To write an Artist Statement is one of the most difficult challenges for you as an artist engaged with visual arts. After all, if you choose to express yourself with images, it is probably because you won’t feel yourself confident using words to explain your work. Or maybe, you just don’t want to.
Unfortunately, if you want your art to leave your laboratory, you need to write down something to explain a little bit why you do what you do. If you want to submit your pictures to an online magazine (yes, this one as well), if you want to ask a gallery to exhibit your work, if you want to join a photography competition, you’ll need your own artist statement.
The artist statement is a basic introduction to your work, if you are featuring your portfolio, or to a specific project. It should talk to your audience directly, in a friendly, informal and conversational way, and give them some brief information but without telling to much, to stimulate their curiosity.
Before to start
Before to sit down and start writing your artist statement, ask yourself a few question:
- who is your audience; Where are you going to present your work?
- how did you make your work? Have you had to make some research? How did you get the raw material?
- which artists, if any, influenced you and your work;
- where did you get inspiration from?
- why is your work unique? why your work should be of some interest?
- what is your message? What do you want to communicate?
You can also write down all these information to have them as a handy reference. Now that you have all set up, you are ready to start the tough work. Here are a few points to guide you to write your first professional artist statement.
Use the first person
Your artist statement is your own voice, you don’t want it to sound like someone else is talking about you and your art, you want to use an informal tone and talk directly to our audience. Avoid the third person because it increase the distance between you and your audience, and make your statement to sound impersonal and unfriendly.
Use a simple language
How many artist statements have you read and then you asked yourself “what the hell does that mean”? Keep in mind your artist statement will be read from people with different levels of education. There is no need to use pompous incomprehensible words that sound like coming from an art history lesson at the college. Your goal is to make your art accessible for everybody.
Explain why you have made this work
That’s the tricky part: now you need to explain why you produced that specific work. Why did you decide to shot those portraits so close? Why did you choose those subjects? Why are they dressed in that way? Why did you add that specific element in all your images? Why did you use black and white rather than color? Why did you use that specific post-processing technique? Here is the key of your artist statement: what is your message?
Explain the connection with the medium
In this digital era, almost all the images are coming out from digital cameras or mobile phones, and they remain on an intangible digital format, but when you want to give your images a concrete form, then you’ll have to choose an appropriate medium to present them to the world. And often the medium is an important part of the artwork. Let’s say you are going to expose your last project in a gallery and you decided to print it on… glass. Why did you make that choice? Why do you think the glass can express your message better than the photographic paper or any other material?
Avoid technical details
As photographers, we also have an insane passion for gear. We want to stay up to date with the latest releases, we want to get the latest camera, have sharp and expensive lenses, and always upgrade our equipment. All this details can be of some interest to other photographers, maybe, but the people coming to see your exhibition is usually more interested in the images, at least at a first instance. If they’ll love your work, they will ask you all these technical details later, possibly. If you really need to, you could stick these information somewhere to every image, but avoid to include them in your statement.
Keep it short
People tend not to pay attention to a single subject for too long, especially when they have to read it by themselves, and your artist statement is not an exception. You want to go straight to the point, as quick as possible, and then let your visitors enjoy your work. Try to keep your artist statement not too long than 3 paragraphs, with no more than 3 statements each. Then, try to read it aloud to hear if it flows spontaneously, and eventually make the necessaries amends. If the combination of some words causes hesitations while reading, change it accordingly.
Customize your artist statement
Don’t be lazy and resist to the temptation to create something generic to be used with all your projects. The artist statement is about you but, mostly, about your work, and to recycle an old one for something new will make it sound just inappropriate. Your audience will perceive that, maybe unconsciously, and the resulting experience would be compromised. Every project should have its own artist statement.
Ask for an opinion
Finally, when your artist statement is ready, ask your friend, your mum or your colleagues to read it. Once again, check if they can read it easily, ask them if they got an idea of the message you wanted to communicate and verify if they really understood it. How? Just ask them the questions you started your statement from.
Following this simple suggestion should help you to produce your first artist statement easily and without spending too much time on it. This is not something that must be carved on the stone, so once you have done it, feel free to update it in the future. If anyway you don’t feel confident enough in doing this by yourself, you can always hire a professional copywriter, possibly with some experience in art, to get a professional one made for you, or you can try to have one automatically generated from this online tool.
What other suggestion would you give to create an artist statement? Which elements did you include in your ones that worth to be mentioned here? Let us know your thoughts using the comment form below.