your favourite - this is where I got inarticulate/unexamined.

That sort of purple prose gives me a hard time, especially since I can't replicate it and especially moreso when it's concerning said squashed milk carton.
You just came up with that, didn't you? What do you mean you can't replicate it? re: the milk carton: are you having trouble finding an idea behind other people's work, or your own work? I think those are two slightly different problems.
posted by jacalata at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks oddman. My next class is on Thursday, so I think I will do just that. I my current teacher a lot; she is very approachable.

If you just want to paint happy little trees, with no underlying thought about why these trees make you so happy, maybe you're in the wrong program. It sounds like you don't like art school, and no offense, but if you don't like it, why are you there?

Sara C...I loved going to art college. I loved loved loved it. I loved exploring new ideas, the people and growing creatively. Last semester I realized that it was no longer the place for me. I was so committed to my degree and the school, passing over good jobs, taking pay cuts, working like mad to pay for it and have time for it. The school's organizational problems have driven me up the wall though, and after first year, there is little in the way of technique teaching, so I really have exhausted all the experience I can get out of it to grow my skills. I have also spent 8 years on this degree and have had to bear a lot of "stay in school" messages despite being 34 :-P
posted by Calzephyr at 6:45 PM on February 13, 2012


Are there two issues here?

One is the hyperbole others spew about the squashed milk carton. Perhaps their statement isn't ringing for you because it's really BS or you don't speak their language.

The other is how to talk about your work. I find that the more clear and distilled the statement the better. BUT wait. That means having drilled down so deeply to get at the essence of what you're doing that it's clear to you. Once you're at that place by lots of work and thought you don't have to BS because you can start by goving a brief summary and then be the bore that nobody can shut up because there's so much to say.

I've made works that were good but lifeless because it wasn't at that place of clarity. That's OK because that's part of the process of getting there. You can still talk about what you were going for and how and why.
When you create something that's got IT. You know and can talk about how you got there and what it means.

The hard part for me is to be honest and brave about the successes and misses. All are valuable and if you open up about that you learn and experience so much more.
posted by mightshould at 6:59 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look for some artist and critic statements that you find compelling. The subject you mention is landscape, for example. David Hockney has a major body of work on landscapes for the last decade that would give you an example of a recognized artist that is choosing your subject matter, writing, showing and speaking about the topic. Connecting to Hockney, for example, would also place your art in a contemporary context historically for your reader.

Look for critics who write about art well. For example, here in Los Angeles, I find Christopher Knight's writing very clear and effective, and David Pagel drives me crazy. I don't like Pagel's hyperbolic style that forefronts his ego rather than the art, and his taste in art is not very good. I have never attended a show that I enjoyed that Pagel recommended. Knight has taken some very astute positions on many topics that affect the art world in Los Angeles, from the institutional, market, political and aesthetic context. Knight can write well about very traditional works to very highly conceptual work, and does not pander to fads. His writing has never been stuffed with Postmodern filler. Both critics write for the Los Angeles times, and hands down Knight bests Pagel with every review.
posted by effluvia at 7:11 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Look, here's how you do it and make it work. Write your direct statement. Now write another sentence that explains something about that statement. Now write another one that explains something else about that. Do it again until you run out of concepts. Then explain the second round concepts, but break each sentence down as a paragraph. Don't bullshit, don't make stuff up.

1) Describe the idea.
2) Explain the artistic aspects of idea.
3) Explain the concepts behind your execution of the idea.
4) If you dare, explain the theory behind the concepts (but this ventures into bullshit) as a summary paragraph.
5) Profit!

And, if you're really good, someone who can't see the work might be able to imagine something like it from your statement.

Here's a sample.
Journey is a visual retelling of a summer walking tour I undertook with my sister along the Appalachian trail (1). As the eye moves from left to right along the frame, time advances from June through August. Colours and textures change to reflect the progression of the season and the influence of the weather. Each figure represents a discrete moment in time, or a memory associated with that moment (2).

