Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Writing about one’s art is hard. No matter how experienced or accomplished you are, it’s never easy to summarize your work. However, artist statements are an essential element of being a creative professional as they introduce the language of your art to the public.
A good artist statement gives viewers, gallery owners, curators, reviewers and critics who are coming in contact with your work for the first time, a vehicle in which to understand what you are trying to say. It helps to answer questions they might have.
Artist statements are also necessary when writing for grants, graduate programs, to galleries and competitions. They are an important marketing tool as they introduce your art to potential buyers and explain to readers why it is unique.
There are a few different type of statements. These are Full-Page Statements, Short Statements, Short Project Statements and Bio’s.
Let’s begin by discussing what an artist statement should do.
As stated earlier, an artist statement is an introduction to our work, a body of work, or a specific project. The first sentences are probably the most important. They should state the ” work’s basic ideas”; the elements that describe your work. This is best done with two or three well-crafted sentences or a very short paragraph. Next statements should then tell a little about who you are as an artist.
Your artist statement can be written in either the third person or the first person. If you will be using it on your own website, blog, or social media, or if you are having a solo show; in some situation that is more individual, the first person comes across as more casual but also more directly connected with the reader. If the statement is to to be published in a magazine or being sent to a gallery or exhibition call for entry, use third person in the text. An excellent exercise is to write the artist statement in both first and third person, using the same wording. It is very interesting to read both statements and see how differently they feel as the reader.
This should be done in language that anybody can easily understand. (Not in language that only those who’ve been to art school or are involved in your medium will understand.) A good, strong statement makes your art accessible to everyone. It doesn’t exclude. Remember the people reading this statement want to know about your work. Remember also the tiny details are not necessary at this juncture. There will be time for that later. Think of the statement as an introduction to a great book or movie. Be genuine.
Ask yourself these questions as you compose your statement: Why do I make art? What is my inspiration? Why is my art important? What will interest people about my work? What is different about what I make? What am I trying to convey? How did I relate personally or conceptually to the theme (If the piece is part of a themed exhibition, or describe your own personal theme of the piece )? What did I choose the colours/forms/ textures when creating this artwork? What special materials did I choose for this artwork, and why do they relate especially to my concept? What do I want the viewer to see/feel when they view this work? Try to summarize this in a manner that is simple, clean and informative. Try your best to attract the reader’s curiosity. Be compelling. You want to hook the reader, the way a writer does with a really great first line in a novel. You want to be intriguing.
The best statements are a balance of information and simplicity. Avoid being overly poetic. Keep it grounded. Try not to sound pretentious or grandiose or cliched. This turns readers off. Also avoid being too technical, or too wordy or long winded. Lastly, though you want to have a confident manner, be careful not to sound like you are bragging or too much like a salesperson.
The second paragraph of an artist statement should examine in detail how you examine the ideas you wish to focus on in your work. Some things to think about when you are writing this part are: How long have you been felting for? Have you shown your work in any exhibitions? Has your work been published anywhere? What inspires you to create? Where do you create? You may find you can’t answer all of the questions. Just answer those that you can. Read over your piece and see if there are one of two additional details you want the reader to know about you. Over time you’ll start to have answers for all of these questions, which is why you’ll want to review this statement at least annually, or even every six months.
If you are writing a longer, full-page artist statement, here are some things to consider discussing more fully: The history of the work being discussed and why you began making it, your vision for how you see the work evolving, how you expect viewers to react and interact with the work, how your work has evolved over the years (in short how did you get here.) How does your work fit within the current artistic climate, past exhibitions and upcoming shows, creative sources and inspirations, the techniques that you use that are unique to your discipline. Remember when finishing this longer piece to recount the essential elements of your statement again, the way you would when finishing an essay.
After finishing your statement ask some trusted colleagues for feedback. Ask them if they found any of it hard to understand or confusing? (If you don’t trust your writing, spelling, or grammar, find a friend who is talented in this area to check it for you.) Don’t be afraid to rewrite your work several times. Remember this statement is your calling card.
Here are some great sites with more information about writing artist statements:
This site covers examples: https://www.theartleague.org/blog/2015/08/24/artist-statements-we-love/
Artist statements by famous artists. https://renee-phillips.com/art-and-artists-statements-by-famous-artists/
Tips for writing a statement: https://www.artsyshark.com/2014/08/26/how-to-write-an-amazing-artist-statement/