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What is an Artist's Statement?

An artist's statement is a short document written by the artist which provides a window into the artist's world. It offers insight into a single piece or an entire body of work and by describing the artist's creative process, philosophy, vision, and passion. It enlightens and engages while at the same time giving the audience - potential buyers, exhibition curators, critics, fellow artists, or casual browsers - the freedom to draw their own conclusions. An artist's statement reads easily, is informative, and adds to the understanding of the artist.

What isn't an Artist's Statement?

An artist's statement is not a résumé, a biography, a list of accomplishments and awards, a summary of exhibitions, or a catalogue of works. It is not insignificant and should not be hastily written. It is not difficult to understand, pretentious, irritating, or (gasp!) laughter-provoking.

Why should I write an Artist's Statement?

People who love an artist's work generally want to know more about the artist. Your statement will help your viewers answer questions they may have about your art. When viewers have answers, their delight in what you do increases, and they have more reasons to take your work home with them. The artist's statement is therefore an effective marketing tool, building a bridge between artist and audience. But the artist's statement isn't just for them. In putting your art into words, you might find that ideas and thoughts you once had become more concrete. Your writing may open new channels in your mind and take you in new artistic directions. You might discover more about yourself.

What information should be included?

Well, this is really a matter of personal choice, but there are a few questions you might choose to answer:

  • Why do you create art and what does it mean to you?
  • How does the creation of art make you feel? What emotions do you wish to convey?
  • If the statement refers to a specific piece, why did you choose to represent this piece in this way? What do you call the piece and why? What materials did you use? What are the dimensions of the piece?
  • What inspires you? How are your inspirations expressed in your work?
  • What message are you trying to convey to the viewer?
  • How much time is spent creating your pieces?
  • How is your work a reflection of you?
  • What artists (living or dead) have influenced you?
  • What is your vision/philosophy?
  • What are your goals for the future?
  • What are your techniques and style and how do these relate to the medium?
  • How do your techniques and style relate to your vision/philosophy?

How long should it be?

The answer to this question depends on what kind of person you are. Are you the kind of person that gets right to the point, or do you like to tell stories and paint images for people in words? The key here is to express how you feel and create a statement that stands on its own and makes you happy. Remember that people usually don't have the patience to spend a lot of time reading, so it's better to err on the shorter side. Several sources recommend an artist's statement be around three paragraphs (total of 100 words), and others say that a statement of up to one page is acceptable.

What kind of language should I use?

Keep your statement clear and concise. Avoid flowery language and "artspeak". This only lengthens and weakens your statement. From a business perspective, the more you can relate to your viewer, the better your chances are of selling your work. Some specific terms you may wish to mention in your statement are the elements of art (line, colour, shape, value, space, form, and texture), and the principles of design (balance, emphasis, movement, harmony/unity, pattern, rhythm, proportion, and variety). These terms have the advantage of being art-related without being esoteric and pretentious. Use language that is comfortable to you, and let your words flow.

My words aren't flowing. How do I deal with that blank page?

The more art you do, the better artist you become. The more writing you do, the better writer you become. Here are some suggestions for eliminating that blank page. Write every day if possible - it only needs to take a few minutes, and there's nothing lost. Any writing is writing practice.

  • Gather your favourite writing materials. Treat yourself to a new pen and a schnazz spiral-bound notebook, or pour yourself a favourite hot drink while you sit at the computer. You need to enjoy using your writing materials in order to enjoy writing.
  • Allow yourself some uninterrupted time. Turn the ringer off, and if you're handwriting, turn off the computer. Create an environment that is conducive to writing.
  • Remove your internal editor. With your eyes closed, visualize your internal editor, the person who censors your thoughts. With your eyes still closed, tell them that you don't need them around, and escort them out the door or lock them in a closet. Come back in the room and open your eyes. Be watchful - your editor will try to sneak back in and whisper their unwelcome commentary. Remind them to go away while you write.
  • Timed writing exercises. Freewriting exercises are frequently used to help people learn a new language. They allow for free-flowing ideas, and shut down internal editing systems. Set your timer for 3-5 minutes and write about anything in a stream-of-consciousness. What you write doesn't have to make sense. Don't scribble over anything or do any editing of any kind. You don't even have to read what you've written afterwards.
  • Against and For. On a blank page (or blank monitor screen), make a table with two columns. Write "Against" and "For" as column headings on the left and right, respectively. Set your timer for 3 minutes, and write down every possible reason you can think of why you don't need an artist's statement. Then take a break. Do something else for a while. Come back and set the timer for 3 minutes again, and write down every possible reason you can think of why you need an artist's statement.
  • Talk to yourself. Each time you start working on your art, tell yourself, "I will listen to my inner thoughts and capture them in my conscious mind". Ask yourself while you‘re working, "What am I thinking at this moment?"
  • Be ready for it when it hits. Have a notebook handy at all times (especially when you're working on your art) to jot down thoughts as they come to you.
  • Talking Art. Imagine you are in your studio (or kitchen, in my case), and one of your pieces starts talking to you. Write down what it says, no matter how ridiculous. Limit yourself to 3 minutes.
  • Record yourself. Run a tape recorder while you're working on your art or talking to someone on the phone about what you do.
  • Pretend you're in your own documentary. Record yourself answering the questions listed earlier in this article. If you have a video camera, MAKE a documentary!
  • The alien exercise. If an alien were to land in your studio, how would you explain to him/her/it what you do?
  • The desert island schtick. You are being sent away to live alone on a desert island. You are allowed to bring all your art supplies. They're a given. But what else will you bring for inspiration? You can only paint so many sunsets and weave so many baskets before you become cocoNUTS. Make a list of 15 things that will inspire you.
  • Be a quote collector. Every time you see a quote that inspires you, write it down, no matter what it's about. If you have ever kept a journal or diary, pick out some of your own phrases to add to your collection. Maybe they'll come in handy.
  • Sentence schmentence. Write down words that come into your head. They don't need to be in the form of sentences until the last stage of writing, when you unlock your personal editor from the closet.
  • Reading the dictionary is not just for Scrabble. Peruse the dictionary. There are some great words out there just dying to be used. Write down any words that float your boat.
  • PMI. This stands for Plus, Minus, Interesting. This structure is used in teaching to get students thinking metacognitively (i.e. thinking about thinking). When you finish a piece, write down one positive thought about the creation of the piece, one negative thought about the creation of the piece, and one interesting (hmmm) thought you had while creating the piece.

Can an artist's statement change?

Yes! An artist's statement is a living document that should change because you change. Your statement could be updated at about the same rate that you might update a resume, in the least. At the most, review your statement each time you create a new piece, to see if your thoughts still have meaning for you. Review your statement when you experience profound events that alter your creative vision.

Where Can I Find Examples of Artists' Statements?

Browse the portfolios of artists right here at EBSQ! There is a wealth of inspiration here, so if you're an artist trying to find your voice in words, you're more than likely to find something here that will motivate you to set pen to paper.

References:


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