JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 316 to 333)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 316 to 333)




Artists' statements on their own do not necessarily provide adequate or sufficient authority to proceed with a particular conservation procedure. For a number of reasons, some but not all of which are discussed in this article, an artist may not be the best source of authority. In addition, there may be problems with methods of the collection or distribution of the information contained in the statement that affect its relevance or veracity. Often our interest is in relationships of ideas and processes, and we need to ensure that the statement reflects relevant complexities. It is important not only to ask questions about a particular work but to be able to judge whether that answer is specific to that object or can later be extrapolated to include other works. Simply amassing statements does not deal with issues of verification, context, and appropriateness.

If we are using artists' statements as a way of securing authority, we also need to consider the practicalities and problems of both collecting and distributing this information. It is important to be able to ascertain whether the interviewer has asked appropriate questions. It is important to be able to identify sarcasm and irony in an artist's reply. It is important to be in a position to judge when a statement is out of context and how important context is to the meaning of the statement. We do not want to impose a new meaning every time we pass on the artist's statement for use in a new context. Are there criteria we can use to judge the validity of a conclusion based on dialogue, in the way that we can judge a scientific conclusion valid? In collecting artists' statements, conservators need to consider the practical problems of such an exercise, including determining collection methods that reflect the meaning of the original statement. Taping with transcription is the method I used with Parr; videotaping the artist in front of his or her work is another. Being in a position to test a statement in a range of contexts would appear to be important. The use of the Internet and the World Wide Web opens up a range of possibilities not yet discussed in the literature. One useful tool would be the development of a directory of the addresses of artists, curators, and conservators who are interested in and willing to engage in dialogue. But the level of discussion and the tools conservators develop in order to make use and sense of these discussions need to be sophisticated. In this project it became clear that: (1) the context of the statement is critical; (2) dialogue is much more useful than statements; and (3) an artist's questionnaire sheet would have presented issues out of context and would have been so cursory as to be irrelevant.

All research relies on developing an appropriate skills base. These discussions with Mike Parr indicate the value of having research skills in aesthetics and philosophy, not just art history and scientific analysis. As a profession, conservators are actively seeking dialogue with artists. Dialogue brings up issues of authenticity, verification, and authority, and if we are to use artists' statements these are issues that need to concern us as a profession, as much as solvent mixes and determining original paint. There also needs to be close liaison with curators. It may be that a treatment report would read: “The primary concern of the artist for this work is the signification of process evinced through decay. The work should not be mounted or protected and should not have treatment to arrest decay and deterioration.” But a context for a conclusion such as this would also need to be recorded.

Copyright 1998 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works