Writing Your Artist’s Statement
Many artists dread writing statements and blurbs about their work. Usually this is for two main reasons. They’re artists, not writers, so words don’t come as naturally as images. And many people feel uncomfortable or boastful when sharing their accomplishments. As a result, your statement could come off sounding stilted or self-deprecating. Worse, you might overcompensate and wind up sounding laughably pretentious.
Many frustrated artists ask themselves, do I really need a statement? Doesn’t my art speak for itself? Yes, you do. Whether your show is in a café or a prestigious gallery, your statement adds to your professionalism. Plus, it’s an important way for potential buyers to feel more connected with you and motivated to learn more about your work. Your statement also includes your contact information.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when working on your statement.
Many people are put off by art because they don’t understand it, or they don’t want to admit their art history knowledge is limited to Picasso, Monet and Warhol. Your artist’s statement should be short and simple, drawing in the shy and tentative art fan rather than further alienating her. Imagine you are talking to an interested friend who knows nothing about art but wants to understand yours. Write simple, direct sentences. Refrain from name dropping. Don’t write your statement as though your audience is composed of art critics and art history PhDs.
Do you paint hamsters on motorbikes? Cross-stitch historical methods of execution? Photograph gutters? People want to know why. In a few sentences, explain what life experiences led up to your artistic expression. Share from your heart. While you might think your art should speak for itself, backstory holds great allure. Some people will totally relate to your story and will become your devoted fans.
People also want to know how you make your art. What special materials do you use? How do you combine them to get your unique look? If there’s an interesting story to how you arrived at this technique, explain it in a sentence or two.
The Meaning of Art
This is perhaps the hardest part, and the most personal. Your viewers want to know what this art means to you. This is closely tied to why you make the art you do, but goes a little further. Maybe your motorbike-riding hamsters signify the whimsical, unpredictable way you view the universe. Your execution needlework demonstrates your commitment to end capital punishment and the fact that your dissatisfaction with the legal system is a major theme in your life. Share what your work means to you, while keeping in mind that viewers are free to interpret it however they want.
Once you’ve written your statement, it’s time for editing. Go over it a few times and see if you can tighten up long or vague sentences. Read it aloud. Often what we forgive ourselves when reading silently is glaringly awkward when read aloud.
Once you’ve brought the statement as far as you can, solicit feedback from some non-artists. Read it to your barista while she makes your morning latte or your plumber while he fixes your toilet. No, wait… they’re struggling artists, too! Do your best to find people outside the art world. Ask them to identify any parts of your statement that are confusing, incomprehensible, boring or otherwise unsatisfactory.
Your statement should be brief – briefer than this article. Limit it to about two-thirds of a page. Art audiences, especially at openings, have only about two minutes to read your statement before all the wine and cheese is gone.
Your statement is an important piece in your marketing arsenal. As such, end it with a call to action. Include your phone number, email address and other contact info. Encourage viewers to visit your website or commission a custom portrait of their own hamster riding his or her motorbike.
by Teresa Bergen, www.teresabergen.com