What Is An Artist Statement Anyway?

One of the most confusing aspects of an artist statement is deciding what it is. When I asked Bob McMurray, painter and President of the Federation of Canadian Artists, if he had an old artist statement we could compare to what he had just written, he said,

"Not really. I wrote some things for a web site, but it's not an artist statement. I've been thinking about writing one for ages, so I was primed and ready to go when I got your book."

Imagine my surprise when I surfed over, and found a perfectly coherent artist statement on that site. True, a few touch-ups and a stronger central theme would have been a plus, but what he had worked, and rather well.

So why was this clear to me, but not to McMurray? After all, he wrote the artist statement, which he did not think was an artist statement?

The answer is simple, if not obvious. I've seen it time and time again: artists suffering from *LOI. If you don't know, exactly, what an artist statement is, then how can you be sure that what you've written is an artist statement?

*LOI (n) - Lack Of Information

Here's a simple test. Stop reading and take two minutes to write down, on any scrap of paper, exactly what you think an artist statement is. Besides getting you to jump right in and write (Do I hear, perchance, a sharp intake of breath?), this FAST, SHORT exercise lets you know where you are right now. Then you can assess how much this article has actually served you. I strongly encourage you to NOT skip this step. (After all, what's 2 minutes out of your abundance of 1,440 minutes in one day?)

Now, (I'm assuming you have something written, yes?) how does your answer compare to one of the most common responses I hear: that you, the artist, are supposed to tell us, the viewer, something about your art?

Pretty wide-open, yes? A definition as vague as this becomes downright giddy with a steady stream of individual interpretations giving it one whirl after another.

When you don't know exactly what an artist statement is, you end up cobbling together resumes, biographical statements, and critiques about your artwork and technique. This usually happens when the way you use an artist statement - as support material for your art - gets confused with what it is: a very personal reflection on what, how and why you do what you do.

Defining an artist statement has the same benefits as setting a goal: it tells you if you are headed in the right direction. If you don't know where you are going, then getting there becomes a dicey affair. You could end up driving around for hours. On the other hand, if you establish where you are going, you have a marker for knowing whether or not you get there. This single step will save you hours of grief.

So, I repeat: an artist statement is what, how, and why you do what you do, from your perspective.

This means that an artist statement is personal, as personal as your art. It is also honest, in the very same way that your art reflects a true expression of your being. Because an artist statement speaks to the relationship between you and your work, it needs to be as authentic as your work. When done well, the statement and your art support each other.

The secret lies in how an artist statement builds another bridge between the artist and the audience. An effective statement creates a personal connection to the artwork and stimulates our human thirst for "story". This, in turn, triggers longer memory storage about the artist by immersing the viewer in two languages: visual and linguistic.

For people who see your work, a well-written statement keeps your name in front of them even longer. Name recognition, or branding as it's known in business, is nothing more than remembering - out of a virtual storm of cultural stimulation - what has struck a deep chord within us.

Another secret is that the artist statement is not just for art patrons and gallery owners. It is also for the artist. Writing an artist statement gives you another way to reflect on your work. When you dare to climb this small, professional Mr. Everest, a surprising view of your own work waits for you at the top.

The very effort of searching for words, which reflects your relationship to your art, increases your creative flow. This is true whenever we engage in a form of self-expression that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Like sweat from physical exertion, the struggle gets our juices flowing.

One of the great keys of creativity is to shake things up, get out of familiar boxes, work against the grain. Sometimes it is hard for an artist - whose artwork is, by definition, out of the box - to realize how easy it is for any pattern to become familiar. Working out of the box can, paradoxically, end up becoming another box.

Writing an artist statement - the what, how, and why of your work - will draw art patrons closer to your work, even as it deepens your own awareness.

As sculptor Ohnmacht, learned:

"Writing my artist statement gave me a chance to focus on myself. It opened up more creative juice and self-expression than I had experienced in a long time. Taming my internal critic, and the roadblocks to my inner mind, gave me new skills to express my heartfelt emotions to others.

Working on my statement gave me the opportunity to delve into my inner soul and reflect on the science of 'me'. When I took the time to evaluate what, how and why I do what I do, it refined my work and gave me a fresh, determined self-confidence that I had lacked before."

On the flip side, a poorly done statement lowers your credibility. Even if collectors love your work, an artist statement that comes off as arrogant, naïve, pushy, academic, or fluffy taints your artwork by association. Why take the chance? Your work deserves a statement that gives you the professional edge you need.

If you don't like to write or don't trust your writing, hire a professional who writes for artists - like me!

The artist statement sounds great. I like the way you included the new material I sent, especially your phrasing: "Intuition informs what reason shapes." You've captured the essence of my work. –O. Stamatiou, painter

Or ...

Get your own copy of Writing The Artist Statement: Revealing The True Spirit Of Your Work - the first and only complete resource book available.

  • Overcome writing blocks.
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  • Use the power of sensory connection to help people remember you.
Ariane's writing is like honey for bees. When she turns a phrase, it all but stands on its head! –Judy Phillips,
Archival Center Director
Writing your artist statement has never been so easy!

P.S. So, go ahead; expand your Art Supply Kit.

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