In the same way that time proceeds in one direction, at a more-or-less even rate, so does time proceed across the work. June 15, the beginning of our journey, is on the left of the frame, and August 28th is on the right. Instead of making the divisions of time linear, I chose to linearize on perception: days that were unremarkable take up less space in the work than days with remarkable events. (3)

Numerous events are recounted by the shadowy figures in the work, representing particular moments of excitement or interest: encounters with a bear, with other travellers, a particularly torrential rainstorm, and so on. Each of these moments stands out in my memory just as they stand out in the work. (3)

The gradual shift in tonality across the frame, along with the alterations in foliage, depicts the gross passage of the seasons; more sudden shifts in texture, hue and value represent rainstorms or warm or cool days. I've chosen to make these shifts blend into each other, rather than have discrete boundaries, in order to maintain a natural flow to the work. (3)

Journey's style echoes that of memory: a gradually shifting gestalt upon which finer-grained details ebb and flow, punctuated by crystalline moments of specific occurrence. (4)
Good luck with your artistic practice, and remember that artist statements don't have to be horrible, but the more abstract the work the harder they can be to write. Describe, explain, illuminate, summarise. Then stop!
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:20 PM on February 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why an artist would make something without meaning behind it. Why put a ton of effort into something if it doesn't mean something significant to you?

A crushed milk carton -- well why? Remember when there used to be missing people on milk cartons? Perhaps it's a symbol for a lost child that was never recovered, and the anger was taken out on the image representing that.

What significant has happened to you in life? Make art about that and the meaning behind it becomes easy to write.

In summary, start with the meaning first, write out the description of the art first and then create the art.

Use your art to communicate your idea, your feelings. Tell a good story, we all love those :) Tell your unique, or not so unique, story, from your heart.

If you BS, then that is what your life is...
posted by bushmango at 7:28 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, another thought:

One thing we say to curators as they start writing museum labels all the time is "Start with the visual." Too often people leap right off into the art-historical or conceptual or theoretical content of their work. But that leaves viewers looking at a half page of gobbledygook and at an object that seems to relate to the gobbledygood in no obvious way at all -- "Wait, what am I looking at? Is this the right label?"

Viewers can have a hard time connecting, say, a gray stone cube [or whatever] with the artist's statement about precision and permanence. If the underlying thinking is missing the two experiences may just not connect. So if you use your statement, as in seanmpuckett's example, to call attention to specific details (sharply cut edges, high polish, minute specks of mineral) and then say a bit about how you achieved those details and what they contribute to the work overall, that should help generate some more meaningful content.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm coming from a non-art background, but I think in this case there are parallels between the arts and the sciences. Your first year teacher gave you good advice: you should be able to describe your work to someone like me, who knows next to nothing about art. What it is (a cigar in your example), and why should I be interested. Your current teacher is also giving you good advice: you should understand your work on a fundamental level, one that would be hard for you to explain to me. You're getting further along, so you should be expected to focus more on the fundamental understanding, rather than explaining art to a guy like me.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:20 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Awesome Seanmpuckett! Is this the part where I say I haven't been taught how to write an artist statement? Sometimes the things at school boggle my mind. Thank you.

Scody - I think you best expressed how I felt :-)

The squashed milk carton bears a little more explanation. It's not just an homage to Duchamp's ready mades, but the whole idea of drawing is moving towards being interdisciplinary studies. Maybe it's mark making, maybe it's not? I dunno! It seems the whole thing is over-intellectualized as in Scody's link, which I enjoyed very much.

Jacalata...You just came up with that, didn't you? What do you mean you can't replicate it?

I could, but I would feel it would be deceptive. I could say that the tapestry is "A memory of a place where my life was transformed when I took a boat ride around the lake and mountain majesties lifted my spirits and made me feel like I could do anything." Ugh!

