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How to Write an Artist Statement

Photo Credit:  Mother of Pearl Artist Ahmet Sezen by Christian SengerIf you’re an artist, you should have an Artist Statement. Whether you make jewelry, or sculpt, and paint in oils, you need a document that speaks for you when you’re not there.

And yes, you do need one. If you plan to do any gallery work or sell your art publicly, you need an Artist Statement. Don’t wait until you’re asked for one and then find yourself hard-pressed to come up with the words. We’ll get to how to write it in a minute. But here’s what you’ll do with it.

Mount your Artist Statement in a clear simple frame and hang it from the backdrop of your show booth, usually at the other end of the booth from the transaction area. When you’re busy with a customer, people enter your booth and stop to read it as they look at your work or wait to speak with you. Having an Artist Statement to speak for you gives visitors to your booth a moment to get to know you without having to directly engage you in conversation. Because some aren’t ready to engage you. You know the ones I mean. Sometimes people ease into your both and they just want to quietly look – not be hit with a gregarious slap on the back and an assertive sales pitch. Those quiet ones can satisfy their curiosity to know who you are and why you do what you do without ever having to come out of their comfort zones.

From a marketing perspective, having an Artist Statement in your show booth can keep visitors looking longer. If they read something in your statement that resonates with them, they may look at you with renewed interest. They may just decide to come closer and meet you or even buy something. Give them a reason to stay and get to know you. Write a good Artist Statement. Here’s how to do it.

Let’s start by defining what an Artist Statement is and is not.

An Artist Statement is a clear concise description of WHO you are, WHAT you make, WITH which media, and WHY you make it. It’s that simple.

An Artist Statement is not a biography, or a resume, or a curriculum vitae. It doesn’t provide the whole academic and professional history of your life and career or your every exhibition or published work or every commission piece you’ve ever completed. That information is reserved for … your biography, resume, or curriculum vitae.

Your Artist Statement is the essence of who you are as an artist and why you make your art. It offers some insight into what motivates you to create, what inspires you to press on, and why you would still be called to do what you do even if you never earn a dime from it.

 

So as you write, keep it clear, simple, and concise. I’ve already given you the outline for how to write your Artist Statement:  WHO, WHAT, WITH, and WHY.

Start with WHO you are. Your name and just a little about your personality and love for your art, maybe a little about how you got started. You only need two or three sentences.

Next paragraph. Tell WHAT you do. What kind of art do you make? Give some simple laymen’s terms details about your artistic process. Maybe a compelling sentence or two about the history of your craft. Just don’t launch into a documentary.

WITH what? What media are you using in your work? What other media do you plan to explore or incorporate into coming work? What are the tools of your trade? Here’s an interesting twist:  What one tool is most essential to making what you make? Tell us something interesting about that.

Finally, explain the WHY of what you do. Why is it so interesting or gratifying or compelling for you to make what you make? Give the reader of your Artist Statement a little insight into the motivation behind your work. Express the heart of it.

When you’ve completed your Artist Statement, it should look and sound like you. It should feel authentic. It should be in simple language that anyone can understand.

So avoid any overblown and self-aggrandizing statements. Don’t try to tell people what they should “get” from your art. Art is an individual experience. If you have to tell someone what they’re supposed to feel from your art, you’re the one who doesn’t get it. Let people feel what they feel and experience your art from their own fresh perspective.

And don’t try to get too deep about the WHY of it, so convoluted with cosmic metaphors and meaning that no one knows what in the world you’re talking about. I don’t know why artists feel they have to come up with these elaborate explanations that illuminate and speak to the eternal and existential battle of man’s inhumanity to man and man vs. nature and blah blah blah. Please.

How about just saying you make what you make because it brings joy to your soul? That resonates. We all just want a little joy. That’s a desire we all can connect with. Don’t conjure up semantic nonsense statements about your work because you think it sounds … artsy.

So, now you know where to begin to write your Artist Statement. If you’re not a good writer, find someone who is. And if you can’t find anybody, call me. I’ll help you. And when it’s finished, make some clean copies and keep them handy at shows and other venues. You never know when your next benefactor may approach.

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