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How to write an effective artist statement

Portrait of Symposia author Pooja Sheth
Pooja Sheth

Mar 24, 2022

 | Max 


 min read

Woman in the art world with sample artist statements
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When you are an artist, one of the most important things you can create a statement about your work. This statement will introduce you to the art world and help people understand what you are trying to say with your pieces.

In this article, I'll teach you how to write an artist statement that accurately represents your work and grabs the attention of potential buyers or gallery owners.

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Reasons you need an artist statement

When I was first starting out as an artist, I didn't think that an artist statement was necessary.  I thought that my work would sell itself and that people would just "get" what I was trying to say.

However, I quickly realized that this wasn't the case. In order for your work to be successful, you need to be able to articulate what it is you're trying to say with your art in your own words.

When you write an artist statement it can:

  1. Helps you communicate the meaning behind your work to potential buyers or gallery owners or your artist peers.
  2. Make it easier for people to understand and appreciate your artwork.
  3. Help you reflect on why you create art and what drives your creative process.

It takes more than just time and energy to create something beautiful. You have been adding value if your message is well crafted beforehand; that will help the people around you feel what's happening as if they were experiencing this themselves first-hand.

A good artist statement is a crucial part of the process, but it can be challenging to create. The best way I've found? Read other people's work and take notes on what they do well.

A fellow artist researching an artist book for effective artist statement answers

Definition of Artist Statement

An artist statement is a brief but specific arrangement of words that acts as a bridge to connect your audience to your art.

What an artist statement IS

An artist's statements aim to communicate who you are as a creative individual. The best statements use simple language that makes it easy for anyone (including your mum) to understand what kind of work they represent without feeling overwhelmed by jargon and complexity.

It is your opportunity to talk about what you're creating and why it's important. It's a proxy for you, the artist, conversing about your work in such a manner that it improves the viewer's experience.

What a statement IS NOT

It's not a work of art. It's not a word-for-word translation of a visual statement into a verbal one. The content does not need to encapsulate everything about your creative aspirations and complexities. It doesn't have to be 100 percent original or brilliant, and it doesn't need to say everything you want to tell the world.

Importance of an artist statement

Statements of this type have been used for centuries by artists across cultures and periods. They serve as an introduction to your work, introducing it through the use of a specific tone in which you speak about yourself while attaching qualities that makeup who 'you' really are - both inside (your inner world)and outwards towards others(the things we associate with being human).

Artist statements are essential for many reasons, not least of which is that they'll help you get your foot in the door. Make sure yours answers all questions thoroughly and clearly. This will help the person reading your application understand what work they are getting into with this project or show and provide feedback if needed.

First person view writing a full page statement for her art practice

Guidelines for crafting a compelling story

This guide is for when you have just a few hours to write your best artist statements. It won't take long, but it helps if we step back and evaluate our work before starting from scratch.

The writing process begins with a brainstorming session

To generate exciting words that speak to your art, don't begin with the complex parts. Ease into it by doing something that is exciting and creative—or do just what feels natural. Some ideas:

Take the time to appreciate your work and all it takes for you. There are unique characteristics between pieces of art jargon that may not have been evident previously - take this opportunity.

The work I create is often quiet and minimalistic, but it can also be raucous or messy. My animations have a sense of humor about them- they're not always what you would expect.

You can also use this technique when you're invited to talk about your art. Instead of writing notes in advance, describe what they will see or touch while at the artist's studio visit.

Who is your audience?

Consider what you want your viewers to think or feel when they look at the art. A piece of art may not have an emotional impact on someone if the artist's goal is unclear, but a statement can still nudge them in one direction or another based on its message. Do their reactions match up with those emotions? Have you tried making people angry and joyful; are both ends responding as expected?

Consider your intent

Your statement is a chance for everyone who reads it to learn more about your art. If you write without holding on to this definition, address the individuals who might "buy" your work to present yourself professionally, succinctly, and effectively. Writing that promotes you must target a planned and well-thought-out audience. If you respect their desire to get to know you better, you'll have a better shot at connecting with them.