The kicker is, and my apologies for failing to mention it earlier, is that I sell my work at Christmas time and to local stores. I don't need to embellish my work beyond itself - they have a reaction to it, and buy it. The only time I seem to be talking about my work on honest terms is to these customers who enjoy hearing what I have to say and they come back year after year. They don't need the purple prose, and for that I'm pretty thankful.

The comment above about marketing is right-on; I guess some people do need that extra layer of mysteriousness or meaning to appreciate or buy the work.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:21 PM on February 13, 2012


I went to music school,studied composition,took a couple classes at our partner art school and ended up doing quite a bit of intermedia installation work. Critique was an element of my musical studies, but not in the same structured way as at the art school. The important thing I learned was how to present my work as an argument. If I didn't even care if the teacher liked it, I could at least argue my way into a good grade by explaining forcefully and assertively why my work absolutely needed to exist for me. My advice to you: don't worry about the jargon, you just gotta show that you believe in what you are producing. You don't have to explain to anyone why that landscape is significant to you, but you need to convince someone that the work you've done has been done with direction and intent.
posted by supernaturelle at 8:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was good at this, actually. It's more about showing your investment (in the subject, or the piece) and what's interesting about it to you, and less about stating the facts.

I thought I had been doing this as much as I could, but obviously not. What the different teachers wanted just eludes me. I was a little chagrined at times when a teacher would practically do all the explaining and the student just nodded and agreed. I never seemed to be blessed with that sort of opportunity :-D

I have to say that the attitude that you have to "learn to BS" reminds me of a lot of first and second year art students I went to school with who didn't make it to the third year.

I am part way through second year and third year. At the end of third year, there are jury crits to get into fourth year. The studio classes I have taken have all been second year and I half-wonder if they up the pressure to see who can take it and who can't. I often wonder what the attrition rate is!

I think there was another comment about attitude back up there...oh trust me, MeFites, I have examined the past six months with a fine tooth comb. When I had trouble last semester, I thought it was my fault, that I wasn't working hard enough. It didn't help that I had a teacher who I couldn't trust with any ideas. She would OK my idea in the morning, I would work all day on it, and then at the end of the day she would ask me why I was doing it. She often forgot things that she said. I really felt any ideas I had in her class were worthless no matter how hard I tried to justify it; Supernaturelle, you're right. I'm not an argumentative person, but then it's hard to even deal with someone who insisted that Catherine the Great had sex with horses (even when several students tried to say it was an urban legend). Y'all wouldn't believe the nuttery I have had to deal with! I am not good at playing head games at all.
posted by Calzephyr at 9:05 PM on February 13, 2012


I am you. I went to an art school that, at the time, really prized BS. Incidentally there was also a weird bias against "pretty" art.

I got pretty good at the BS; and I thought then and still do now that the real key is to not forget that it's just flowery language and at the end of the day, you're still sitting on a crushed milk carton.

As you progress, it may be that your profs focus more on actual analysis and less on purple prose. I personally think that learning to BS is a valuable skill, though. A significant part of being an artist of any type is the ability to sell your work. And yes you need to be able to describe it earnestly and honestly, but sometimes you just need tho be able to figure out what the customer wants to hear and give it to them so you can cash the check.

It's not sexy but it's true.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 9:21 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I found that 7 Days In The Art World helped my talk the language of my partner who is an artist.
posted by holloway at 10:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having been through art school twice (undergrad and grad school), I will tell you that professors are keen on detecting bullshit. They know when you're just saying stuff to try to sound interesting but that that ultimately doesn't make sense with what they're looking at. I get the whole "I'm tired of art school because the program sucks" dynamic. I went through it in grad school. I still get the sense though that you don't really believe in what you're doing. I don't mean that to be offensive in any way! It seems to me now that you're at the end of your rope emotionally with your art program, so you seem more likely to say whatever it is you THINK will get the profs off your back. I have seen this happen to colleagues of mine while I was in school and it brought about a shit storm for the bullshitter. I think that you've gotten the point on not writing bullshit to write bullshit. If you believe in what you're doing, it will not come across as bullshit. I feel for you. Art school is tough.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:22 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks Holloway. I didnt know about that one. I wonder how much it complemens Art Speak.

