Much to think about here, Dave. Personally, I’m uneasy about artists “explaining” their art, partly because of the reason you offer (“if the art can’t speak for itself, what good is it?”), but also because an artwork represents more than just the artist’s conscious intentions â€” most (all?) art is not just a deliberate attempt to express what the artist feels, but arises also from motivations and understanding of which the artist might not even be aware. If so, the attempt to articulate what the art is “about” will almost certainly fail to credit what the artist doesn’t recognise but which appears, nevertheless, in the art. An artist’s statement directs viewers (more generally, those who engage with the work) along a particular path. This can be helpful, but it can also be subversive, making it difficult, perhaps impossible, for viewers to explore, and perhaps identify what the artist couldn’t.
The risk with artists’ statements is that any characteristic of the artwork that’s not identified in the statement might be dismissed as accidental, and, therefore, the artist will be denied credit for those characteristics. Just because the artist wasn’t conscious of those characteristics doesn’t mean he or she isn’t responsible for them. On the other hand, perhaps that suggests a possible reason why artists do write statements: for fear of being held responsible for something in the work for which they don’t wish to be credited?
Good statements complement the art; poor statements compete with it; the worst subvert it.
I’d like to say more, particularly about your intriguing statement that you believe compelling photos more difficult to achieve in woods and fields than in cities ( I find “landscapes” particularly difficult), and the notion of nature porn (are you aware of Daniel Dancer’s views on what he termed “eco-porn”, or Niall Benvie’s writing on the topic?). But I’ve ranted for long enough. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Dave.