Artist statements are a fairly recent phenomenon

Artist Statements: What are they? Do I need one?

by Tony Rajer

Artist statements are written tools to help you, the artist communicate with dealers, critics, and the public about your art. Artist statements often are requested for grant applications and can be placed on your web site. The statement can be as short as one sentence or as long as a paragraph or one page. Common length is about 100 words as it is important to be concise and clear. In essence it offers insight into who you are, what motivates you to make your work, and it can tackle ideas you have about your work that may not be visually addressed by looking at the work itself. It can focus on one or more topics such as symbols, or materials, or themes in your work. Artist statements help build a bridge between your art and the viewer.

Viewers look at your art and may have questions about it. Your artist statement can help answer those questions so that the audience can better appreciate your art. There are no hard and fast rules about artist statements, but use language that everyone can understand. Avoid “artspeak”. Tell the reader what your art means to you and write in the first person. It can be a vital selling tool and part of your marketing strategy.

Artist statements are a fairly recent phenomenon in the art world as they only date back to about the 1970s. They are like the Artist Manifestos that collectives or art groups published in the 19th and 20th centuries, like the Impressionists or Fauves. The artist statement generally speaks for an individual rather than a collective; and forms part of the contemporary mindset of what it means to be an artist today.

Let’s look at some examples: “My paintings are spontaneous statements that stem from experience in nature. I work rapidly as the moment of inspiration is fleeting.” Keep it short and to the point.

Some statements can be lengthy as they can convey your feelings and motives for a new body of work that requires explanation. An example being…
”My paintings are watermedia on paper. Florals and still-lives comprise a means for me to convey a modern view of traditional

subjects. Through exploration of the medium, I create realistic images which are both pleasing and stimulating to the viewer, as well as reflect the vigor and excitement with which I approach my painting.” Peggy Zalucha

or “I transfer my brush drawings or digital photos to birch plywood, and cut them with traditional as well as electric tools.  I allow the gouge marks in the negative space to print or blind emboss because my prints are as much about sharing the process with my viewer as they are about themes and images.” Bonnie  de Arteaga

As an artist your writing skills may not be the best. Consider having a professional help you write or at least edit your statement. Remember it should reflect your unique qualities as an artist. Don’t over intellectualize or dwell on too many irrelevant details. Give your reader the big picture and entice them to want to know more about you and your art. Avoid comparisons between your art and others, like “My recent work is like Monet’s haystack series because..”  (But you could say, “I am influenced by the summer light of Monet’s haystack series.”)

Use descriptive words and phrases that convey the unique qualities of your art to the reader. The statement should be coherent and direct without ambiguity. It should express your energy and your work.

Make a list of words or phrases that describe your art. Use convincing, compelling statements and words like inspired, creation, new, recent, conceptually based, sociopolitical, my work addresses, vivid, colorful, installations, color, shape, value, space, form, and texture.  Look for your voice in your own words and discover what you  want to convey to the viewer.

Ask your artist friends for copies of their statements. Make a collection as reference material for your files. Keep in mind that, like your Artist Business Plan, your Artist Statement requires updating and renewal on a periodic basis. Lastly enjoy composing your artist statement and writing it up, nurture it and let it evolve into something that truly reflects who you are as an artist. Good luck.