Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tailoring Your Artist Statement

Last month I wrote about writing an artist statement. As I think more about it, I realize that every time I submit work, whether it is to an exhibit, a publication, or as part of a resumé, I have to rewrite it to fit the context. Each of these statements is different and has a different goal.

General Statement
Goal: general, all purpose, a place to start and a reference point for other statements. 
Keep it short. You might include: your formal education (if relevant), the type of work you do (i.e. printmaking), the subdivision (screenprint), the themes (dreams), where you exhibit or  the gallery or agent that represents you, other activities that support work in your field (teaching, curating, grants or awards). Only include the information if it strengthens your statement or adds an interesting detail. Basically, this is who you are and what you do, your face to a stranger. Practice writing up a short form of about five reasonably sized sentences and a long form of one page or less, double-spaced.

Job or Grad School
Goal: to market yourself as ready to learn, but also to show yourself as an dedicated artmaker with a specific kind of knowledge and/or technique already. Convince gently but enthusiastically. 
The statement should include what makes you competent as well as special, what you can give as well as what you hope to get. Your life experience counts here, too, particularly life experiences that show self-motivation and independence, as well as openness to collaborative thinking. Write about what gets you excited and motivated to work, what concepts you want to investigate, what you hope to learn and what you hope to share. Be specific and focused when writing about your work and your creative process: this will show what makes you different. You can write about the projects you've instigated, what community you like to work with, what you've attempted to change out in the world. Write about your artistic influences only if the work motivates you to make something or is an example of your own artistic aesthetic. It's okay to get personal if something in your life impacted you like birth, death, travel, military service, or an individual like a friend or family member, but say why and how it impacted you; these things, in general, affect everyone. Stay away from words like "matrix" or "gestalt."  Jargon doesn't make you appear smart, it makes you unintelligible. Write it all first, then edit and distill, keeping only the strongest points and making sure you use active language. One page is best. Remember that your work may be reviewed by several people, and they will be looking at dozens of statements and/or portfolios. Keep to the point, be specific, and be succinct.

Gallery
Goal: to show that your work has a solid base, that you have solid experience, that you have a distinct direction, and demonstrate that your work can be sold. 
In other words, you have to build trust. In many cases, the gallery is looking at your brand. When certain kinds of art buyers find a look they like, they want to be able to count on finding it again. This is not true of all galleries, so make sure you know the style of the gallery you are submitting to. As an acquaintance once said, "There's no substitute for knowing what's going on." If the gallery accepts you and you sell well, they will want to trust that you can keep producing. In your statement you will want to include any art school degrees, where your work is collected, your creative process, themes, publications in which your work is included, awards, grants, and interests. Focus on the art itself and how you make it. You can, but need not list your support work (i.e. teaching) unless it is in an unusual area and adds color or possibly prestige. The shorter, the better. Confidence is good; too much self-promotion looks like you are covering up an inadequacy. (Note, never bring work in cold to a gallery. Visit first. Ask if they are accepting new artists. If yes, then see if you can make an appointment.)

Themed Exhibit or Publication
Goal: how your work is connected to the theme, show clearly why it should be included without telling literally why. Describe the work and perhaps the road that brought you there, if it is a good story or seems relevant.
Write about the specific work(s) and what ties it to the theme as well as how that theme impacts you personally or what it inspires in your creative process. One paragraph for each piece. That's it.

Humorous Statement
Goal: to be entertaining.
In certain cases you may want to write a funny statement. Use playful language, add curious details, concrete imagery, make the sentences conjure up amusing pictures. A humorous statement I've seen more than once is the one where the artist writes "she likes to refer to herself in the third person." Avoid it. Look at the style of what's already been done for that particular magazine, gallery, online archive, etc. and keep it in mind as you write.

Poetic Statement
Goal: to provide imagery and information, set a mood or give a feeling through words. The poem or lyrical language should match and/or echo your artwork.
This is a hard one. If you are a really, really good poet, you might be able to pull off a poetic statement. It's got to give a good idea of you and your work; stay on topic. 

In conclusion: remember your goal.

So these are my thoughts, only my thoughts, I represent only myself with these thoughts.
I wish us all the best.

Read Me: unique stories typed on cards, 2010