Why do you need an artist statement?
Some artists may be tempted to fall back on the old adage, “My work speaks for itself,” but the reality is it often doesn’t. Your audience will range from highly knowledgeable collectors who understand the depth of your work without prompting, to people who walk in off the street to enjoy their first gallery experience. Your artist statement should appeal to this range.
The goal is to help the viewer feel connected to the work on some level, and to give them enough information to pique their interest and encourage them to thoughtfully examine your ideas and motivations for artmaking.
On a more practical level, you will need a statement to include with applications to graduate school, gallery shows, and competitions. When sending out your portfolio, it’s customary to send a copy of your resume, artist statement, and sometime a short biography of your career as an artist.
What should you say about your work?
Artist statements can be about any aspect of your work, including:
Remember that the statement should be about you, your work, your ideas, your emotions, and your influences rather than about abstract ideas or huge concepts. If you are tempted to use the royal “we” when writing about your work, you will know you need to focus the ideas and speak more directly from your own experience.
This doesn’t mean that your work isn’t connected to large issues and important concepts; rather that you will connect better with your audience when you explain your own feelings and reactions in regard to those concepts, how you were introduced to them, or why you care about them. The best artist statements are personal and particular to the work, and you will likely want to have a different artist statement for each body of work you produce.
How do you get started?
Here are some questions to use as a jumping off point for your artist statement:
Looking back at the work you have produced in the last few years, what themes or ideas are repeated throughout your work? What things have family, friends, fellow artists, and faculty mentioned about ideas or themes they see in your work?
Finding repeated concepts is a good indicator of what is important to you and what you are trying to explore through your art.
What is different about your newest work from your older work? How have you grown and matured as a result of exploring certain themes in your work?
Think about what new ideas are represented in your current work, and as it pertains to the exploration of your practice.
Which artists influence your work or which references inspire your work?
The mention of a well-known artist’s work may cue the reader about ideas within your own work. Similarly, if historical or cultural references will give readers the idea, they might be useful to include as guides.
Reading statements of other artists can also be very helpful at the start; most artists include them on their website. You may also want to refer to Taking the Leap by Cay Lang and The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist by Margaret R. Lazzari.
How long should it be, and what language should you use?
Artist statements are usually one page or less, but you may certainly take more space if needed. Use language that is succinct and to the point; avoid rambling ideas or concepts that are unclear. Editing more than once and asking others to review it will help you hone a strong statement.
If you have trouble writing about your work, try talking it out with a fellow artist or a faculty member before you start to write. Ask a friend to record your main ideas and phrases, and then combine those into clear and concise sentences.