Breaking the blank page

The artist statement

Elevator graphic

What, why, and who?

An artist statement is a professional document that briefly introduces your work to an audience. It should be seen as a supportive element to your artwork where you can reflect on process and purpose. You should revisit this document every couple of months to keep it current and relevant.

Audience and purpose

The purpose may vary considerably based on where the work will be presented and for whom.

There are three basic functions of an artist statement:

  1. Supports the visual artwork by exploring technique, material, and style
  2. Represents the artist through a personal voice and provides an opportunity to answer the questions provoked by the work
  3. Communicates to the audience directly through concise language and guides the viewer through the visual experience of the art piece

Potential audiences may include:

Curator
Grant committee
General public
Potential employers
Clients
Gallerists
Residencies
Collegues

Depending on your targeted audience, the artist statement may look different. A good artist statement is accessible and provides your audience with your insides when you cannot be present with your work. It creates opportunity, whether that be for personal reflection, potential employment, or gallery exhibition. Therefore, the content must resonate with the target audience's mission, values, and needs.

Writing tips

  1. Consider your purpose and target audience.
  2. Next, consider what you have. A single work? A portfolio? Write an objective description of your work.
  3. Talk about the physical process of creating your work. What is your preferred medium and its installation requirements? How do other mediums interact with this piece?
  4. What useful context can you provide your audience? What would you say if a friend or layperson asked you what your work was about?
  5. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect yourself to do it all in one sitting. It takes time to craft a strong statement.

Tip: Imagine yourself in an elevator with a billionaire art dealer or your all time favorite artist. How would you pitch yourself to them in 60 seconds?

For example...

The following is an example outline. Not all artist statements will be organized in this way, but this can be a starting place if you're stuck.

Paragraph 1: Discuss yourself as an artist and your work as a whole. Consider your influences, the medium, themes, typical subject matter, and concepts expressed in your art.

Paragraph 2: Describe the process, style, and materials of your art in relation to the concept.

Paragraph 3: Explain how one of your pieces relates back to your work in general (the meaning, goals, etc.)

Some questions...

... to think about when getting started:

  • Why do you make your art?
  • What does your art signify?
  • How do you make your art?
  • What is your preferred medium and why?
  • What does your art mean to you?
  • How does your art relate to the world?

... to think about as you write and revise:

  • Does my artist statement communicate the highlights of my work in a clear and concise way?
  • What inspired or influenced your overall development as an artist or a particular piece?
  • What historical, topical and/or cultural background information that would be useful to know when experiencing your art?
  • Does the language/wording of my statement make my work more accessible to the layperson?
  • How should your audience interpret your intent and work when they interact with your medium?
  • Am I leaving any questions unanswered?
  • Who am I trying to appeal to and am I satisfying their specific needs?

Final takeaways

You should

  • Use an authentic, first-person voice and be yourself!
  • Anticipate potential questions about your work.
  • Be direct and keep it simple.
  • Think about ways to ground abstract ideas in concrete language.
  • Remember your artist statement is something you'll update throughout your career.

You should avoid

Ambiguity

  • You can discuss the importance of ambiguity in your work without using ambiguous language.

Using art jargon and overusing art theory.

  • Remember, not every person viewing your art went to art school.
  • Lofty clichés like “the human condition,” and “passion.”
  • Ex: If your work “is interested in sociopolitical implications of the interaction between race and gender,” you’ve found an overly complicated way to say “my work is about race and gender.”

Starting your statement with "In my current work"

  • This is redundant, assume readers have already looked at your work.
  • It quickly becomes out of date.

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