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Writing an Effective Artist Statement
The artist statement is a synopsis that outlines themes or processes
specific to an artist’s project, series or body of work. Focus
can be limited to one project or encompass an artist’s work
overall, depending on the purpose and intent of the statement.
Writing an artist statement is not an easy task, but there are some
guidelines that you can follow to create a document that will represent
you and your work confidently, coherently and with credibility. I’ve
provided an outline of guidelines and suggestions to help make writing
the ever-dreaded artist statement a little easier. But first, these
are the top 5 mistakes that I’ve seen made, based on my 7 years
of experience as arts editor for Mental Contagion.
Top 5 Artist Statement Mistakes
1. Telling Your Audience How to Interpret Your Work
Statements are best received when they speak to the artist’s
own experience. This can be accomplished through conveying intent
or the reasons why and how a project’s trajectory took shape.
Telling others how to interpret your work, or how it should make
them feel is dangerous territory. Most of us are familiar with the
well-known “I feel” statement, used as a tool for positive
expression in therapy. Not to say that the statement should be wrought
with “I feel” statements, but be aware of how you choose
to compose them. It is, after all, called the artist statement, and
not the artist mandate.
No: "The viewer should feel sadness when viewing
the photographs that depict this event."
Yes: "The photographs convey the sadness
felt by millions of people on the day of the event. "
2. Becoming Your Own Critic
When making declarations about the theme and purpose of your work,
be careful not to create statements that evaluate your work, either
negatively or positively. Try to stick to fact-based statements.
Notice the difference in the following statements, the second being
the preferred method of expression.
work is celebrated by nature-lovers because it shows that nature
work celebrates nature through the expression of love.
1. Writing Too Abstractly or Making Obscure References
Keep writing as concise and clear as possible. Abstract themes or
existential pontification should be reined in tightly, if not avoided
altogether. Academic writing can be dry, lengthy and downright boring.
If references to other work or artists are used, don’t assume
that your reader will know the reference. These references should
be kept to a minimum, if used, focusing more finitely on your own
Statement: "The edifice-like characteristics
produce a narrative suggested by the finished work itself."
The reality: This is confusing.
Simplify the language; would your mom understand this?
4. Conveying Doubt; Repeating the Same Sentiment
Using Different Language
Repeating the same sentiment
over and over again using different words is a trap that many artists
fall into, especially when attempting to define the theme of their
art for the first time. This is not lost on the reader, and works
against the artist’s
intent, sharing instead an assumption that the project was themed
in retrospect, or worse, that the artist is attempting to convince
him/herself of the theme!
Make a statement with your statement. Convey viewpoints with confidence,
while being careful not to use language that communicates too much
No: "This series seems to capture the strength
of the working mother."
Yes: "This series reflects of the
stregth of working mothers."
5. Over-telling & Overselling the Story of Your Work
Let the statement be a way to create depth and understanding in
your work, without overloading the reader with unimportant details.
A few examples that apply are statements like the following:
Statement: “My mom always
The reality: If you include this statement, your
mom better be an art critic!
Statement: "I first started creating
art when I was 5."
The reality: Unless the work
created as a 5-year old relates to your project, this is too much
Statement: "I did this, then this, then that."
The reality: Timelines are
generally better stated in a bio,
unless specificly supporting the project.
Guidelines for Writing
It’s not necessary to apply all of these functions to the
statement, just the ones that reflect the aspects most relevant to
• Tell the “story” of your work, but make it concise
• Highlight any unique aspects attributed to the work
• Speak to themes or methodologies, and what prompted them
• Define mediums, materials and/or process
• Is any significance attached to medium, materials, color, size,
special relation, location or other factors that helped physically determine
the look of the project or series?
Uses & Audience
• Grant proposal
• Call for submission
• Exhibition application or proposal
• Exhibition program
• For reprint in a publication in a journal, anthology or book
• A referential document used by a galleries, museums, publishers,
agents or journalists
• Post on your Web site
• Write in first person
• Start with broad statements about you and your work, then refine to
• Use language that can be universally understood
• Confidently get to the point; clearly express what you are doing,
not what you are “attempting to accomplish”
• Maximum length is most often one page or less; use short paragraphs
• Scrutinize every sentence for repetition and relevance
• Create footnotes for quotes and citations
• Have it proofed by a trusted colleague
• Update as necessary
There is much debate on whether to include the following information.
I tend to side with the camp that views it as unnecessary because
these items already exist in a bio or CV. If you do choose to include
them in your statement, they should be extremely brief and directly
relate to the artwork discussed.
• Make brief mention of past work, artist-in-residencies or
exhibits of note
• Mention awards, organizations and affiliations
In the Next Installment of Creative's Field
Author Holly Day shares her extensive insight about the things never, ever to
do for anyone who is serious about being a writer. Holly Day has authored or
co-authored a variety of books including "Music Theory for Dummys," "Composing
Digital Music for Dummys," "Insiders' Guide to the Twin Citites" and "Shakira,
People in the News."
About the Writer
Karen Kopacz is a graphic and Web designer living in St. Paul, MN.
Her freelance enterprise, Design for the Arts, provides design, strategy
and consultation for artists, writers and creative businesses of
Karen is director and founder of the monthly-published,
online arts & literature
magazine Mental Contagion, launched in 2000. She was a panel member
of Fostering New Culture on the Internet in SXSW's 2005 Interactive
Festival, and is the founder and curator of Reconnect, a ‘Mobile
Art Gallery’ series that takes place at various locations in
the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to help build connections between local
artists, business owners and the community.
Karen's Web design has been featured in the
design anthology Portfolios Online. She has been on the board of
directors for the Twin Cities Fine Arts Organization, is a former
art director of First Avenue’s
in-house magazine, has been a columnist and photographer for PitchforkMedia.com
and has collaborated with artists, musicians, photographers, copywriters
and editors for more years than she cares to admit.
For more information, visit Karen's Web site at www.DesignForTheArts.com.