Artist Rebecca Rath in the studio. For Rath, being an artist is a balance between admin, correspondence, and painting. Photo credits: Ryan Jenkins Photography
Alicia Puig is the CEO and curator of the online gallery PxP Contemporary, Director of Business Operations for Create! Magazine, and an arts writer.
She also co-authored The Complete Smartist Guide, a bestselling business book for emerging artists. Her writing has been featured in publications and on blogs including Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, ArtSpiel, Art Seen Magazine, and Art She Says, among others.
In addition, she has served as a guest curator for Hastings College, All She Makes, Rise Art, Visionary Art Collective, and Altamira. She offers one-on-one writing and editing services for artists. Learn more on her website.
I’ve heard many artists ask why they should write an artist statement when they believe their work speaks for itself.
I’m not here to disagree with that.
There is certainly an element of having others view your work that is out of your control. Everyone will approach your art with their own background, beliefs, and experiences, and as such, will take away something different.
But artist statements are not to tell people what to think about your work.
They should act as a guide, explaining aspects of your art that people might not immediately notice or appreciate on their own. In this way, people can have a deeper and more engaging connection with your work — hopefully leading to wanting to collect it!
If writing about this work in this manner sounds like a tall order, this article is here to help. Steer clear of these six things to avoid saying in your artist statement so that you can connect with your audience in a meaningful way.
1. "I’ve always been creative or I’ve been an artist from a young age."
Your statement is an opportunity for potential collectors and curators to get to know more about you, your work, and what inspired it. While it might seem appropriate to start from the very beginning, these overused phrases stated on their own are simply not unique to you and therefore don’t really add to the context of your work. Most artists can cut this information out of their statements completely.
If you feel a sentence like this is important for you to mention as part of your journey, however, then specifically explain why.
As the granddaughter of a painter and sculptor, I’ve always been creative and wanted to follow in the footsteps of my multi-generational family of artists.
I’ve been an artist from a young age and some of my earliest memories recall creating watercolor sketches of family and friends, the precursor to my figurative work today.
Specificity turns these sentences into significantly more intriguing facts about you.
2. Other generalities about your artwork without evidence
Along the same lines, don’t make vague statements such as I love nature, I play with color in my work, or my work is about contrast, without supporting them with evidence. Again, many artists can talk about how their work relates to nature, color, or contrasts so it’s up to you to explain how yours does in its own distinct way.
Let’s use color as an example:
- In what way(s) do you experiment with color?
- What kinds of color palettes do you use?
- Do you seek to convey certain emotions and, if so, why?
- How do you apply color in your work?
Push yourself to write specific descriptions about your inspirations to make your statement both engaging and insightful.
3. Personal information not related to your art
Statements that discuss other hobbies, jobs, pets, and family members not related to your art are confusing for your reader.
If any of these subjects do not directly influence your work or career as an artist in some way, nix them. Usually, statements like this end up rambling on for longer than the typical two to four-paragraph length that will suffice for giving a concise description of your work and process.
Artist Andrea Mindell installing work for an exhibition in LA.
4. Starting your artist statement with your inspiration
It may be tempting to dive right into why you create what you do, but don’t forget to explain what you make.
Remember that in some cases, people might be reading your statement before seeing your art.
This doesn’t even have to take a full sentence.
It could be a phrase like:
My mixed media abstract drawings are inspired by…
I’m a ceramic and glass installation artist who…
5. Any adjective to describe your art that you repeat more than a few times
Your statement absolutely should include several adjectives that are descriptive of the kind of work you do. That said, by the time I get to the fourth ‘colorful’ or ‘moody’ or ‘expressive’ in the same statement, I’m thinking: I get it.
One very simple way to avoid this is to open up a new tab and pull up a thesaurus to have handy while you write. This way, you can quickly and easily do searches to help you vary your language.
Avoid 'artspeak' or IAE (International Art English) at all costs! Luckily, this is mostly found in press releases rather than artist statements, but I have noticed it every once in a while.
Even if your work is heavy on conceptual theories and art world '-isms', always do your best to write for a general audience to ensure that you're not unnecessarily excluding people who wouldn't be able to follow along if you use too much insider jargon.
If you're unsure about what constitutes artspeak, here is a line I pulled from an online artist statement generator (yes, they exist — but no, please don’t use one) that is meant to poke fun at this type of hyperbolic art writing.
What starts out as contemplation soon becomes corrupted into a cacophony of temptation, leaving only a sense of dread and the unlikelihood of a new beginning.
Confused? It's not just that this is taken out of context. I'm sure you notice that one of the biggest issues is introducing concepts without explaining them in more detail. What exactly does the writer mean by a 'cacophony of temptation' and why does it leave a 'sense of dread'? This sentence needs to be broken down into simpler ones with each phrase clearly defined — or if I’m being honest, completely rewritten into actually decipherable language.
Writing your statement can feel challenging or intimidating at first. Remember to be specific and let the same creative voice that guides your work guide your writing too.