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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
- Make your artist statement compelling.
- Avoid 7 blunders that tag you as an amateur.
- Learn why galleries & collectors love good ones (even if
- Use the power of sensory connection to help people remember
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!
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