Creative Insights: Jen Cushman

Who You Are and What You Bring to the Table

Last month, we established up front that YOU are an Artist. That you’ve probably always been an artist, and that you were born with a creative brain that looks at the world differently from those around you.

We figured out that Art Chose You. But, at some point, there is going to come a time in your artistic life when you want to get the word out about who you are and what you bring to the creative table.

The very first marketing tool to consider is your Artist Statement. People often confuse an artist statement and a bio. They’re not the same, though they serve a similar purpose: to tell others about yourself.

As artist Lesley Riley explains, “A bio is what you’ve done. An artist statement is why you do it.” Lesley crafted her artist statement in 1999 when she began her teaching career in mixed media, and hasn’t wavered from it.

“When I went ‘public’ with my art, it was really important for me to convey the joy and magic that I found in art so that others would go seeking that same magic.” she explains. “The only thing I’ve changed is the word daughter to granddaughter because although my kids have grown up, the circumstances in which I create and the reasons why are still the same.”

There came a point in my career when I began to dream bigger dreams for myself, and that’s when I sat down one afternoon to craft my artist statement. I found it to be a soul-searching exercise as I asked myself some prompts to aide in my analysis:

Why do I create? What does art mean to me? What inspires me and how do I express/translate this inspiration into my pieces? Do I have a style? If so, what is it? What are my art-related goals for the future?

Many people will create work and sell it for years before ever deciding to write their artist statement. The reason I advise doing it first as part of your marketing plan is that you must know who you are and why you do what you do before you can explain it to others.

Storytelling is a key element in skillful artist statements. Much like when you make a piece of art, strive to evoke a feeling. Good stories reveal themselves to readers in a personal way. Take, for example, the artist statement of Karen Michel.

Karen’s statement is akin to her work. Investigative, soulful, joyous and magical. She paints a narrative in a few short sentences that leaves me wanting more.

“Your artist statement is your conversation with viewers of your art that you don’t always get to meet face to face. It’s your opportunity to fill them in on your story and bring them along on your wild and wonderful ride,” says Karen.

Traci Bautista has a beautiful artist statement. Not only are her words descriptive, she structured her statement in a visually poetic way that is as lovely to the eye as it is to the mind.

Traci says that when she thought about creating her artist statement, she wrote a list of words that described her artwork, her creative process, and the things she wanted people to know about how and why she creates her art. She listed the items with which she creates, her choice of colors and how she develops her ideas.

“My thought was to draft a message I wanted someone to understand as they look at my art,” she explains.

While Lesley, Karen and Traci all have successful artist statements, there’s one salient piece of advice I’d like to offer. As a visual arts writer and editor, I have read some really awful prose where artists confused being descriptive with being exaggerated. My friend Lynne Perrella and I agree: succinct is best.

“A long-winded esoteric drone filled with pretentious art-jargon terminology is just plain silly. It becomes a barrier between the artist and the people who might potentially be interested in the artwork, and it is needlessly secretive and over-blown,” explains Lynne.

What is succinct? One well-written paragraph if you can pull it off. Three paragraphs are good, and the whole thing shouldn’t be more than one page. For example, my artist statement is a longish eight paragraphs, though I could edit to three if I wanted to cut my story short.

The most important point to consider when crafting your artist statement is to be authentic. Seek out artists whose work you admire, but always return to what’s in your heart and your soul because it is guiding you in the direction of your dreams.

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Bio: Jen Cushman is a natural storyteller who found mixed media art a decade ago and never looked back. She is drawn to the imperfect, the funky, the quirky, the artsy and the authentic: be it people or objects or art. To learn more, visit her website www.jencushman.com.


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