Written by Alison Murphy, Craft NB Executive Director
What is an artist statement?
An artist statement is a general introduction to your work. A good artist statement should enhance what a viewer sees, and provide a concise approach to a visual piece. A genuine, well written artist statement will be insightful to your viewers, allowing them to connect to your work, your motivations and your process – it’s a chance to tell the unique story behind you and your work.
- Keep it short and concise (aim for approximately 50 words)
- Grab the reader’s attention with the first sentence
- Let your personality and enthusiasm shine
- Give a hint about the “why” of the artwork
- Start with basic ideas and give an overview of your work in a couple of sentences.
- Use the first-person perspective (I, me, mine)
- Use active words like explore, analyze, question, test, search, devise, discover, balance, connect, experiment, juxtapose, or construct.
- Inform the reader, but don’t over-explain things – leave some room for the viewer to make their own connections.
- Make it short, concise and accurate
- Watch grammar and punctuation and have others edit your artist statement.
- Be specific to your work and offer unique insight
- Write a statement about the importance of your work and its role in the world. It will come off as pompous which will not give a good impression.
- Empty expressions and clichés about your work and views
- Use of technical “art speak” language that is full of jargon and is only understandable to the craft world. Instead, put things into layman’s terms. Imagine you are speaking to a random person you encountered on the grocery store.
- Poems, prose writing, folksy anecdotes about an important event in your life or your family (this is ok to include but don’t overdo it – too much will sound cheesy)
- Tentative language like “I hope my work will…” or “I think my work can…” Tell the audience what you KNOW and what your work DOES.
- Summarizing your resume. Remember: Your artist statement is an introduction to your work, not you or your work experience.
- Simply giving a physical description of your artwork.
- Being generic. Ask yourself “Is this writing specific to my work or can it be about anyone’s work?”
- Telling your audience how to feel or what to look at. You want to inform your viewer but not overly explain things. Leave some room for the viewer to make their own connections.
- General phrases like “creative expression of feelings”, “I have been making art since I was a very small child”, “I like finding the extraordinary in the ordinary”, “juxtaposition of daily life and spirituality”, “I AM INSPIRED BY NATURE”… These phrases have been written in artist statements time and time again, and do not set any one work apart from another.
- Almost every artist statement we have ever read starts out with the words “My work is…”, “My painting/drawing/sculpture/video/performance is inspired by…”, or “In my work…”
Craft NB hereby calls an official moratorium on all of these openers! (Not really, but you know what we mean. Be original!)
The key to an amazing statement is to write A LOT, then edit, edit, edit. You should go through at least 3 drafts. Spend a little time away from it, and then return with fresh eyes. This is not something you can do in an hour – it’s going to take time.
Sometimes it is easiest to write in first-person as opposed to third-person. Once it is written, you can choose to leave it in the 1st person, or switch it to 3rd.
Step One: Answer Questions
To begin, answer these questions in great detail. (Remember not to write in “art jargon”. Be silly, write in run on sentences, and don’t worry about organization – just write! Push yourself even if it feels hard. Be yourself and don’t worry about how it sounds right away).
- What does your work look like?
- What was the inspiration for your work?
- Why was the experience inspiring? What in particular caught your attention? Dig deep!
- How did your experiences influence the way you approached this piece?
- What special technique is important in this work? Why did you choose to do it in this way? Is this a new way of working? What lead you to it?
- What is your vision/idea for the work?
- What do you hope the viewer sees reflected in the work?
- What makes the work unique (is there a central idea or theme)?
- How is this piece and this experience going to influence your future work?
- What questions are you asked most frequently about your work?
- Who do you make art for? / Who is your ideal audience for this piece?
Step Two: Start Writing!
Next, highlight key items (words/sentences) from your answers above to start writing information in paragraph form.
Write your first draft until you feel like it touches on the important things you want to say about your pieces. Aim for three short paragraphs MAXIMUM.
Read this aloud to yourself. Remember, if anything is confusing to you, it will be confusing to your readers. Look for moments of clarity and interest.
Congratulations! You accomplished the hard part. Now it’s time to refine!
Step Three: Edit and Paraphrase
Read through your draft several times and highlight the sections that truly represent you and your work. Be specific!
Keep refining until you have something you’re happy with that includes a strong opening sentence. Aim for one concise paragraph. Read it aloud to yourself again. Does it still read clearly?
Step Four: Ask a Friend
Have someone read over your draft for you. Have them review your statement and ask them to provide feedback and suggestions. Get them to check for spelling, grammar, and clarity.
Make edits based on this feedback as you see fit.
Step Five: Wrap it Up
Sleep on it. Tomorrow (or the next day at the latest), read your statement again with fresh eyes. Edit as you see fit, keeping it around 50 words.
Now your statement is complete. Pat yourself on the back!