How to write an artist’s statement
The most important part of writing an artist’s statement is to write many more than just one. A statement should change completely with each new project, or, at the very least, it should develop over time. It’s not meant to be the sum whole completion of the artist, but just another window into a particular body of work.
I don’t have one overall statement to describe my philosophy and my work generally. The closest I get to that sort of thing is with my mission statement: “painting every person’s portrait, one face at a time.” It expresses a real desire of mine while at the same time giving first-time viewers of my work an idea of who I am. Otherwise, I explain here and there on my site that my work comes in two varieties—the portraits of individuals made on commission and the portraits of groups of people made in conceptual series. This quick run-down of my oeuvre makes navigating my portfolio a little easier.
My actual artist’s statements accompany each of my series. Some of them tell how the series came to be in a straightforward manner, as with this one for Mutually Beneficial or this one for Apple Pie, while others speak in more fanciful terms, like this one for Swollen. All of them look to engage the audience. I think of my statements as a separate work in the series, just as important as each of the paintings.
There are just two main pitfalls to avoid when composing a statement:
1) Don’t write a bio. If a reader wants to learn more about your life in general, she-he will go to your bio for that information. There’s no need to include it in the statement. Furthermore, statements often start with the artist’s childhood love of art-making, so if you want your statement to stand out don’t begin there.
2) Don’t write propaganda. I never like reading brag rags and I don’t think I’m alone in that reaction! Instead of telling people how much everyone likes your work and, therefore, how they should think about it, give them questions or openings into what you have created.
Otherwise, writing an artist’s statement is as simple (and as difficult!) as:
1) Telling a focused story. The most interesting statements continue the narrative of the art.
2) Using action verbs. Avoid saying that you were “exploring” something, or that you were “fascinated and inspired by” some other thing. Passive-sounding vagaries aren’t going to fire up your audience about your work; verbs with verve will.
3) Speaking plainly and in a friendly manner. Obscure vocabulary makes most readers feel like you’re showing off instead of trying to engage them.
4) Keeping it short. Refining is better than adding more and more.
When I’m stuck about what to include in a particular statement, I look at my notes about how visitors to my studio have reacted to paintings as they develop and what stands out to friends about particular series. I’m a firm believer in getting feedback of some kind from anyone who visits my home/studio, so I always have a good amount of notes to pull from.
As with painting and art-making, the only way to get better at writing is through research and practice. Reading lots of artists’ statements has helped me to craft mine just the way I want them, and writing a lot, whether for this blog or in my personal journal, has helped me develop my voice as a writer. I used to hate words and especially words associated with art, until I realized their power.
If art is the communication between two people through a medium, then an artist’s statement is just one more way to facilitate that communication. It’s another chance at engaging an audience and helping the artwork reach its full potential.