About the artist: Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich exhibits her work regionally and nationally. Artist residences at the Graves’ Foundation (2014, 2009), Playa at Summer Lake (2011), the Jentel Foundation (2007) as well as living and working with Aboriginal children in Central Australia (2010) have informed and continue to inspire her work. Her teaching includes Adjunct Instructor appointments for the Art Departments at Oregon State University and Lane Community College. She wrote and produced her first film, Mourning After, in 2014. http://www.caprarioart.com/
When she learned of her nomination for the Portland Art Museum 2015 Northwest Contemporary Art Award, a sense of urgency struck Kathleen. She realized she needed to revamp her artist website, both with updated images and a new artist statement. Informed eyes would be looking her way. She acted to update both her external website and her internal dialogue. We sat down together to discuss this process.
Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich: I read through my old website and it seemed pompous and naïve at the same time. I was embarrassed by the vagueness, the mushy-headedness.
Vicki Krohn Amorose: Were you using a lot of art-speak? Is that what you mean by “pompous?”
KCU: Yes. Art-speak masks what you don’t really know. That’s why I say it was also naïve.
VKA: Where were you, in your thinking, when you wrote your former statement?
KCU: Where was I? I was in a bowl of intellectual oatmeal. I was isolated and insulated by my ideas. I was complacent, taking part in an intellectual easiness – the easiness of my town, my world. The nomination brought a sense of urgency; I had to compete on a bigger stage. I was encouraged and scared that someone believed I could compete at this level. I knew I had to bring more rigor to my thinking, there was no room for complacency. I looked at the images and I looked at the words – the words were not up to speed.
VKA: Who were you talking to when you were writing the old statement?
KCU: I was talking to myself. I was coming from a place of emotion. I was BS-ing myself. At one point I said something like, “I hear the murmurings of paint.” That’s so embarrassing! Such purple prose! It’s so easy to fool yourself when you’re writing from a place of emotion, with no intellectual critique.
VKA: But the artist wants some emotion in their statement.
KCU: Yes, I was searching for an emotional truth. But an amateur is someone who makes art for him or herself and says to hell with everyone else. A professional engages with the world dynamically. They critically analyze their own work. There’s a dialogue of the mind; the professional is engaged in what’s happening in the world. To be a professional requires both sides of the brain, but they don’t always fire at the same time.
VKA: So how did you go about adding that intellectual assessment of your words? Did you throw out your entire old statement?
KCU: I started with examining my artwork, looking at it and remembering and re-experiencing the work, asking myself, “What was I thinking and feeling at that time? I read the words and thought, “Is any of this truth? How much is padded BS?” Fortunately I had a very good editor. She questioned everything. We would email back and forth and she would ask me, “What does this mean? How does this connect?” She examined every sentence and made me think about how each thought connected.
VKA: What advice would you give to artists who are looking at revamping their statements?
KCU: You really have to examine who you’re writing for. I recently applied and didn’t get a certain grant, and frankly, I was surprised. But when I asked for feedback from the grantors, they explained their point of view and I could understand. Their grant was specifically for career advancement, and I was applying for that old cliché, “The gift of time.” You really have to research who you’re talking to. You can’t just rehash what you’ve written for everything. Artists. It’s so hard for us to write things down. Once we have it written we want to use it over and over, but we get intellectually sloppy.
VKA: Did the effort of writing benefit your work?
KCU: When I was pressed to clarify my writing, it pressed me to clarify my work. I had to ask, ”How deep do I want to go?” I had a fear of what I might find, or more importantly, not find. Complacency is fear-based. If I’m lazy, I’m really afraid that there’s not anything else there. Artists have very fragile yet very large egos. We are vulnerable, and that’s when the work is most beautiful.