IMPORTANT TIP: Artist statements are written in the first person (not third person).
1. Who are you? Where are you from? Where did you receive training (if any)?
2. What do you do? What is this work about? What do you conceptually focus on? This is the idea, theme, message, or concept for your piece. Think of this as the thesis statement for your work. What media do you work in?
3. Where do you work? What countries/regions have you shown your work in? Which notable museums/galleries have you shown at?
4. Why do you do this work? What/who are your influences? This is your explanation of the importance of the work and what it means to you. This is the outcome or experience you anticipate for the work.
5. How do you do this work? What approaches do you use? This is how you envision the piece happening—medium/a, actions, texts, audience/performer relationship, etc.
The Interview Approach
A great place to start finding language for your artist statement or “elevator pitch” is to consider what questions people ask when viewing your work. Your artist statement should answer the following questions: what is your work like, why do you make it, what are you trying to do with it and what is your process? A few simple exercises to get started:
- Write 7 words about your artwork in general or about a new project you are working on.
- Expand the list to 14 words.
- Now use those words to come up with a one paragraph artist statement or project description.
- The interview: Give whatever you wrote in step 3 to a friend and ask them to ask questions about your work or your statement and write down what you say in response. Now take the paper back, ask your friend questions about your statement, and write down his/her responses.
- Using the notes from the interviews, rework your statement or pitch.
The Description Approach
Why did you make the art that you made?
What does it say about the world?
What does it help people understand?
What does it look like?
What did you make it out of and how did you make it?
How does it address the history of its medium?
What sort of culture, topic, or issue does it describe?
What do you expect your audience to gain from it?
3 basic questions Approach
1. What do you want people to see in your work?
2. What is a distinguishing characteristic of your art?
3. Based on your conversations, what do people find delightful or surprising about your art?
Watch out for the following:
1. Don’t say your art is “unique.”
2. Remove the things that every artist says, such as “I am excited by . . ., I’ve always been an artist, I have to make art, My work is about the human condition., I love . . .”
3. Beware of redundancy. Say it one way and move on.
4. Get rid of the lists.
5. Reduce the number of personal pronouns. (I/me/my/mine/myself)
6. Your Artist Statement Is Not “A Piece”: Resist the temptation to use this as an opportunity to write a poem or subvert the “institution of the artist statement.” We get it; you’re an artist. We really do just genuinely want to know what your art is about. Please tell us.
7. Oh, You Loved Art as a Child? Join the Club: The worst way to start an artist statement is with the following words: “Every since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved making art.” Unless you were literally raised by wolves or grew up in a hermetically sealed suite a la Bubble Boy, this is not interesting information. Most kids love art, and regardless, having a long love affair with your craft doesn’t mean much—it’s what you have to show for it that counts. There is really no need to explain when you became interested in art.
8. Just Use Fewer Words in General: Don’t convolute your sentences by beating around the bush. For instance: “My art practice is concerned with exploring notions of gender” really means, “My art is about gender.” Or, “I’m interested in investigating ideas and concepts surrounding notions of race” becomes “I investigate race.” Be specific and don’t use vague words that keep you from getting to the point.
9. If Your Work Is About You, Why Should We Care?: If you’re making art about your personal experience, fine. But the question you have to ask yourself is, “Why is my personal experience relevant to anyone but me?” What does your experience say about the world you live in? What can people learn from your story that might be useful to them? Use your experience to illustrate some larger issue, topic, culture, or idea that others can relate to or learn from.
10. Don’t Say Your Work Is Interesting—We’ll Be the Judge of That: Remember what your middle school English teacher told you—show, don’t tell. Describing your work as meaningful, captivating, groundbreaking, beautiful, or interesting doesn’t tell your reader anything about what your work actually is. (Plus, it comes off as a little cocky.) Instead, write about your work in a way that shows how it’s interesting.
11. Write About the Most Interesting Aspects of Your Work (Not All Aspects Are Interesting): Explaining your process can reveal something about your work that isn’t immediately known by just looking at it. If this is the case, explain away. But for most artists, this play-by-play account just isn’t necessary. For instance, if you’re a painter, there is really no need to mention that you begin your day by priming your canvases, or that your artwork always begins with “an idea” or “a sketch.” Figure out what makes your work unlike other people’s and focus on that. For some artists, that is their process, for others it might be their research methods, or concepts, or relationship to art history, etc.
12. Keep It Short and Sweet: If you’re applying for an opportunity like an artist residency, art school, or a grant, chances are your artist statement will be one of many. Keep in mind that the person reading your statement may only have time to skim the first few lines, so if you can succinctly describe your practice in four sentences, do it. Less is more. You don’t want the success of your application to rely on whether or not your panelist can read 2,000 words in 60 seconds.
13. Your Love for Making Art Doesn’t Justify its Worth: Please, please, please don’t write about how much you love painting, or how fun it is to be in the studio, or how ceramics is a form of therapy. Don’t get it wrong—we’re very happy for you if you feel these ways, and we understand that working creatively can be a very uplifting and joyful process. But here’s the thing: your experience of making your art in no way influences our experience of looking at it. This may seem counter-intuitive, but an artist statement is not about you, the artist; its about your work, the art.
A General Tip Regarding Tone
Artists often fall into one of two traps that can be easily avoided: Aggressive writing is language that claims to know what the viewer’s response is going to be (i.e. “the viewer will be forced to reconsider his notions of community, war, poverty, and the color “blue”). The great thing about art is that you can never quite predict how it’s going to affect someone. If you try to override the reader’s subjective response, they will trust you less. Passive writing is when you as the artist are not clear and direct about your own intentions (i.e., “I seek to explore some of the seemingly myriad possible connections between art and the color blue”). Neither of these examples answers the essential questions of what and why, nor do they help the reader get to know your work on their own terms. Instead, write directly and assertively (i.e. “I am making a series of paintings about the abstract and literal connections between war, poverty and the color blue in American history”).