August 6, 2018

Artist Statements: The What, How & Why

I talk a lot about the importance of photography for artists because I believe very strongly in the power of great visuals to SHOW your talent. With that said, there are going to be times when you need to TELL people more about yourself as an artist, and the most common format is an Artist Statement. Can you describe your art and your style in a quick couple of paragraphs? Whether you're applying to a gallery or an art fair, you'll likely need this kind of writeup handy to help the judging parties get to know your How, What and Why. Let's review what makes for a strong Artist Statement as well as some tips to make your writeup memorable.

An Artist Statement at the most basic level is meant to be context. Think about your captions on Instagram posts. What do people need to know that they can get from your work by itself? Are there things you can tell them that will set you apart and make your work more compelling? Think about your technique, materials, inspiration, message and more. The best recommendation I've found for an ideal Artist Statement is describing your How, What and Why.

  • How – Start with your process, inviting your audience into how you make your art. This may include materials, technique, color choices, etc. This shouldn't be a step by step guide to reproducing your style, but rather a chance to stimulate their interest with a top level description and get them to look back at the work with more insight.
  • What – Now it's time to name your style and talk about your subject matter. Is your work Contemporary or Traditional, Hyperrealistic or Abstract? While you want to be careful about using too much jargon (more on that below), it's good to give your audience some framework for what you're striving to represent and convey. This is especially helpful when your work is more expressionist.
  • Why – As your talk about what your work features, you'll find a natural segue into why you produced this work. Why do you want to say what you're saying? What is your inspiration and motivation? Why are you an artist? This is perhaps the most important because it's what makes you truly unique. There are probably tons of other artists out there using a similar technique, but no one else can have you unique Why.

Best Practices for Artist Statements:

  1. Keep it Short – A few paragraphs should suffice. You are usually submitting this statement to a jury or including next to your work in a show, and no one has time for a novel. You want to make an impression in the limited time frame your audience has to consider you before moving on to the next. Consider putting all of your ideas down on paper and then editing for a clear and concise statement that includes only the most important details.
  2. Write in First Person – Your Artist Statement is coming from you, so it should be in your voice, with your personality. Your goal is to tell people about your work from your perspective (even if you have someone else write it for you).
  3. Consider your Audience – In some cases, this statement will be geared toward a jury and in others it will be your buyers and collectors. These groups will have varying levels of art knowledge and different motivations. Make sure you customize your writeup. You may want to have a few versions handy depending on what opportunities come up.
  4. Focus your Content – An Artist Statement is not the same as a bio. While you may want to tell a little of your personal story as an artist, make sure it's related to the top level How, What and Why. You can have a separate writeup describing your journey, interests and life.
  5. Aim for Objectivity – As you talk about your work, you want to keep away from evaluative or comparative wording. It's best to stay away from flowery language and be direct. Describe your How, What and Why in a way that lets your audience decide for themselves. 
  6. Be Mindful of Jargon – Knowing that your audience may be art lovers, not other artists, keep the language simple. Speak in terms that people will understand. You aren't trying to show off how smart you are, but rather why you are worth paying attention to.
  7. Get Feedback – Share what your written with other artists or art lovers to see if it makes sense. Even before you start writing, it makes sense to get an outside perspective on your work to make sure you are successful in conveying what you plan to describe in your statement.