I recently read an interview with cultural critic Dave Hickey about why he’s effectively quitting the art world. He says, “Most writing about art these days is so bad that my secular readership has disappeared. Nobody but professionals and grad students even look at it.” Is this a depressing sentiment for an arts writer to hear? Definitely. But immediately after reading it I came across an example of why art writing is so important — the elusive artist statement. Two photography exhibits are opening tonight at Vanderbilt, and the work looks solid and the artists seem smart. But it seems to be the nature of an artist’s statement to make things seem less — not more — understandable, and most artists I know drag their feet about writing statements that seem so contradictory to their craft. It’s not that I blame the artists for saying their work “explores ways photographic description can provoke uncanny disturbances in the understanding of place.” On the contrary — as someone who writes about the arts, I’m grateful to be reminded that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and writers have to be able to connect with people for their work to perform its highest functions. In the meantime … Dark Matter is a product of Austin-based photography collective Lakes Were Rivers, and Slow No Dust includes 35 works from digital and photo prints to collage and found paper by Portland-based artist Nicole Lavelle. I have a hunch that both shows are worth checking out — but that has nothing to do with the artists’ statements.