ThaBombShelterSmith and Talullah - thank you. This is exactly where I am now. I can't imagine getting an MFA at this point. I wish the school was more honest about the toughness and how tough it is to make an art career afterwards. Ah well! I have to scoot for work. Thanks everyone again for their answers so far.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:48 AM on February 14, 2012


In summary, start with the meaning first, write out the description of the art first and then create the art.

I couldn't disagree more but it totally depends on what you're making.

I think my process is more about making something, writing about it then making something else. The second thing is bound to be tied up with the writing I did in between but there is room in that process to grow and not be limited by the words you have set out.

Writing can be a really useful tool for an artist, not just as it faces the public but as a way to speculate and test out ideas and as a way to think more clearly about things. For example you could easily write shitloads about your tapestry from many different angles:

Why do you go there every year?
What do you do there?
What does it look/sound/smell/feel like?
What is the history of the area?
What is the geology that created that landscape?

Why that view of that landscape?
Why use tapestry?
Why those colours?
Where did you get the materials?
How were they made?

What is the history of people making landscapes? (that's about 2000 books right there)
What is the history of tapestry making?

Has making this piece changed how you think about the place?

How and where and why do you want the work to be displayed?
Who is this tapestry for?

Then you will realise lots of people have written similar things before, your professors will be able to help because they can point you in the direction of similar texts, artworks or just things in general. Before you know it you'll be quoting things that once would have been bullshit but now you actually know and can back up. But not only that you'll be knee deep in books, fascinated by something you never thought you would be like the child workers in 18th century cotton mills, surface tension or the depiction of American landscape is spaghetti westerns.

Then you'll end up with the opposite problem.

---

I've recently started reading Cabinet, I don't really get on with most art magazines but I find it really refreshing. There's virtually no bullshit just lots of people writing insightful essays about a massive range of things, lots of which is written by artists. Its maybe worth checking out to see how artists actually write because after several years of trying to read bits from Art in Theory everyone's brain is going to be a little scrambled. Trying to imitate the language of theorists without the knowledge (decades of writing theory, reading philosophy etc etc) is impossible and transparent.

---

(sorry if this came off as a rant, I'm trying to be enthusing but it might have come across a little critical, I didn't mean to be.)
posted by pmcp at 6:10 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems the whole thing is over-intellectualized

Weeeellll, yes and no. There is something going on in criticism and it isn't all foolish. It's just that some of it is, and that often stands for the whole. But there are serious and smart people who devote their lives to writing about art in an intellectual but earnest way.

I sell my work at Christmas time and to local stores. I don't need to embellish my work beyond itself - they have a reaction to it, and buy it. The only time I seem to be talking about my work on honest terms is to these customers who enjoy hearing what I have to say and they come back year after year. They don't need the purple prose, and for that I'm pretty thankful.

This part is about considering your audience. You've evidently found an audience that likes your work based only on its aesthetic, and that is great. But other audiences may be bringing other criteria for judgment to the discussion. If you want to show in galleries or be collected by museums or be a teaching artist at any time, you'll need to meet other audiences where they are and be able to talk to them about the things they want to know.

I could, but I would feel it would be deceptive. I could say that the tapestry is "A memory of a place where my life was transformed when I took a boat ride around the lake and mountain majesties lifted my spirits and made me feel like I could do anything." Ugh


I'm not seeing the "Ugh" here. I think it's a start. It's not a finish, but it's a place to start. There is a certain amount of cliche in there - we can't help being moved by landscape, we all are, there's nothing wrong with that - but to lift it beyond the banal level of expression there may need to be a more detailed, personal, and observed aspect to the content you offer. What did the "mountain majesties" really look and feel like to you - what was the light like - when you felt like you "could do anything" what was actually making that moment, for you, separate from regular life? Again, go beyond the simple description. Pull something deeper out of it.

