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How to Write a Wicked Artist Statement

November 17, 2009

how-to-write-an-artist-statementArtist Statement. Do those words send you into convulsions of dread and fear? Writing a statement can be one of the most un-fun parts of being an artist. Why? Because what does writing, verbally expressing ideas, and explaining oneself have to do with creating and being an artist? The act of writing a statement can feel like it goes against your very nature!

For the creative, right-brained, emotional, expressive, open minded artist, the act of sitting down and writing a formal statement of intent can seem extraordinarily intimidating, not to mention terribly structured and confined.

Unfortunately, an artist statement is an absolute necessity for getting your work into art galleries. The better your statement, the better your chances! Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to write a great artist statement with a minimum amount of stress!

First of all, what is an artist statement?

If you’ve never applied for a show before, you might be kind of fuzzy on the term. Your artist statement is your explanation to the world about your art. It can be as direct and literal, or as open-ended as you want, but it should provide the viewer with some extra insight into your work. A statement should give people answers, or else provide them with questions to ask themselves as they look at your pieces.

It’s difficult to define the statement because it can be very different from one artist to the next. The bottom line is that your statement should be something you’re comfortable with sharing that also compliments/explains/clarifies your work.

How do you write an artist statement?

The best approach I’ve found is to ask yourself questions. The answers may or may not become a part of your final statement, but it’s a good way to start brainstorming. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • What am I interested in?
  • What do I want to communicate?
  • What is the subject and/or content of your work? In other words, what is it about?
  • What kinds of things inform your work? This can include other artwork, politics or society, and your own experiences.
  • What materials do you use and why?
  • What is your process and how does it affect the way you work?
  • How do you want your audience to view your work? Do you want them to react in a certain way?

Your statement should be specific to the body of work that you’re submitting to a gallery. Yes, that means you have to write a new one for every exhibit, but the good news is that the first one is the hardest. After that, you should be able to tweak and adjust to make it relevant to your new work.

Remember that the purpose of your statement is to provide the gallery with extra information about your work. The goal is to clarify or expand or explain. They want to know where you’re coming from and why you do what you do. So make sure you give it to them!

Common sense rules!

  • As always, grammar is very important! No one wants to wade through spelling mistakes and poorly formed sentences. 
  • Think of the gallery owner who is reading your statement and a hundred others. You want to make it easy on them by breaking your text into paragraphs, typing with a font size that isn’t too small, and using a font that is clear and easy to read.  
  • An artist statement should be as long as it needs to be, but as a guideline, anywhere between a paragraph and a page works. I generally would not go over a page.

Whether you love or hate the writing side of the art business, an artist statement should be in every single exhibition proposal you send out.

This post seemed to grow and grow as I wrote it, so I’ve split it into two parts. More tips on writing artist statements are coming soon!

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