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Writing the Artist Statement
Stephen Near

It's a strange thing that the very artists who are committed to expressing themselves through their art form are sometimes the least outgoing of individuals. Many of us are shy or critical of ourselves and our work. This isn't altogether surprising given the nature of artistic inspiration and the discipline needed to follow through towards a completed work. But it does mean that artists sometimes have a challenge crafting what is an equally important part of their profile: the Artist Statement.

Yes, I know. "Why do I need an Artist Statement," you might be thinking, "my work speaks for itself so there's no need for a statement." But the Artist Statement benefits you and your profile in ways you might not realize. If you are applying for an project grant or submitting for consideration as part of a competition or awards program, you will need to write an Artist Statement. But, as I said, it's not an easy thing to write. So we want to give you hand.

We've put together this summary on how to write an Artist Statement including some quick and dirty and pointers on what and what not to write when you sit down to do it.

  • Remember that your Artist Statement is about facts. It is a basic introduction to your art as an artist. It is the what, how, and why of your work, from your own perspective and not a set of instructions on what to experience, what to think, how to feel, how to act, or where to stand.
  • The Artist Statement should serve as a concise personal story of the how, what and why of your work. It should help you convey a deeper meaning to your audience and put your work in context. It should also illustrate your relationship your own work which, ultimately, creates a lasting connection to boost your profile in the minds of the public.
  • A good statement works towards reaching out to as many people as possible and welcomes them to your art, no matter how little or how much they know about art to begin with. A good artist's statement should never exclude the reader.
  • The Artist Statement should be about you and not about the viewer. It should explain what YOU think about your work, not about how the viewer should interpret it. Don't shy away from explaining why you create this kind of art or the motivation behind your work. Just remember that the reader is already "at the table" as it were. There's no need to promote yourself or work. Just tell the reader the personal reasons why you create your art.
  • Like an introduction to a book, your Artist Statement presents the fundamentals of your art so you should write it for people who like what they see and want to know more and NOT those who already know you and everything your art is about.
  • A concise statement isn't longer than a page with three to five succinct paragraphs that provide basic information such as: Why You Make Your Art, What Inspires You To Make It, What It Signifies Or Represents (In Your Opinion), What Is Unique Or Special About How You Make It and What It Means To You.
  • Don't bog readers down with details but rather entice them to want to know more. Think of the Artist Statement as a good first impression. You should hook and invite further inquiry in the same way that a really good story is about to unfold. Give too little and not too much. People have short attention spans and often adjudicators are dealing with large piles of submissions and artists statements. So be concise and keep your writing simple, clear, and to-the-point. Don't feel the need to go into too much detail. That's what your portfolio and samples are for.
  • Your Artist Statement is about you, so personalize it. Write it in the first person and not like you're talking about yourself in the abstract. Infuse it with your unique perspective. Whenever possible, make the statement conversational as if you're speaking directly to readers. The more complicated, theoretical, arcane, inscrutable, or impersonal your statement, the more trouble people will have connecting with you and your art on meaningful levels.
  • On a related note, imagine that your Artist Statement is speaking to the viewer in the artist’s absence.  Therefore, the artist statement should be short, concise and well written in a conversational language. Furthermore, avoid comparative or evaluative comments that have been made about your art by third parties such as gallery owners, critics, collectors, or curators. These testimonials belong in your bio or curriculum vitae. In an Artist Statement they will read like name-dropping which can instantly turn a reader off.
  • Be specific, not vague. For example, if your art is "inspired by assessments of the fundamentals of the natural world," tell which fundamentals you're assessing and how they inspire you. As well, don't instruct people on how to see, feel, behave, respond, or otherwise relate to your art. Nobody likes being told what to do. Instead of saying "You will experience angst when you see my art," say "This art expresses my angst" or "I express my angst through my art."
  • Where possible, the words should match the work. Take a look at the tone or moods expressed in your art. Is it often whimsical? Or is it violent? What is the scale? Make an effort to make your prose reflects some of the qualities of what it describes. Using verbs and adjectives to match the qualities of your creative output will create a statement that both excites and informs.
  • When approaching the writing of your Artist Statement, you should ask yourself questions about your work. Why you have created the work and what is its history? What is your overall vision for your body of work and what are you trying to say in the work? Are there any recurring themes in your work and how does your current work relate to your previous work? What influences your work or is your inspiration?
  • Once you've written your Artist Statement you should keep it up-to-date. If your work begins to change or you tackle new subjects, you can update your statement to reflect your growth. It can be helpful to save previous versions of your artist statement, so you can see how you've changed and grown as an artist.
  • If you have troubling writing the first draft of the Artist Statement, think about it context with art that you've seen elsewhere. Think about a painting, photograph, or exhibit that you loved, hated, or didn’t understand. Then consider a time when someone was viewing your work and asked you questions. What did they want to know? What were they most curious about? It might help to imagine that you were talking to a non-artist friend about your work.
  • You should explain to the reader the “how” of your artistic process. This can include any special techniques that were used in producing your work in the past.  Don't get too technical here. Mention any special materials or techniques but don't go into a step by step guide on how to create your art.

That's just a rough list but there are plenty more tips that you can find by searching and researching. Good luck!