How To Write An Effective Artist's Statement

state - of - your - art - solution

by Patricia Bouk,
copywriter and consultant

As an artist, one of the most powerful and essential items in your portfolio, besides your artwork, is your "artist's statement". You can post your artist's statement on your Web site or have it available wherever you show your work. But what is an artist's statement? Is it just another marketing tool that you don't want to think about? Sure, it may end up being used as a marketing tool. But thinking of it only as a marketing tool is like thinking of your artwork as only something to hang on the wall to match the couch. Although your artwork may end up on the wall above the couch I think I can safely say that this isn't why you created it.

Like your art, your artist's statement is an expression of you. Think of it as an extension of your art making process using words. An artist's statement is you reflecting on your work, what it means to you and why. And like your artwork that you eventually place on display for the world to see, your statement will be handed over to other people to read and enjoy. For these reasons your artist's statement is very different from a resume, a personal critique of your work, a biography, or a list of your accomplishments. It's more personal than any of these.

Art dealers, gallery owners, and people interested in your work will all potentially read your artist's statement. They read it hoping to receive some guidance and inspiration. They hope that it will give them a fresh view of your work and insight into why it exists, why you created it, who you are, and how you created this work. In this way your statement becomes a link between you and your work; a link that helps people understand your work and you. As a link it also adds another dimension to your artwork. It expands the experience of your work by offering people another way to experience and appreciate it. And when you increase the experience of your work, you also elevate the perceived value of your work. Now that's a powerful thing.

Okay, now relax. A well-written artist's statement is important but it doesn't have to be intimidating. Think of it as a process. It will change as you change. It will change because your reasons for creating art will not always be the same as they are today. Think of your statement as a continual work in progress; a process rather than a finished piece etched in stone. The first step is to start. Here are 10 tips to help get you started writing your artist's statement.

1. Make it personal. People who read your statement want to make a connection with you and your work. This is not the place to use the third person or to write in a journalistic style. Draw the reader close to you by using "I" and "me" and place these in the present tense when it's possible.

2. Be concise. Keep your statement to one page. Even though your statement may be interesting people will be more likely to read one page. Three paragraphs is a good length. Some artists edit their statement down to one sentence. This may be on the extreme side of concise. The point is, stay focused and don't ramble. One clearly written page is all that is needed. Plus if it's only a page it's easy to photocopy and hand out to people.

3. Edit out all art jargon. You may have a BFA or MFA degree and you may know the latest art terms but in most cases your artist's statement is not the place to parade this knowledge. Most likely the people who read your statement will not be artists or may not know the latest art terms. Try not to use any language that will exclude your audience. Delete any words and terms that are confusing or unclear. Keep your audience in mind. The best way to guarantee your statement can be understood is to have someone read it who is a novice to art or represents your audience. If they stumble over parts of it, rewrite it.

4. Give the reason why. Tell the reader why you create your art and what it means to you. Why did you make the effort? What were you thinking at the time? What were you feeling at the time you created it? You may also want to explain the reasons why you create your work by describing the context. Where does a particular piece of artwork fit in relation to other work you've done? What are your goals and aspirations for your artwork? Telling your reader the reasons why you create your art is an important point. If you can express to others the emotion or context behind your creation then you give them another way to experience and appreciate your artwork. You're giving them a glimpse into your emotional and intellectual creative process.

5. Tell how. Briefly explain how you create your work. If you use an unusual technique or process then briefly explain that process. Let the reader experience the technical act of creation by describing the various decisions you had to make. Why did you choose one colour or medium over another? What problems did you experience working with your materials? Did the materials cooperate with your vision or not? How did you decide when the work was finished? Did you make "mistakes" that turned out to be brilliant additions? Let them get a feeling for the technical process of creation and some decisions you had to make along the way.

6. Be passionate. Your artwork was created out of passion and that emotion should spill over into your artist's statement. Don't be afraid to appeal to the reader's emotion with strong statements and expressive words. Your artist's statement shouldn't be an analytical piece of writing or critique. It should convey your feelings about your art and the process you went through to create it.

7. Keep it simple. Avoid complex explanations and obscure references. Picture your reader as a real person looking at your work. It helps to create a mental image of this person. It may help to visualize someone you know. Someone who may not know the difference between oil paint and acrylic, expressionism or pop art. Once you have a clear picture of this person write to that individual.

8. Write like you talk. This is hard to do. But this written statement should sound like you. Use everyday language and phrase words in the same way you would speak. Use words that are comfortable to you. Ask a friend to read it over to see if they could picture you saying what it says. Read it out loud to see if it feels comfortable.

9. Be honest. This is vital. Your statement is a reflection of you and your art. It should be as authentic and honest as your work.

10. Create different versions. Have several versions of your statement in your files. Create a general statement that covers all your work, one that specifically talks about one work, and another that talks about a particular series or body of work.

These tips will help you write an effective artist's statement that can be used in a wide variety of situations. Unfortunately, there are some situations where your approach will change slightly. For example, if you are writing a statement to apply for a grant you may need more substance, points of reference, explanations and deeper insight into how you interpret and see your work. Just keep in mind the purpose and the audience that will be reading your statement and adjust your statement for that audience.

Once you have your artist's statement, use it wherever an audience will view your work. Use parts or all of your statement in a brochure, press release, at an art festival, on a Web site, for a grant application, at an exhibition or a gallery, or in an article. In the end, your artist's statement may become your most creative and effective marketing tool.

If you want to contact Patricia just email your questions to
Fax them to1-519-471-6361, or phone 1-519-471-6073.

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