Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing An Artist Statement

When working with words, it seems natural that you have to know what you are saying before you can write. Most visual artists know instinctively what they are saying when they are creating, but they are not always able to put that knowledge into words. The creative process sits at a subconscious level, I think—felt, but not always verbally identifiable.

The quandary is that artists are always asked to write statements about their art. While it is possible that somewhere in a book or online there is a guide and master template on how to write these statements, but from what I have seen there is no evidence that people are reading that chapter. I see lengthy statements filled with art jargon. Or I see sentences circling earnestly, but not really communicating any information. I also see what I would call generic statements that say the artist is interested in people, or nature, or the way different colors look together. I see lists of qualifications. Or I see—I'll stop now. You get the picture.

Here are some suggestions how you might write a coherent, lively artist statement.
  • Start with (choose one!) a topic, theme, aesthetic style, type of medium or material that is important to you, that you enjoy working with. An intriguing first sentence from a fresh angle is good.
  • Demonstrate how your work addresses the above. Cite a couple pieces specifically and describe them in one sentence each.
  • Talk about your creative process: what sparks your attention, and how you work your idea through to the end. You might talk about specific inspirations (artists, writers, musicians, etc.) or one particular inspiration and the kinds of issues that interest you about it.
Specificity is the most important, most interesting part of an artist statement. For example, rather than say you make paintings about water or the ocean, write that you create waterscapes of the Oregon coast. Make the statement personal: include a bit of your own history that illuminates your work. Show why you do what you do and what makes you different. Think about your audience. If you were the audience, what would you want to know?

She Said I Like Almost Anything
From A Distance,
 1987
The following are a few examples of clear, interesting, or concise artist statements you can see online. While many people post their biographies, not as many post their statements. A couple of these merge the two forms. See what catches your eye.

Above all, know what you want to say, then write clearly so that anyone can understand. If you are having trouble figuring out the right words, describe your ideas to a friend, then ask your friend to repeat back to you what s/he thought you meant. It might be easier to brainstorm out loud. And you might discover something new about yourself in the process.


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