Never explain.

Posted on Jun 6, 2014 in Art making

Elbert Hubbard is quoted as saying, “Never explain – your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.” I agree with the root of this. Do I have enemies? If I do I’m not too concerned with what they think anyway. I agree with refraining from too much explanation.


With art, one is encouraged, and often required, to write an Artist Statement. Statements are a way for an artist to provide a  little explanation for their motives. This can be a good thing.  It is a way for the viewer to find an entrance into the work. For example, an artist chooses to heavily use the color orange in their work. One can see orange over and over and the viewer’s eye is drawn to it. Why orange? An artist statement can provide a bit of an explanation why. “I use orange as a symbol of my grandmother. She made a bright orange quilt for me when I was six years old and since then I’ve associated this color with her memory.” Etc.

With that explanation, I, the viewer, get a way into the work. I had a grandmother who quilted too…


In school, we were required to attend the weekly critiques. Put your work up and take the comments from students and instructors. Learning experience. Sometimes painful. Within this process one learns to defend ones choices. “Why orange?” they ask. One learns to anticipate the questions and have answers at the ready.

Autumn Joy Sedum

I love process. When I made prints, I loved the process of inking the plates, dampening the paper, turning the handle on the etching press. Step-by-step. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

And clay is the same. Many sequential steps to achieve a desired outcome.

Critiques became part of the process. An offshoot of putting work in front of an audience.


I learned quickly that during the critique process I needed to talk about the work I had done – not the work I intended to do. Only take comments on the work that had already happened.

Making the work was my way to describe the idea I was attempting to communicate. If I had words to describe my intentions, I wouldn’t need to created the art. Using words to describe an idea confused the issue. My classmates and instructors created different images in their heads. Show not tell was the unofficial rule.


Never explain. Mostly.


1 Comment

  1. Louise Gagné
    June 6, 2014

    I liked your short essay and I agree that one should only comment on work already done and not reveal anything about one’s future creations which have started to emerge and take shape. Art serves to embellish words but words can sometimes change what is seen and perceived.


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