The task of writing an artist statement can be a daunting one. When working in a visual profession, having to explain your work in writing can seem like a gratuitous exercise. Yet, a good artist statement is essential for moving up as an artist. What’s more, it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your practice, appreciate the value of your art, and tackle anything that isn’t working. With ArtWeb’s comprehensive guide, drafting an artist statement has never been easier.
What is an artist statement?
An artist statement is a short text that gives insight into an artist and their work, in their own words. It should offer a clear understanding of the art in question, and enhance the viewers experience. The artist statement has many purposes, it is typically a requirement for working with galleries, applying for funding, residencies and other professional opportunities. If you have a website, an artist statement can be a great marketing tool, effectively communicating the particularities of your work to potential buyers.
What should I include?
When writing an artist statement, it’s important to be as concise as possible. Every sentence should communicate its own idea in simple terms — don’t overcomplicate it! The tone and structure of the text should be unique to you, however, there are some basic rules to follow in regards to the content. The recipe for the perfect artist statement is made up of three basic ingredients: the what, how and why.
What: What is it that you make? Whether it is figurative sculpture or short films about the weather, the key is to be specific. This is the hook of your statement, so be sure to get straight to the point. You should detail here the medium of your work, key themes and ideas, and a brief description of what your art looks and feels like.
How: This is where you tackle your process. Here, you’ll describe the materials you use, how you approach your research, and address any other unique elements such as collaboration with others or working in the public realm. You could use this section to describe an example of your work that demonstrates what you have discussed so far, something that encompasses your key themes and materials.
Why: The ‘why’ is often the most difficult, so it’s important to take the time to evaluate your work, and the motives that drive it forward. You should include one or two sentences about your influences and why they inspire you, who your target audience is and what you want to achieve through your work.
Tips to get started
Before you start crafting a slick and polished statement, sometimes it’s best to ease your way in with a few exercises. First, dig out your portfolio and really pay attention to the work you’ve produced. Now, try some of these:
1. Imagine yourself as a stranger, viewing your works in a gallery. How do they make you feel? Does your art convey what you intended? Jot your thoughts down in a notebook. Sometimes, the intention of an artist has little effect upon the viewers interpretation, but a good artist statement can help nudge your audience in the right direction, so make sure to notice the range of sentiment your work evokes.
2. When looking at your work, what adjectives come to mind? Make a list of these to choose from later.
3. Record yourself having a casual conversation about your work with a friend. Without the pressure to sound smart, we are often more honest about our intentions. It’s amazing what these informal chats can reveal. Transcribe the audio and see if anything stands out.
4. Have someone familiar with your work write an artist statement for you. Getting an outside point of view can be insightful and refreshing, and may help to expand your own perception.
Dos & don’ts
DO be economical with language. Think of sentence building as a game of jenga, the aim is to remove any unnecessary words, whilst upholding the sentence’s core idea. Once you’ve completed a first draft, read each sentence aloud and delete words as required.
DO know your audience. It’s helpful to have someone in mind when writing. A statement intended for a local community project, for example, will differ in tone from a statement you write for a commercial gallery.
DO be honest. Make sure your art and your artist statement complement each other. If you are experimenting or exploring something new in your work, say that!
DO keep it brief. Your artist statement should be between 150-300 words. Being concise shows you’re confident in the understanding of your work.
DO ask for feedback. Ask friends, family and teachers for their opinion and to check for any typos. But, importantly, give them plenty of notice — no one likes last-minute obligations.
DON’T use cliches. Avoid phrases like ‘I am passionate…’ or ‘My art excites me…’. This is a given, if you weren’t passionate about it, you wouldn’t be making it.
DON’T include unnecessary information. This includes biographical details. Unless it is directly related to your artwork, delete it.
DON’T be generic. Your artist statement is a stand-in for you, the artist. It should reflect your unique personality, interests and ambitions, so be as specific as possible.
DON’T undervalue yourself. Instead of ‘Through my art I hope to reveal the beauty in the everyday’, try ‘My work reveals the beauty in the everyday’. If you’re not confident about your work, your reader won’t be either.
DON’T use jargon. Art theory has its place, but it’s not in your artist statement. Your text should clarify your work, not obscure it. Use language that articulates your work clearly, and leave the formulaic jargon to the critics!
Artist statements we like
To help you conceptualise some of the above tips, here are two statements that clearly, concisely and creatively express the artist and their works.
Irish painter Esther O’Kelly
London-based photographer Juno Calypso