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  • Mike

How to write an artist statement.

Writing an artist statement is never easy. Most people don't like to brag about themselves, especially artists. In fact artists usually hate talking about themselves. That's why the idea of writing about yourself probably feels daunting and scary. We all have to do it, it sucks, it's never easy, in fact I think it's not supposed to be easy, but we can all do it. I'll tell you what and how to prepare an artist statement for your work.

What is an artist statement?

I think a lot of people struggle with writing good artist statements because they get hung up on the idea that an artist statement needs to sound like a hype man on stage before a rapper performs. As stated earlier, people hate bragging about themselves, at least usually. But your artist statement doesn't have to be bragging, in fact it shouldn't be. Your artist statement is just that, your statement as an artist.

So if you're suffering writers block don't talk about yourself, talk about your medium, your workflow, your technique, or about the work itself and what it means to you. Don't get caught up writing about yourself, this isn't a biography, it's a change to tell the person that will look at your work what to be prepared for.

The technical stuff.

Artist statements can be as short or as long as you need them to be. If your work is complex or has deep meaning it may take you paragraphs to convey what the viewer should be looking for. However don't just write stuff that's baloney. People aren't stupid, and once a viewer realizes that what you said was clearly bullshit he will consider your work the same. If your work lacks some sort of deep meaning then just say so. Say something like, "I like these colors together." and leave it at that. Most of my artist statements are done in 1-2 paragraphs. I don't have a lot to say, I just tell my audience what I am trying to say with my work and leave that work to decide if I said it well. However I have seen some really long artist statements that read like a crappy novel that never said anything. You don't have to write a lot but make it meaningful.

If you don't know where to start just ask yourself questions that you picture someone else asking. Why did you create this photo? What's the history? Is there a deep meaning? What emotions do you want me to feel? What inspired you to make this. Answer these questions and explain your motivations. Explain your themes and central idea, your thesis, no matter how simple it may be. I entered an art contest and won it with a simple, single paragraph artist statement that said I liked taking portraits of animals, it was fine to do that.

Write in first person with words like, "My" and "I," You aren't a king, don't write in the royal we. Just tell people what you want to say. "I did this because" is a good place to start.

When you are done explaining yourself write at least a few sentences summarizing the big and important points or takeaways you want people to get from experiencing your work.

There is no 'one size fits all' to artist statements, you need to create unique artists statements for each body of work and audience.

I've seen people copy/paste artist statements for different bodies of work. I saw one lady that never changed her artist statement in 10 years of doing art contests. If your statement is broad enough it applies to anything then it's generic enough to go straight into the trash. Your artist statement should only be able to apply to the work you are showing at the time you wrote that statement. Treat your artist statement like it's a living, breathing, document. If times change or your work does, then change up your artist statement as well to reflect that.

Think of your artist statement as going along with the work it's going to be with and nothing more. If you are doing a series in black and white, don't talk about how much you love color, just focus on what you were doing with the work that is being presented.

Not all artist statements are created equal.

I've seen some really good and some really bad artist statements. All the good artist statements had a few things in common. They were concise and too the point, they didn't get wordy and ramble on. This isn't a high school essay with a word count, the writers wanted to get you up to speed on the subject and then get out of your way so the images could do all the talking. They all used words that reflected the art itself authentically, they felt genuine.

Make sure your artist statement is free of grammatical errors. I've started reading an artist statement before and just had to stop reading because it was a wall of text with no formatting or punctuation. Sometimes people use cliches everywhere and it drives the reader nuts. Don't be the person that calls their work, "A bit of Van Gogh, a bit of Ansel Adams." The person I saw that did that had lost all respect from their peers and the audience.

Don't get into the technical too much. Some people rant about their gear or their technique. Sometimes people even start spouting technical jargon that the audience won't understand or doesn't care about. Don't sound like a hawker in a carnival trying to sell something. You're just trying to explain what you are up to, that's it. Oh, and one last thing. Don't brag! People hate when someone brags about themselves, especially when the work isn't that great. If your work is good let it stand on it's own merit.

Get feedback, from anybody.

Some artists have a habit of crawling up their own butt because they find the smell of their own farts intoxicating. Some artists are just really full of themselves. Rarely are those artists very good, they are mostly hot air. Most artists are just generally shy, especially about their work, their children they brought into this world. When they write about their work they are often too uncomfortable to open up enough for readers to connect with their artist statement. You don't need feedback from other artists, you need feedback from other people, preferably the same people that will be your target audience. Combine your artist statement with your work and show it to people you trust and ask them for feedback, mostly along the lines of, "does this make sense?" If people are saying," I don't get it." that's not a sign that you are too deep for them, it's a sign that your artist statement needs work, or your body of work needs to be restructured or replaced. Take the feedback and evaluate what's going on, why people aren't seeing your words going along with your pictures. Usually the critique isn't your photos, it's your explanation.

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