By Emily Pezzulich
Whenever artists are asked to write an Artist's Statement, there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth. And for the most part, it’s justified.
After all, no one has ever been accused of getting to the top of his or her artistic field by writing a great Artist’s Statement. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to determine what, if anything, your Artist’s Statement contributes or hinders your success.
Nonetheless, as artists, we are continually asked to provide an Artist’s Statement.
So, instead of pulling your hair out trying to figure out what to say, reframe the question to “what is the specific gallery owner, show promoter or other person who is asking for the statement, looking for?”
As with most things, knowing the objective always makes writing easier.
That said, here are some helpful guidelines that will make the whole process much easier.
What is an Artist’s Statement?
It’s a written description of your work that gives your audience deeper insight into it. It can also be a general introduction to your work as an artist… the what, how and why of your work, from your perspective.
It tells your audience:
- about your work
- the reasoning behind it
- why you chose a particular subject matter
- why you work in a certain medium
It shows your audience the relationship between you and your artwork, ideally setting you apart and making both you and your work more memorable.
An Artist’s Statement is NOT instructions on what to experience, what to think, how to feel, how to act, or where to stand.
Generally speaking, you’ll need to provide an Artist’s Statement when you make proposals, apply for juried shows, gallery exhibitions, scholarships and grants or other funding. And it’s a great source of information for art reviewers, journalists, reporters, and everyone else.
Another important note: An Artist’s Statement is NOT a biography. Sometimes you’ll be asked for both an Artist’s Statement and a biography, sometimes you’ll be asked for one document that contains both, and sometimes you’ll be asked for one or the other. There’s a lot of confusion out there. But it’s important you know the difference between an Artist’s Statement and a Biography. Here it is:
- An Artist’s Statement is about your work.
- A Biography is about you.
Think of a biography as a resume in paragraph form. It includes information such as where you’re from, your education and/or training, where your work has been presented, and awards and honors you have received.
Biographies will be necessary for any publication, print or online, that accompanies your work. Post your biography on your website. And ensure they are included in your catalogs, programs, and press packets. Write your biography in the third person (“Ms. Artist attended,” not “I attended”), and update it at least once a year.
Preparing to Write Your Artist’s Statement
Now that we’ve established that you need an Artist’s Statement rather than a biography, the following exercises will help you construct the building blocks.
Ask yourself the following questions, and write down the answers – you’ll probably want to use much of the same language when you write the final statement.
Hint: This is the time to do serious thinking about your work… not only will this information help you write your Artist’s Statement, it’s a great way to step back and look at where you’ve come from, and where you are going.
- · What does your work look like – size, colors, shapes, textures, light, objects, relationships, etc.
- · Why do you like to create this type of work?
- · What inspires and/or influences your work? (Think people, events, situations, dreams, experiences, aspirations, ideas, etc.)
- · What kind of materials, tools, surfaces, processes, etc., do you use?
- · What is your creative development process?
- · What do you like most about your work?
- · What concerns you about your work?
- · What themes do you use in your work?
- · Do you have an overall vision for your work, and if so, what is it?
- · Does your work fit into a series or larger body of work, and if so, how?
- · What do you care about most (any personal, social or political issues) that is reflected in your work?
- · Who do you feel will appreciate your work?
- · Who would you like to reach with your work?
- · How would you describe your background, and how has it influenced you?
Next, create a list of words and phrases that describe the following elements.
You’ll want to make the language as vivid as possible… ideally the descriptions should evoke the same feelings as your work.
- Your work
- · Yourself (as a person and as an artist)
- · Your creative process
- · Your important influences (dreams, experiences, people, etc.)
- · The themes you employ
Writing Your Artist’s Statement
Once you’ve thought about and answered all the questions, it’s time to write.
There are two ways to go about this. You can write your statement yourself, or punt and give all this information to a writer/friend. Prepare to pay a reasonable stipend for this service.
The Structure of an Artist’s Statement:
- Begin with an overview paragraph that makes a clear and concise statement about your work, and support that statement.TIP: Think of your audience as a person you know and like, and who’s VERY interested in your work.
- · Next, go into detail about how the issues or ideas mentioned in the opening paragraph are presented in your work.
- · Then talk about why you use the materials, tools and processes employed in your work
- · Finally, sum up the most important points made throughout the previous paragraphs.
Adapting Your Artist’s Statement to Fit the Purpose
Create 3 versions of your Artist’s Statement
- The “elevator” pitch – a 25-word statement highlighting the central idea of your work, with the goal of immediately capturing attention. Memorize it and use it in cover letters, when meeting people for the first time, attending social functions, etc.
- · The “half-pager” – addresses the most pertinent information about your work, a particular series or media. Usually a short introduction or overview for applications, project description, etc.
- · The “one-pager” – for when you need the more complete statement about your work, your themes, influences and medium. Use in applications, as a reference for marketing purposes, promotional materials, and so forth. (This is one page, double-spaced).
Material in this presentation can be sourced to:
- NY Foundation for the Arts, by Matthew Deleget
- NY Foundation for the Arts Full Time Artist MFA Curriculum
- Jackie Battenfield, The Bronx Museum of the Arts
- Virginia Commonwealth University Senior Seminar materials