Sunday, 13 April 2014

How to Write an Artist Statement

Customarily, this is the busiest time of the year for me work-wise.  It is a combination of spending by my clients that coincides with the end of fiscal year and the start of a new budget.  One of things I frequently find myself doing in Spring time is teaching workshops.  Writing skills for artists is the core with spin-offs for special interests, say point-of-purchase literature for those selling art or fine craft or those tackling grant applications.

Last weekend, I was teaching a three-hour session for the Clay Studio at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Each time I teach a version of "How to Write About Yourself and Your Art" I update and revise my material.  On this occasion, I had fun using a roll-up-the-rim to win Tim Horton's cup.  My goal was to make my participants aware of how we are surrounded by language and how strategic our choice of language can be.  It was a good ice-breaker and we had fun.

One part of the handout that I use never seems to change and it is the section where I acknowledge the dislike most artists feel when it comes to writing an artist statement.  So, I thought I'd share a portion of that with the hope that might put someone out there at ease.

Artist Statements for Craftspeople & Visual Artists

I have never met an artist who enjoyed writing artist’s statements – old or young, experienced or inexperienced no one seems to like it.  But it is part of the job description and it does yield results.  Representation by a gallery or an agent, grants, exhibitions, sales – an artist’s statement will help you get these things.  Learning to write a statement will give you more control over the limited number of options and resources available to professional artists.

Most artists become white knuckled at the thought of writing an artist’s statement.  But there are 3 things you can do to make writing a statement easier:
1) The first step in taming your anxiety is to date the statement, make it finite. Cut it down to size; limit the risk.  The reason most artists dislike writing is that they’ve unwittingly blown the challenge out of proportion.  The purpose of the statement is to build a bridge of words between the artist and the viewer.  It is not an attempt to put down in words why you, the artist exists; nor is it required to recreate your artwork in words.  The statement is not a substitute for the art.  Both would be huge jobs, especially for someone whose prime fluency is visual rather than literal.

A statement lets the viewer know your viewpoint in their medium:  words.  It is your chance to speak up.

2) Focus on content.  Do not worry about how to say it, what the right words are.  Focus instead on what you need to say.  What is your message?  What you decide to put in a statement (& or a project description) is largely based on function.  Is the statement for a media kit or a portfolio?  What do you need to say?  What does your audience want to know? Credentials?  Technique? Are there advantages or disadvantages you should address?  For example, is there a rich sensory aspect to your work that an image alone cannot convey? 

See examples of how galleries are currently using artist’s statements in their communications.  Note your observations.

3) KISS, Keep it Simple & Short. Limit yourself to 3 points in a statement.  Why 3?  Three parts are sufficient to show that your thinking isn’t shallow or empty. It provides logic and structure, in short a plan. Three parts are enough to create a sense of movement, anticipation and suspense, vital to move your audience.  Three parts are easy to remember for both you and your audience. 

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