Gallery owner writing his artistic process on the same page of a press release

The basic structure of an artist statement

You have just as many words to describe your art, but now it's time for you to decide which ones fit. The fundamental elements for an artist statement include what (what do I want?), why am I doing this in general terms or specifically toward how others will see it?

The first part - What

Make certain to indicate what sort of medium you use. It's incredible how many artists fail to include that essential information.

The Second part - How

If you have a particular procedure that is essential to comprehend, or one that pictures cannot precisely capture, just explain how you go about your work in a few sentences.

This will help the reader appreciate all that goes into a final product, and it makes for an excellent segway into discussing your reasons for doing the work.

The third part - Why

Why did you make this?

To respond, you must first describe your work's underlying beliefs, emotions, and ideas. This is the crux of the issue. Visual art lovers look for The Why in a creator's statement, but I've seen ones that don't even try to answer it. I recommend that you at least address The Why briefly.

Prompts to guide your thinking about Why did you make this?

  1. What are your beliefs about the world?
  2. What is the subject of your study?
  3. What's the significance of personal belief/viewpoint/conviction in your work?
  4. What was feeling at the forefront of your creation? How can emotion be expressed through the artwork?
  5. What were you thinking about while the process was going on?
  6. What made you decide to go in this direction?

You can write an artist statement with any degree and structure of tone that feels appropriate natural to you, whether or not the preceding requirements have been met. Make sure you use complete sentences to sound human and bring your voice to the statement.

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When writing your artist statement, always keep your audience in mind. Remember that your goal is to introduce them to your work and to make a connection with them. Make sure that your statement is clear, concise, and well-written.

Tips to keep in mind when writing artist statements

Your artist statement should be concise and professional. It needs to explain why you are making art, what value it will have for people who hear about your work through word of mouth or social media channels, and any other relevant information that might interest you or your potential collectors.

Get to the point

It requires practice to be succinct in your writing. Someone who repeats the same thing three or four times, if they can form a complete idea at all, is a clear indication of a novice writer. In the same way, dirty hues indicate a novice painter may inadvertently over-blend your thoughts. The blue, red, and green are lost, brushed back and forth into a mucky grayness.

Ernest Hemingway described his difficulties writing "a single genuinely expressed phrase." He composed plain, unadorned sentences. A page of muddy phrases is less valuable than one true sentence.

Use specific language

Do you make drawings, sculptures, or videos? If so, then it's essential to be realistic when writing about your work. It may seem like an irrelevant detail, but the reader will notice if they're being referred to as something different in their job description, which could lead them to think negatively of what you do.

Shorten your sentences.

It forces you to get down to business. Skilled writers may write long sentences with excellent editors. Try going from the capital letter to the period in one thought with your goal in mind. Don't over-explain, sidestep, or repeat yourself. Each sentence will add up as one idea at a time, with each hue on its own in a composition.

Rewrite again and again

Rewriting your words is similar to viewing visual source material. It would be best to do it because that is how real writers get what they want to say. You use words to sketch. You take note of and mimic form. You collect little bits of everything you like. You continue to refine and rewrite your work.

First person view learning how to write an artist statement

How not to make common mistakes and avoid traps

Gallery press releases are an art form in themselves. They're not just a list of Grip+Word count, but instead, they need to paint pictures with words and phrases that will hook your readers from start to finish while still being true enough for them not to be bored or turned away by how generic it feels after reading dozens upon hundreds (if not thousands) like this per day.

A paintbrush can be an empowering tool for expression in the right hands. But it's important to remember that we all have our unique voice and style - not just in art but also outside of creative work.

The person reading your statement needs you to say what strikes or moves them most about their experience with this project; don't rely on jargon-filled critical theory speak because those types will seem robotic instead (and no one wants old news).

So, here are a few things to stay away from:

Avoid extremes - Whether you're discussing the value of your work or explaining why you make art, it's important to be realistic and honest. Avoid sounding too robotic or verbose, and make sure your statement is concise and professional.

