The Artist Statement Dilemma: The First Draft

 

 

"Listen with the ear of the heart.

Lines that begin the Rule of St. Benedict

and weighs heavily

 in the diction and dedication of the Benedictine orders.

Listen.

This beginning runs a vein of vitality through

A community of eight,

pulsing through them,

Stoking the fire that burns with rich ferocity.

The flames relinquish

in mercy

and grow plenty in His grace.

 

Vocation is defined “as a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” For some, a vocation may be lived out through the dedication and practice of a specific craft or artist’s medium. For others, a vocation comes from an intense inclination, known as a “calling,” to join religious life. Both kinds call for a level of dedication and devotion as well as meditation and humility. 

For my thesis, I found myself teetering between the realms of vocation through living and working alongside a Benedictine community of eight women while photo-documenting them in their various domains of work and prayer. For more than three months, I devoted myself to understanding the Benedictine monastic life in its context being situated in rural Connemara, Co. Galway in the west of Ireland. “Ora et Labora,” meaning, “Pray and Work” is at the heart of these women’s vocation: each fulfilling an area of work within the community between the 4 set hours in which they drop everything to pray. The Benedictine lifestyle has change infinitesimally since it’s beginning in the 6th century.

The title, Listen, comes from the opening line of The Rule of St. Benedict, a book that holds as much weight and importance to this community as the Bible. Listen is about engaging with the day-in, day-out lives of the Benedictine nuns at Kylemore Abbey while presenting the circulating layers of atmospheres that exist day-in and day-out on the grounds: some overlapping harmoniously while others standing in a state of ambivalence. The historical context of the 19th century castle turned Abbey is a critical entry point into understanding present day functions. Serving as one of the largest tourist destinations in the west of Ireland while maintaining its integrity with an active monastic community is often tricky to navigate. The humble focus remains on the exploration of contemporary monastic life and it’s inevitable interactions with the ‘outside world’ and the presence of time through the physicality of nature and the pervasiveness of age, both within the community and through the disrepair in the castle."

This was my first go at writing an artist statement. What is difficult about doing this is how much of my project is still in the beginning or work-in-progress stage. Presuming how it will come together is a good exercise but I found myself struggling a lot with concisely explaining why my thesis matters and what I believe it to say. I want my project to be more than just a documentary account of these nuns. I feel as though my experiences and relationship I've fostered with these women is something much deeper than simply observation and a somewhat stagnant view of a cloistered lifestyle that many people don't often get to see. These women are incredibly intelligent, supremely poised, and outwardly defy the labels and stereotype often equated with religious women in the Catholic Church.

But how can I show that without going into a overly lengthy explanation or taking accounts of every way they defy the norm in my artist statement-- the only statement I am allowed to provide my audience to help inform them on what they are looking at and why it matters. 

What has been helpful about doing this first draft even with many unknown variables is that I was able to look more concretely at the work I already have, the work I have yet to do, and where the gaps are that I need to fill in order to create a unified series. I think moving forward I will continue to focus on honing my thesis statement, that is, solidifying what it is precisely that I want to be communicated through my images, through the exhibition experience, and through my book. By thinking about it in a form of structuring like an artist statement I think I will better be able to articulate myself as an artist and the gravity and complexity of this thesis work that I have put so much of myself in. 

The feedback I received from seminar was very helpful in reviewing the language and structure of the words I used and how I aimed at framing the statement. When I go back later on to complete drafts of my artist statement I will look at the effectiveness of the quote I used, how much necessity it brings as a prelude to my statement, and if it aligns exactly with what I am talking about. Additionally, I think I will include myself more in the statement, without over using personal pronouns. Highlighting the main themes in my statement while also including a bit of artistry and quirk is important to me and what I want my audience to take away from the statement itself and the series as a whole.