Your art can't speak for itself

What is an Artist Statement?

Quite simply, an artist statement is a piece of writing that accompanies a series, project, or body of work. Typically written by the artist, it is one of the best ways to help your audience relate to your art.

 

The wonderful thing about art is that it can be abstract, figurative, or open for interpretation. But because of that, sometimes your art can leave a large part of your potential audience in the dark.

 

That’s where your artist statement comes in; giving people just enough context can help them better connect with the work you’ve made — and that’s what we’re all aiming for, right?
 

A great artist statement provides clarity to the reader and gives them a reason to care about your work — so this is one part of the creative process you don’t want to neglect!

 

Artist Statements 101

 

First of all, an artist statement is not a how-to guide telling your viewers how to interpret your work.

 

No one want’s to read about why you chose to include every specific detail in your image, or what the weight of your brush stroke symbolizes. You don’t want to shut down your audience’s imagination or control their experience with too much information.

 
Let art historians, critics, and curators do that part for you. But until they do, focus on writing a statement that creates a platform for ideas.
 

An artist statement is an opportunity to start the conversation about your own body of work. It provides a frame of reference for your audience. Here, you can explain what inspired or motivated you to take on this project.
 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your art can’t speak for itself.
 

Think of it as a stand-in for you. Often, you’re not going to be in the room at the same time as your audience. Whether they find your art online or in a gallery, you’re not always going to be there to explain your project or answer questions. That’s why an artist statement is so important.
 

So use your artist statement as an opportunity to share the ideas that inspired you to make your series or body of work. Include facts or research that helped you create the work.

 
Most of all, keep it clear, concise and don’t forget to make it interesting!
 
 

When Should You Write an Artist Statement?

 
Don’t wait until you’ve completely finished a project to start writing your artist statement! This piece of writing should be as much for you as it is for your audience.
 
I always find myself writing a statement early on in a new project, just as a way to organize and refine my thoughts. At this stage, I want to make sure that my ideas are presentable, and will make sense to others before I move forward.
 
This first artist statement also helps me explain a new project to friends and peers. Even if I’m not ready to share the work or my statement publicly, I’ve noticed that new projects greatly benefits from the initial draft.

 

As your ideas begin to evolve and mature, your artist statement will need to do the same. But because you already have that first version, future iterations will be much easier.

 

In most cases, you’ll need an artist statement whenever you’re applying for an award, submitting to a call for art, or exhibiting your work. I also recommend including it on your website, alongside the associated body of work.

 

You might also need to write a few different versions of your artist statement, depending on the requirements for various applications. You may even find yourself modifying some of the ideas you wrote about to increase your chances for success.

 

For example, when I was working on Young Mothers, I applied for a research award that supported projects focused on Mexican-American communities. While my original statement focused on teen pregnancy, a majority of the families I worked with were of Mexican-American descent. To be considered for the award, my artist statement had to be adjusted accordingly. But because I took the time to rewrite my artist statement, I was able to win the necessary funding to advance my project.

 

Things to Include in an Artist Statement

 
Remember, the biggest job of an artist statement is to help your audience better understand your work. You always want to focus on clarity and keeping your ideas consistent. Avoid fluffy, rambling language and make sure each sentence is written to push your ideas further.
 
Don’t be afraid to be poetic, humorous, or personal, as long as it suites the artwork that your statement accompanies.
 
That being said, here are some ideas to help you start writing an artist statement. You could include:

 

  • A personal story or experience that relates to your artwork
  • A quote or poem that inspires you
  • Factors that that influenced you, like the time or place the majority of your work was made
  • Artists or art movements that you researched while working on the project
  • Why you chose a certain method of medium for creating the work

 
There are lots of ways to write an artist statement, so don’t be afraid to try a few different things. You can always go back and revise depending the feedback you receive.

 

Ready to start Writing?

 
I hope this was a helpful introduction to artist statements. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments!
 
And if you’re new to writing artist statements, you’re welcome to email your draft to amanda@aftrart.com. I’d be happy to review it with you and make suggestions for improvements! Just click here to get started!  

Your art can't speak for itself
Amanda Mollindo
amanda@aftrart.com

Amanda is an artist, photographer, writer, and digital marketer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. When she can squeeze a few hours of free time out of her week, you can find her with family and friends, or out hiking with her dog, Queenie.

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