What is your intention?

Today I want to say something about a common belief among teachers of art, especially at a tertiary level. Students are often not only encouraged but required to write something about their work, sometimes in advance of its production i.e. a statement about their intention.

I don’t know where this practice comes from but I don’t believe in it. Often the statements are extravagant in both their language and their claims. We’ve all seen them in catalogues, and on exhibition walls although I won’t go so far as to say that we’ve all read them.

Frequently the artist’s statements are spiced up with quotes, Baudrillard is a favourite. Derrida too, of course.

Until recently I used to think that having students write these was a harmless if irritating and useless practice, but no more than that. Recently I have come to shift my opinion. I believe that it may actually be damaging to the creative process, that it may create static and interfere with the welling up of an art work into one’s consciousness. Like talking too much about the content of a novel that you are writing instead of just quietly getting on with it and letting it develop a life of its own, a life which may go in surprising directions. If I were a teacher I would discourage the practice, possibly even try to stamp it out, but then art teachers in New Zealand frequently follow it themselves, they have after all, commonly come through the same art schools, the same orthodoxy.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes, this one from Groucho Marx. “Art is art, isn’t it? And water is water and east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like apple-sauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.”