Artist Statement - How To Write

An Artist Statement. Just what is an artist statement? How does one write one? What information should be in the artist statement, and what should be left out? Here are some tips to get you started.

What Is an Artist's Statement?
First off, just what is an artist's statement? You could say it's like the biography area of a novel - a way to get to know the background of the author. If you read that the author lived in Massachusetts for twenty years, and is living in the region they are writing about, it gives you a sense that they know the area. It helps you to trust that the author is writing from personal experience and not just from reading a book or two about the area. Perhaps the bio says that the author is writing her novels in order to spread a better understanding of autism, or of the plight of abandoned animals. It gives you that understanding of the creator's background and information.

However, in the world of art, an artist's statement is much more than that. With a novel's bio, you have the entire novel there in order to understand the author. You have the wealth of words to read. However, with a piece of artwork, often there is no other context provided to help you understand what is going on. There is no introduction, No back jacket blurb. No glossary of terms. There's usually just something visual hanging before you and that's it. So the artist's statement helps the viewer get a sense of just what this piece is all about.

So it's like a bio for the artist - but it's also a foundation for the work or works being viewed. So an artist's statement could definitely be customized for each show, based on the works included in that show, to give a context for what those works are about.

What Goes Into an Artist's Statement?
On one hand, that's of course up to the artist. Some artists want their viewers to be able to view the work with no preconceived notions. To have a "blank slate" of a mind and then build fresh impressions. In that case an artist might only talk about their own background and bio in case the viewer wants to learn more about them. In other cases, the artist wants to help the viewer understand what the artist was thinking about when creating the piece. If a trio of works are all based on Jenny Holzer's "Truisms" works, then mentioning that could help a viewer understand them better.

If the Artist's Statement is being sent to a gallery, organization, or school in order to apply for something, then being vague won't be helpful :). The group is planning to judge the artist based on what they read. In this case, the artist's statement should be as complete as possible, listing the inspirations and similar styles and so on in order for the judging committee to be able to get a good sense for the art and if it'll be a good fit. In this case the Artist's Statement is more marketing material than generic bio information.

So, that being said, you generally want to avoid negative talk in an artist's statement. This might seem common sense, but you'd be surprised what people do! Avoid talk like "I know I'm not that good yet, but ..." - let the viewer judge for herself. Play up your strengths, talk about your interests, and be optimistic.

Example Artist's Statements
Often it helps to see other artists and how they describe their efforts so that you can build your own. Remember, don't ever copy someone else's words. You want to present what is unique about your style and your pieces. Sit down and brainstorm. Who inspires you? What types of scenes do you like to portray? How do they make you feel? What would you hope your viewer would feel, looking at them? All of these will help you create an artist's statement that is true to your own interests.

Here are some examples I've found on the web:
Claremont University Sample Artist's Statements
Gyst Sample Artist's Statements

So a key is to design an overall template that you can use any time. Then you customize it for each show to talk about the pieces that are in that specific show. That might be easy for some, who tend to use a single style and the same images over and over again. For others, who spread their interests out over multiple fields and multiple styles, that could be more effort each time.

Still, it's absolutely worth it! It helps you build that vital connection between you and your potential fans.

Lisa Shea's Artist Statement

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