How to Write an Artist Statement
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Importance of an Artist Statement
Let's imagine for the moment that you are a fine artist...a painter in acrylics who does primarily abstract work in bold colors. Now let's imagine that you've come across a national exhibition that looks pretty exciting and in which you think your work would fit. You discover that part of the application process is including an Artist Statement...but you've never written one. What is it? Is it a resume? A biography?
An Artist Statementis not a resume nor is it a biography. It is more a statement that you as the artist are making about your own work and its importance to you. It's like an introductory piece that would allow an exhibition jury or a gallery curator to get a hint of what you are about.
Hold on! You say. My work should speak for itself! - Well that might be true and it might not. In many cases an exhibition or show jury will not have seen your work and know nothing about it or you as an artist. They might not know that you use only a palette knife to apply multiple layers of rich, bold color in overlapping contrasting ways to create wild abstracts. With an Artist Statement you can tell them exactly that. In fact, you could begin your statement with:
I am a fine artist working in acrylic paints in an abstract style. Most of my work is done huge - canvases of 40" to 60" on a side. I consider myself to be an "abstractionist" and love more than anything to bring as much color into a work as possible. I work primarily with a palette knife with which I apply multiple layers in sweeping panoramas of color intensity.
See? With just four sentences a reader could almost visualize you at work in your studio.
An Example of an Artist's Business Card
Let Me Introduce Myself
Basically that's it. An Artist Statement is usually a one page let me introduce myself document that tells the recipient who you are and what you do. You can think of it as an expanded business card even. Most artists have business cards that carry all the usual basic information such as:
- business name
- contact information (address and phone)
- website information and email address
Where an artist's business card may differ from say an attorney's, will be that any graphic images will reflect the work and style of art that the artist does.
Basic elements of a simple Artist Statement
Think of the Artist Statement as if it were a letter you were going to send to someone who would like to know you and what you do...that way it's not this scary document you are being forced to write. Contrary to what some might say, there are no right or wrong ways to put together an Artist Statement; and you could even have more than one depending upon circumstances and needs. A simple one could include these elements:
- My name is...this is a good way to begin
- I work in...whatever your artistic medium happens to be [if more than one, mention them also]
- Your primary subject(s)...landscapes? cityscapes? florals? abstracts?
- My primary technique(s) are...do you specialize say in using a palette knife rather than a brush for your painting
- What I see in my work...talk a bit about your unique style - are you an abstract expressionist? impressionist? realist?
- What does or has inspired you
- Your primary focus...to capture light? to manipulate color or shape? to teach?
Examples of Artist Statements - Simple
I use two types of statements, a simple and a specific.
Example One is a simple statement. It is used as a quick introduction and gives a quick overview. [I prefer to use a formal tense in writing my Artist Statement - I say "Linda Smith" rather than "I." You can use whatever works for you.] Its key elements are:
- name and where I reside
- what kind of artist I consider myself to be - by coming right and saying what kind of style I have, this gives the reader an immediate idea of what I do
- what inspired me to become an artist - in my case this little paragraph shows that my love of art has history behind it
- a simple sentence that indicates my educational background
- a mention of my teaching background in art
- what I currently work in and what my artistic emphasis is
From my actual statement:
Linda C. Smith is a native Californian currently living and working in Chico.
Smith considers herself an abstract colorist, “For me the passion is manipulating color.”
Linda’s grandfather was an artist – he painted in oils doing works of the California coast and historic California missions. She used to sit and watch him for hours. “My grandpa would share with me his love of art and explain in patient detail how he approached his work.”
Although she gained an appreciation for art from her grandfather, she gained her love of art through her studies at both Eastern Michigan University and then the University of Oregon.
Smith has taught art to adults: beginning acrylics, color mixing with acrylics, beginning watercolors and colored pencil. “It’s such a joy to introduce art to beginners,” she says.
Smith currently works in mosaics, digital art, painting and fine art photography. “Each medium offers a unique challenge to expressing what I see in Life – color.” Her work is in private collections and she also does commissions – including large mosaics at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, CA.
Examples of Artist Statement - Specific
There are times when your simple statement is not sufficient and this is usually because the event, exhibition or competition in which you are interested has asked for something specific. What they want is a statement that is unique to the show they are hosting and unique to the work you are entering/showing.
Let's say you are entering a show whose primary emphasis is works made of newspaper - could be collage, could be papier-mache, could even be sculptures made of newspaper pulp. Because of the uniqueness of the theme and primary material, the show's jury requires an Artist Statement that is specific to it: who you are, what this particular medium means to you and what the works you are entering mean to you. You could also include anything special in your handling of the materials and/or the techniques you use.
My second example (parts taken directly from an actual statement I used) is very specific to the medium, the materials and the techniques:
Taken as an intellectual exercise, I like the idea of confining an artwork within a circle. Somehow the circle seems much more challenging than a rectangle. Most paintings are done in either a rectangular or square format although there are some pretty impressive exceptions in Middle Ages art...I am currently working on a series that have as their subject, the tree. Some of them are just one tree, some have several trees. All are stylized or abstracted - I consider myself to be an abstract colorist - and the challenge is to confine these trees within the circle...
Now imagine these images done not in paint - oils, watercolors or acrylics - but in mosaic tiles....I’m using tiny tiles to produce my series of tree mandalas – either tiny ceramic tiles or Orsoni smalti. I don't grout my mosaics as I don't think they need it as the tiles are placed pretty closely together; also I want light to reach every part of each tile; and I don't want the color of grout to dilute the colors in the tiles...even the most neutral of grout is a color.
Give it a try
The most important thing to remember about an Artist Statement is that it is personal...not just facts. It's the one document in which you get to express thoughts and feelings about your life and work as an artist. A resume or biography by their very natures are lists...not so an artistic statement.
So, give it a try. Sit with a bit of paper or your keyboard and jot down a few sentences about who you are as an artist and why you like being one. Imagine you are telling your best friend a little about how you work to get the results you do. And before you know it, you've written your first Artist Statement.
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