Funny you chose mountains - we just interviewed an artist, Kay WalkingStick, for a video label sort of installation. She has a series of paintings which employ mountains. She spoke for about an hour about the process she used - travelling, what that was like, making sketch after sketch, visiting at different times of day and different vantage points, looking at Botticelli and other painters who depicted mountains, why people worldwide revere mountains, the tradition in many cultures of viewing mountains as the homes of the gods or the source of powerful or mighty forces or beings, the atmosphere and light of the mountains. She was definitely talking about something simple - the way she feels around mountains - but she had so much depth to what she was saying about it, so much willingness to wonder, connect, explore, pursue, and imagine as part of creating her work.

More and more this sounds like a writing challenge. You do have ideas, but they aren't coming out clearly and compellingly and it seems like you just have trouble exploring and elaborating your thinking a little more using words. I wonder, does your school have a writing tutor or writing center? Getting beyond the basic, one-level, descriptive mode could help you with making your statements a little deeper - and that's something everyone who writes struggles with. Honestly the more I think about it the more I feel that your challenge is about writing, not visual art.
posted by Miko at 7:25 AM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I tend to assume that my audience will see the same connection or point I'm trying to make because to me it is Duh, *Obvious*. So my writing can be too sparse. I have to go back and write as if I am explaining to a person who is bright, but from a totally different culture, and expand my thinking process and ideas so that the person from Swaziland will be able to comprehend. It's not BS at all. It's a useful skill to be able to describe the evolution of an idea, belief, thing, event, etc., so that it is unambiguous and complete.
posted by theora55 at 9:55 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


In summary, start with the meaning first, write out the description of the art first and then create the art.

I used to work with a stock agency photographer, and before the team even started a shoot, they wrote down the three keywords they were aiming at, so this technique probably works for some cases. This is what I tend to do personally.

(sorry if this came off as a rant, I'm trying to be enthusing but it might have come across a little critical, I didn't mean to be.)

No worries pmcp, the internet is such a bad form of communication and I've alreadry rankled people without meaing too! I feel rather bummed because I wish after 20 classes at this school, someone had explained the processes that a few people have laid out. It's so frustrating because it is the most important thing an artist can learn and will affect not only their success but their success in receiving grants and whatnot.

Are there two issues here?

One is the hyperbole others spew about the squashed milk carton. Perhaps their statement isn't ringing for you because it's really BS or you don't speak their language.


Mightshould, I believe you're on to something there. Having had a career before returning to school, I do have trouble with such an exaggerated world that often seems to throw up barriers instead of making work accessible to everyone. I believe I know the language, but maybe I don't :-)

Miko, I will have to check that link out. Cliches are a huge problem because I live in a place that is easily cliched and constantly cliched, so perhaps part of my problem too. It's easy for me to write about other people's art, just not my own I guess. There is supposed to be someone that can help with writing statements, which I found out today, but the web page I was pointed to has no information that. Just par for the course really with my school - this past year I have experienced the "Talk to A" who says "Talk to B" who says "Talk to C".

I talked to my current teacher (the one I really like and is approachable). She reassured me it is a problem that everyone has. The key seems to be constant editing. Her advice echoed others here and suggested writing down notes and thoughts at every stage of the process, compiling, then distilling and reading out loud.

Thanks much guys, I do believe I'm on the right path to not spewing BS and doing a better job :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 8:38 PM on February 16, 2012


Hi peeps, just wanted to report back that my last crit and artist went exceptionally well! Thanks again for the help!
posted by Calzephyr at 6:14 PM on March 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Awesome. That's really great to hear, congratulations!
posted by Miko at 7:12 PM on March 8, 2012


Thanks Miko :-) It felt so good to finally break that barrier.

I realized that should have been artist statement in my comment btw.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:28 PM on March 9, 2012


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