Artists and their Message...What's the Deal?

"What's the Deal?" aims to provide artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts with an opportunity to hear the opinions of individuals that help run the art world. We have an amazing network of prominent art dealers and gallerists ready and willing to answer your questions. For this "What's the Deal?" post, Scott Zieher, of ZieherSmith, answers a question about an artist's ability to articulate the message behind their work. As always, we encourage you to share your opinion in the comments section. 

If we use your question on our blog, you will receive a free issue of New American Paintings, not to mention the opinion of an experienced art world professional. So keep those questions coming (Instructions on how to ask them at the bottom of the post).

Question: Is it a turn-off to galleries when an artist is unable to articulate the message behind their work, even if their work is really amazing, marketable, and cohesive? If not, then how do you help new artists construct a clear, brief message about their work?

Answer: Unfortunately, it's a fairly rare breed of artist who can be articulate and concise when writing about his or her work. That said, it's important-- getting at the concision and clarity required to do so is a good excursive exersize for any working artist. A practical statement should be writing itself in a long, drawn out ramble all the time in the studio. The great, angst-ridden, mid-century High Modernists didn't do our current generations much good in this regard. The laziness inherent in the statement "I am nature" should only be remembered because it's the only interesting thing Pollock ever said. On the other hand, your job is to make stuff, not talk about it. If the work is "amazing, marketable and cohesive" I don't need the artist to summarize it, that's my job. Yet somehow, it helps to have this mental/verbal tangent working constantly, it certainly is a good way to be able to summarize what you do, or what you think you do in the studio to someone quickly and forcefully without coming off as a clown. The "elevator speech" is a corny thing, but it works and it will surely help an artist in or out of the art world to be able to make clear what their practice means to them. - Scott Zieher, ZieherSmith, New York


Scott Zieher is co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith, established in 2003. In 2004 he was the winner of Emergency Press’s international book contest for his book-length poem, VIRGA. His second book, IMPATIENCE was published by Emergency Press in 2009 and in February 2010, powerHouse Books published BAND OF BIKERS, his collection of found photographs from 1972. A third book-length poem, GENTRY will be published in 2012. Jaded Ibis Press will also release a collaboration with novelist Christopher Grimes, featuring Zieher’s collages. Recent poetry has appeared in The Believer, Jubilat, KNOCK and The Iowa Review. Zieher was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and received his MFA in poetry from Columbia University in 1996. He lives in Manhattan with his wife (and co-owner of the gallery) Andrea, their son, Tennessee and dog, Robert.

ZieherSmith is located at 516 West 20th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues). The gallery presents technically sound, conceptually grounded artwork in an open environment, emphasizing new artists who reconcile contemporary experience with a strong awareness of historical precedents.


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