Think of it as a palate for your current work. The phrases you use to describe the art speak volumes about who you are and what makes life worth living, so shouldn't they be unique?

If specific phrases start feeling rigid (or worse yet, cliché), make sure that these buzzwords aren't appearing on any banned lists. Instead, go back through all of those brainstorming notes - there might be some fresh new language waiting, just outreach.

Avoid artist jargon

When writing artist statements, it's important to avoid using jargon that may be unfamiliar to your audience. This will make it difficult for them to understand what you're trying to say, and may even turn them away from your work. Instead, focus on describing your work in simple, easy-to-understand language.

Try to avoid "art theory" altogether in artist statements. This messy and imprecise terminology aims to enhance what it depicts by using vague, invented "spaces" and complicated grammatical constructs.

Avoid a passive voice

I've watched this scene play out too many times at art exhibits: a visitor approaching the work. They look around, appearing to be perplexed by what they see. Then they come over to read the artist's statement and become even more perplexed by what they discover. Then they walk away.

Active voice rather than passive voice in simple sentences helps your reader comprehend your message.

The subject of the sentence—the person, place, or thing —performs the action with an active voice. When you write in the active voice, the words "I" or "my work" will frequently occur as the subject of your sentences since you or your work will be performing the action.

Art historians with a teaching position writing an artist's statement

What to do when you have a good draft

The process of creating captivating, impactful, and engaging content starts with getting rid of all the excess baggage you have in your statement. You can do this by editing it down to its essential elements or adding new angles to make reading through these pages more fun.

Read it out loud, in front of your artwork

When you read it aloud, ask yourself if the contents are accurate and descriptive. Ensure that what I'm saying can easily translate from one context/writerly voice into another. Is it insightful enough to be applied in other situations? Could this very same line of reasoning also be used for someone else's artwork without being too biased or agenda-laden?

Also, remember that it should be current. Try not to summarize the entire scope of work from beginning to end. Instead, focus on whatever images are accompanying this document at any given time (e.g., small-scale watercolors).

It may represent your work forever and ever or until it no longer suits what you want to do with writing creatively, so keep this in mind when creating yours it's only temporary after all, it will likely evolve.

Statements shouldn't exceed 300 words, so keep it brief enough not to give away too much yet still informative. Pithy and clever captions are a thing of the past. Economy with your words will prove you know what's up, that they're confident in their work - which translates into better quality for us readers.

Again, always think of who's going to be reading it

The mood that you should use in your artist statement will depend on the purpose. If it's for a local group show, then be more creative and engaging with how to describe yourself as an artist.

However, if there is anything more significant like grant opportunities or major exhibitions where funding might become involved (even though they don't always), keep things simple – but still professional-sounding - so that people know exactly what kind of work this applicant has done before without having too many details overload their inboxes.

Take a step back, and get feedback from friends

This is an essential step in getting feedback on your statement. It's not just about whether or how people like what you create, but also if they believe the message of this work enough to support it with their time and energy - which can be seen by giving out interviews/Statements while being open-minded during discussion sessions where others share thoughts regarding these topics. Don't know who to ask? Here's a guide about how to collaborate with artists.

Double-check your work for mistakes. Triple-check it again to be on the safe side.

Give them enough time to read and reply. Don't do this: "Hi, I need you to look at my statement pls thank-you."

Women writing an artist statement for an online portfolio

Final thoughts

If you're still feeling lost, don't worry. There are plenty of resources out there to help you write your compelling artist statement.

The most important thing is to keep at it and never give up. As with anything in life, the more you practice, the better you'll become. And soon enough, writing statements will be second nature to you.

So get started today and share your work with the world. How do you feel about writing artist biography statements now that you know a little bit more about them?

  1. Remember to keep your audience in mind while you're writing.
  2. Use complete sentences because fragments sound flaky.
  3. It is essential to be professional, brief, concise, and easy to read.
  4. Get feedback from friends before submitting or publishing anywhere.
  5. And finally, practice makes perfect! The more you write, the easier it will become.
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