We're artists. We paint, dance, act, strum, perform and write. But are we (even you, authors) masters of writing about what we do? Not always. Still, the world expects us to spell out the our ideas and goals in order to score the grants, residencies and jobs we need. The Edit is a look at artists' statements, bios, cover letters and the editorial process that shapes them into more persuasive arguments for one's practice. Our hope is that this feature will help artists tackle the onerous task of writing about their work ... and winning the grant. Want us to take a look at yours? Submit your statement.
Rosy Torres's work is rooted in what she calls "journalistic or documentary-style photography" wherein she explores the cultures and history of the people that she photographs. Her subjects have a sense of calm about them. You can already tell that they are comfortable with her before she snaps the shutter. Rosy wanted to revamp her website to better showcase her work; she visited us at CAR to get advice on writing an artist statement to match.
Rosy Torres is a 27-year-old first generation Chicana Artist from Chicago. Her story begins in the womb of a 15 year old mother and a juvenile father being released from incarceration. She grew up learning the life of a gypsy and that of a hustler, and she often observed how machismo seemed to consume her mother's strength, but never her will. She learned that the odds weren't always against them, and the domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse ultimately informed who she became as an artist. Her goal is to “plant the learning seeds of consciousness around the ghetto Eden's.”- Miguel Pinero.
After art school, she began work framing art at a local frame shop. There she also started to frame the world around her through photos. In 2002, she took her first trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, which marked the beginning of a new spiritual consciousness, and in 2006 she returned to Mexico to hold her first solo exhibition in Chiapas. When she returned home she started to involve herself in community organizing, drum circles, and Native ceremonies. Eventually these spiritual elements fused with the philosophy of Zapatismo and a belief in the fight to witness hope in all people.
Through the camera lens, Rosy has awoken to appreciate all encounters of life and has a burning desire to expose truth through her photos. She enjoys documenting the world around her, and her journalistic style contains a poetic mysticism that gives life to her photography. Pilsen and Little Village are her home, her community and her artistic foundation, and since 2002 she has been exhibiting at cultural festivals, community group shows, protesting at Immigration and Anti-Domestic Violence Rally's, and traveling around the U.S., as well as Indian Country. She has collaborated along with other Artists / Mexica Dancers to open la Casa de la Cultura "Yoloatecocoli", and currently is working with Artist/Woodworker Gustav making Eco-Conscious Jewelry through www.simplywoodrings.com.
My Advice: Separate the biography and the statement.
I find myself becoming deeply interested in Rosy's subjects as I work my way through the prints that she's brought. They have a mysterious, timeless quality to them—portraying a South America that feels authentic. The statement she has written to describe that work shares a lot of insight into her background, what inspires her work, her process in getting to know the people she documents, and her interests in cultural consciousness. The only problem is, I'm reading a lot about Rosy and not enough about her work.
The key to a good artist statement is to dig into what the work is about. Perhaps calling an essay an "artist statement" is misleading, as artists generally seem to think it should be about them. Your artist statement should be a statement by the artist and about the work. After reading her statement I felt that I knew Rosy well, but I found myself asking a lot of questions about her motivations; how her intentions are realized through those photos; and how the process of building trust, exploring consciousness, and offering a cultural exchange is expressed.
My solution: Separate the biography and the statement. Make them two discrete documents that you will have at-hand, ready for the different requirements of different juries and application processes. Here are a couple steps you can take right now to improve your artist statement:
- Remove the stuff about your childhood. If it's a major source of material, yes, recognize it, but it should not critical to understanding your work (unless solipsism is really your thing).
- Place the autobiographical information in a separate document.
- Tell the story of your work. Don't assume the reader understands it. Look at your portfolio while you write, be honest, and distill the ideas you're working through with your artwork. Write those ideas out and shape them into a compelling narrative.
- Cross out those big words you cribbed from art history. You don't sound scholarly. If my mother can't understand what you're trying to say, it's probably too complicated.
- Tailor your statement to a specific purpose. One statement won't sufficiently sum up three separate bodies of work. (If you have distinct bodies of work, read our advice to Nicole Garneau.)
In the revision below, I wanted to respect Rosy's emphasis on her upbringing and cultural heritage, but focus on her body of work and how Rosy has an intention to affect the viewer in a specific way. A detail like the Miguel Pinero quote seems so personally specific that it has to stay; it adds a hint of Rosy as a person. You can unpack that phrase repeatedly while looking at Rosy's work. At the same time, I compacted Rosy's family story and diverted that energy into how that history drives her work, and, in the third graf, spills out into other activities. This supports Rosy's awareness of and engagement with her subjects—qualities that act as bona fides for her work as an activist/documentary-ish photographer.
Rosy Torres is a first-generation Chicana photographer based in Chicago. Her documentary work addresses community dynamics through the lenses of politics, culture and spiritualism to arrive at artwork that depicts a compelling awareness of the populations she records. Her work is informed by a complex—often adverse—family history framed by native Mexican ceremony and tradition, as well as experience with cycles of violence and substance abuse. As an artist, Torres’s goal is, like the Devil in Pinero’s "The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito", to “plant the learning trees of consciousness around the ghetto Edens.”
As an advocate for witnessing hope in all people, Torres breaks from strict documentary tradition to imbue her subjects with a poetic mysticism that urges the viewer to appreciate life’s encounters, both on physical and spiritual planes. In documenting her specific worldview, Torres travels from her artistic and cultural base in the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhoods of Chicago to anti-violence rallies, Native American reservations and other venues that resonate with her artistic and personal priorities.
Torres has shown in Chiapas, Mexico; Chicago cultural festivals and group shows; and has collaborated on several interdisciplinary projects such as the opening of La Casa de la Cultura "Yoloatecocoli" and the development of a line of eco-conscious jewelry.
One of the most difficult parts of developing an artist statement is writing about your work for everyone. It's hard to translate your work and the ideas that drive it, but it's doubly difficult to make that writing understandable when you are threading in your own personal narrative. Take yourself out of the mix. Be as clear and specific as possible, and don't try to cram too much into your statement.
The Edit is a regular feature that addresses the editorial processes and decision-making involved in refining descriptions of work to match one's creative output. If you'd like to be considered for an edit session, submit your stuff.