When artists are asked to write about their work, they often resist, thinking that it isn’t important or that someone else could do it for them.
The purpose of good art writing is to illuminate your work. After you’re famous the critics will take over the task, but right now it’s up to you. You can ask for help polishing the writing later, but the first words must come from you.
A good statement is powerful and personal and takes real effort to do well. It is worth your time now because it forms the foundation of other documents you’ll need as your career progresses. Here’s a short list:
So start with your statement.
Write in your own voice. Use “I” and “me” and “my.” Your statement should sound like you on a good day, when you are rested and clear. Artists sometimes think that a statement needs to be full of big words--that it has to sound fancy to be good. The opposite is true. Clear, simple language is always best.
Here are 7 questions to help you think about what you want to say. You can use them to prepare a new statement or revise the one you have.
The first three questions overlap, as they suggest different ways for you to think about what your art is all about. This is often the hardest part to write, so if you get stuck just go on to other questions and come back later.
Questions 4 & 5 ask you to get specific about your process and materials. The best statements are grounded in the details of your work. When you’re trying to write about your art, don’t stare out the window! Look at your work and at the materials you use to make it.
Here are a few examples of artists being specific:
"When I paint bits of light on leaves, the paint itself becomes those flickers of light moving through the field." (Janet Jacobs)
"For example, I call this series “Escaping the Noise” because the city is seen from far away in my compositions..." (Patricia Oji)
"My sculptures incorporate unusual materials, like assorted ribbons, pipe cleaners, and tinsel..." (Erika Roth)
Question 6 is optional. It asks you to think about artists who have inspired you. Choose two or three and describe how their work influences your own. Be specific. You might mention their color palette, or subject matter, or technique.
Question 7 lets you include anything else you want people to know. Just be sure to keep the focus on your art.
Your statement will probably go through several rough drafts as you struggle to tell the truth about your art. The first draft might be full of repetition and awkward language. I call this "the ugly draft." Don’t worry, you will get there. The final version should be no more than a page, and ideally shorter than that.
As your art develops, you’ll revise the statement. When you create a new series you might add a paragraph or two. Your statement is a living thing, and grows with you.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
Career & Life Coach for Artists
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