Does the mere utterance of the two words "artist statement" have you slamming your computer shut and running far from your pens and pencils to a place where artist statements don't exist?
Afterall, you are an artist—not a writer—right?
Wrong. Well, sort of wrong.
Of course, the focus of your career is your artwork. But, you need to be able to communicate about your work with clarity, focus, and passion. If you can't take the time to explain yourself and your vision in simple terms, don't expect anyone else to take the time to understand it.
You are the one person in the world that knows your work intimately. You—and you alone—have spent the most time thinking about the themes and symbols in your artwork.
Your artist statement should be a written description of your artwork that gives deeper insight into your work through your personal history, material choices and themes you address. It helps both viewers understand what is most important to you and galleries explain your work to potential buyers.
Make the most out of your statement by avoiding these common downfalls.
Avoid have just one version of your artist statement
Your artist statement is a living document. It should reflect your most current body of work. As your work changes and develops, so will your artist statement. Since you will be using your statement as a basis for grant proposals, cover letters, and introductions, it's important to have multiple versions of this document.
You should have three basic statements: a one-page statement, a one or two paragraph version, and a brief two sentence version.
The one-page statement should be used to talk about your larger body of work that will be used for exhibitions, in your portfolio or in an application. A longer statement should address the themes and concepts not immediately apparent in your work itself. This can then be used as a reference for journalists, curators, critics and gallerists to promote and talk about your work.
You can use two-paragraph statements (about a half page) to talk about a specific series of your work or more succinctly covers the most important information about your work.
The short, one to two-sentence description will be the "elevator pitch" about your artwork. It will address the main idea behind your work, be easily inserted into your social media bios and cover letters, and capture that attention of anyone who hears it. This is the phrase that you will rely on to quickly explain your work to fresh eyes so that they can better understand it.
Avoid using art jargon and overly intellectualizing your statement
This isn't a time to prove your background and knowledge of art theory and history. We trust that you have the accolades and education to be where you are—you made that evident in your artist bio.
Too much art jargon can isolate the viewer and push them away before they have even had a chance to see your work. Use your statement to make the mission of your artwork more clear, not more obscure.
Assume that everyone who reads your artist statement isn't an artist. Use simple, clear, and short sentences to deliver your point. It is most impressive when you can carry across a complex idea in simple terms. Don't obfuscate your point with overly complex writing.
Re-read your writing when you are done and highlight any potentially confusing sections. Then, try to explain what you really mean out loud. Write that down.
If your statement is hard to read, no one will read it.
You might want to try and include the biggest ideas about your work, but avoid talking about your work in general terms. Think about two or three specific pieces and describe them, their symbolism, and the ideas behind them in concrete terms.
Ask yourself: What was I trying to convey with this work? What would I want someone who has never seen this work before know about it? Would someone who hasn't seen this work understand, at least on some level, what the work is trying to do and what it looks like through this statement? How did I make this work? Why did I make this work?
Answering those questions should help you develop a statement that makes the reader want to go see your exhibit or look up your work. Your artist statement should answer the questions that viewers might have when they see your work.
Avoid weak phrases
You want to come across as strong and confident in your work. This is many people's first introduction to your work. Make sure you start strong with a compelling introduction sentence.
Avoid using phrases like "I am trying to," and "I hope to." Cut out "aspire" and "attempt." Remember, you are already doing these things through your work. Replace these phrases with stronger action words like "reveals," "examines," or "questions."
We all feel insecure about our work at times, and that's ok. However, your statement is no place to reveal these insecurities. People feel confident about the artwork that comes from a confident artist.
Talk less about what you are attempting to do with your artwork and more about what you have done. If you are having trouble conceptualizing it, think of a specific instance or story from your past and weave it into your narrative. How does your work make people feel? How do people react to it? What have people responded? Have you had one or two big shows or memorable events? Write about those.
The last word
Your artist statement should communicate the deeper meaning of your work with clarity and precision. It should draw in the viewer and make them want to learn more.
With a well-crafted statement, you can give insights into your work through your personal history, material choices and themes you address. Taking the time to make a well-thought-out artist statement not only helps viewers understand what is most important to you, it helps galleries communicate about your work.
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