Writing an artist's statement is one of the most difficult things an artist will ever do. While many artists can paint with seemingly little effort, writing about their motivation for painting can be a laborious task.
This blog post is about the what, why and how of writing an artist's statement. I show how a sample artist's statement can be improved by making it shorter and more specific to the artist.
What Is An Artist's Statement?
It's something that describes the link between an artist and their art.
(I like this definition because it's the simplest one I could find.)
Do I Need to Have an Artist's Statement of My Own?
It helps to have one whenever your art comes into contact with a customer. It can provide the starting point for having a conversation about your art.
For example, when I meet customers at shows I'm always talking about my art and how it relates to me. And that's all an artist's statement needs to do.
You may also find that you need to include a short artist's statement on show or gallery applications. A well written statement may help to swing a juror's vote in your favor in the event of a tie.
Writing an Artist’s Statement is a Struggle
You should write about the reason you paint whatever it is that you paint. For me, at least, this was the hardest part of creating an artist's statement.
Although I wrote my first artist's statement about 5 or 6 years ago, I've been working on it ever since, making changes as my art changed.
The Internet is Full of Advice (not always helpful)
There are plenty of opinions available on what makes a good artist's statement. The problem is that many of them will lead you down the path of writing something long and descriptive. That's what happened in my case.
What saved me was finding a list statements attributed to famous artists that were totally different to anything else I'd read. There were all short and to the point; almost like dialog.
In reality, they were probably excerpts of interviews.
Despite this, they showed me that there was a better way to approach the artist's statement—not to treat it as a formal statement, but more as a dialog with the customer.
To show you what I mean, here's a recent draft statement of my own (I actually wrote this intending to use it):
My Bad Draft Art Statement
For as long as I can remember I have been in love with paint. The idea that you can take this clumsy medium and try to say something with it stole my imagination even in childhood as I painted at the kitchen table. But it took me well into adulthood, after trying many other outlets, to find that I could paint as an artistic response to experiences.
At first I painted because I saw painting as a problem-solving exercise in how to represent the subject. With time my approach has become less mechanical and I explore properties like light, shapes and abstract representation. Above all, I strive to paint things that interest me, rather than things that are intrinsically beautiful.
My landscapes are about solitude, paint textures and the way a big space interacts with light; my portraits are about human connection, brush work and focusing in on a part of the whole. Despite the differences, these two threads of my work often intertwine and ideas will leap from one type of painting to the other.
Ultimately, my art is a vehicle for communicating and sharing with others. The most enjoyable part in the entire process is the point at which the paintings are first seen by my customers: the reward for all this work is to share in how other people use my paintings as a vehicle to connect with their own feelings.
Why This Doesn't Work
Let's look at the major mistakes I made:
- It's too long. So long that here's a good chance you didn't read all of it.
- I followed all the check boxes for what makes a good artist statement. Which is why it seems to ramble.
- It's generic (the words: childhood, love, imagination are dead giveaways).
- I use most of the second paragraph and some of the third to describe my art. That's a waste of time as anyone reading this will already have seen my paintings.
- Finally, the last paragraph just explains why I like to sell my art directly at art fairs and shows.
A Better Version
Now here's a different take. I've tried to focus on what painting means to me. I've removed everything that's generic. Splitting it into two parts made it a lot easier to write.
I tried to think of it as speech and then dialed it back a little bit.
This pretty much mirrors the way I describe my art when I'm talking to customers, so I know that I'm on the right track.
Artist's Statement For Simon Bland
I prefer to explore the outside world as a solitary figure, looking at the landscape and finding places that become my own world. My landscapes are about sharing that personal communion with nature and what it represents: the idea that things often lie hidden and overlooked.
I have one job to do when painting a portrait and that's to get out of the way. Everything I need is right there—I just pick out the important parts, subdue the unimportant. Once I've figured out the design, the rest is a matter of making sure that the subject emerges from the canvas as I disappear into the paint.