Do you dread the process of writing your artist’s statement? Is there such a thing as writing an easy artist’s statement? It’s my hope that the 10 tips here can make the process feel more authentic and much less daunting.
An artist’s statement is a general introduction to your work. It is different from a bio, which can focus more on your history, representation, awards and so on. A good statement is like salt to cooking. It enhances the way a viewer looks at your art, by providing some context. Can writing one feel authentic and easy? One thing that might make it seem easier is knowing it’s good to keep it short.
A short and powerful statement has several advantages and uses. Short statements can be included on postcards. They can be committed to memory to invite conversation about your work with others. Most of us have shorter attention spans these days and a short statement ensures we can decide easily if we want to learn more. Consider creating a different statement for each process (illustration, mixed media, sculpting).
If you want to keep a traditional (longer) statement on hand to submit to juried shows or competitions, OK, but I’d like to invite you to at least consider making a short and sweet version, too and including it at the top of your About page with the option to “read more” in order to include the full-page version.
And now . . . the tips!
• Use Conversational Language
Does your statement read in a way you would normally speak to people? Someone who decides to read your statement will feel a greater connection to you if it sounds like you’re speaking directly to them.
• Try to Be All-Inclusive
Can a wide range of people easily understand your statement? You can get technical, socially relevant, trendy or philosophical in actual one-on-one conversations or the occasional blog post, but try to avoid excluding anyone here. And don’t worry about dummying it down; you won’t! Run your statement by friends or peers who aren’t artists to gauge how well you’ve explained your process.
• Begin Strong!
So many statements start off with phrases such as, “My work embodies _____.” or “Sally Artist has had a love of drawing for as long as she’s been able to hold a pencil.” or “I seek the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Boring. Be brave and start off with something authentic and unexpected! (Check out the first lines of Molly Gordon, Hannah Piper Burns or Andy Yoder.
• Use First Person and an Active Voice
If you write with an active voice, you’ll use fewer words and your message will be more straightforward and engaging. Maybe you currently have a statement you’ve written in the third person (Mary was trained as a sculptor.). This is OK for a bio, but you can create more intimacy and authenticity in your artist’s statement by using the first person. (Though try diligently not to overuse the word “I.”)
• Be Specific
Replace more general or vague phrases such as “inspired by nature” with something that expresses your authentic perspective like “enchanted by the tenacity of mushrooms and the sweet songs of the finch.” You don’t have to be poetic (unless you want to!) but give us a clearer image.
• Remember, Less is More
I know this is the hardest part—trimming down when every word feels precious. Trust me: When you can truly keep only what’s most important, your statement will read much more powerfully. Try to keep it to two paragraphs of six sentences or less each. Bonus points if you can keep it to seven or less total. Tip: One part that’s typically easy to eliminate is a history of how your work has evolved over time. We all evolve and change; what we care most about is what your work expresses today.
• Be Complimentary About Yourself
This can be another big challenge, right? Think about it, though, where is a better place to frame yourself in the best light possible, than here? This isn’t about awards, it’s about authentic traits and skills that set you apart and make your work unique and strong.
•Describe, Don’t Sell
The flip side is, try to avoid using words such as beautiful, stunning or gripping and instead, use words that create a clear image of your work.
• Interview Yourself
Think of an artist you don’t know much about and whose work you admire. What type of questions could you ask them? Answer those questions yourself as a way to consider bits to include which might seem obvious to you, but not to the rest of us. Here are some to get the wheels turning. See if any of these answers might be included in your statement.
One tool I could not live without is my favorite _____.
My favorite time of the day to create is _____.
I’m often surprised when _____ show(s) up in my work.
When I need to get out of a rut, I _____.
My palette comes from _____.
_____ rarely shows up in my pieces because _____.
I create what I do because _____.
Common themes include: _____.
Why do I create the type of art that I do?
What is my favorite part of the process?
• Leave It and Come Back
Crafting the perfect statement can get exhausting! Take a break. Leave what you have so far and come back to it later. You’ll find the tweaking process much easier with a bit of space and fresh eyes.
If you’re stumped even starting your statement, Jane Dunnewold uses a great process in her book Creative Strength Training. As she puts it, “Maybe some people will stay up all night listening if you are an exemplary storyteller, but 90 percent of the time it’s important to cut to the chase or you’ll lose your audience.”
I leave you with three statements, from artists you may have heard of, to look at for inspiration and I hope you’ll now find the process easier and less painful!
“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else… Nobody really sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.”
“I paint from the top down. From the sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the houses, then the cattle, and then the people. I look out the window sometimes to seek the color of the shadows and the different greens in the trees, but when I get ready to paint I just close my eyes and imagine a scene. I’ll get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live.”
“I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. It doesn’t matter how the paint is put on, as long as something is said. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. When I’m painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a get acquainted period that I see what I’ve been about. I’ve no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own.”