Great news, you got into a show! The bad news, they want an artist’s statement by tomorrow. How does one start the process of putting thoughts into word? As an artist you probably have a broad visual vocabulary but putting it on paper can be a little trickier. The ability to speak intelligently about your art can’t be underestimated and an artist’s statement can help viewers understand and clarify what they’re seeing when viewing your art. And remember, you don’t have to reveal everything to your viewers a little mystery can be nice. Just give them the basics and let their imaginations fill in the blanks.
Funny enough last week I had to write a new artist’s statement (above) for a show and I confess I sat there with a knot in my stomach for several minutes trying to figure out where to begin, and I do this all of the time. So to help you avoid the stress here are seven tips to help you carve out a well thought artist’s statement.
1. First ask yourself why do you make the art you make? In other words what influences your work? Is it where you live? The people around you? Memories? Perhaps a certain era in time? Or maybe it’s none of the above. One of my favorite artists is Maggie Taylor and in her artist’s statement she says the following about her own work,
“There is no one meaning for any of the images, rather they exist as a kind of visual riddle or open-‐ended poem, meant to be both playful and provocative….…”
I do not photograph people, I am recycling 19th century unclaimed photographs of unknown people.”
2. Ask yourself why do you use the material/s you use?
3. How does your work reflect who you are as a person or as an artist? Is it happy or sad?
4. Do you have a certain theme often found in your work? And if so why are you drawn to that theme? For example I tend to create figures with animal and human characteristics because my father was part Native American and when I was a little girl he really instilled a love of nature and animal life into me.
5. When you write your artists statement use your own voice. Don’t feel like you have to use big words or use “art speak.” Be yourself. Most likely you’re writing for people who enjoy your work and want to know more about you. Keep it real and use the present tense such as “I am making work that is a reflection of the world around me.” And if you’re stuck for words you might consider starting an art journal/sketchbook. Make your journal a place where your words and thoughts are free. As you start putting word to paper you will slowly become more comfortable writing about yourself. If you’re unsure how to start an art journal you might want to thumb through a copy of Art Journal magazine (below).
6. If you see too many sentences starting with “I” try to switch it up. For example rather than saying “I like using clay” restate it by saying “Clay is inspiring”. Or rather than saying “I am an artist” say, “Creating is in my bones.” And I find it helpful to read my statement out loud. If it falls clumsily off my tongue I tell myself to revise it.
7. And finally, keep it short, you’re not writing a novel. Most galleries want a paragraph or two. If you break it down to 2 paragraphs make the first one about why you make art and the second about how you make it (the materials and process).
Even if you already have an artist’s statement perhaps it’s time to reread it and see if it’s still applicable. Every so often when your artwork changes you have to jazz up the old statement or may even discover you need a new one. Make sure your artist’s statement reflects the work you make now. And if you need more help with writing an artist’s statement you might consider reading the book The Successful Artist’s Career Guide by Margaret Peot (above).
Keep it simple and speak about your art in your own voice and you can’t go wrong. Once you have your statement written post it to your blog and let your viewers enjoy a sneak peek into your thought process and sources of inspiration.
Maggie Taylor’s complete artist’s statement at Lanoue Fine Art:
Art Journaling magazine: