Writing an artist's statement is one of the most difficult things an artist will ever do. While many artists find painting to be enjoyable, 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 more personal and removing most of the unnecessary clutter.
Following these simple steps also makes it much easier to write!
What is an Artist's Statement?
Let's start by explaining what an artist's statement is and what it is supposed to do. I'm going to begin with a definition—the best one I could find:
An artist's statement describes the link between you and your art.
You might be scratching your head at this point and, in truth, I'm also unsure of exactly what it means. No wonder these things are so hard to write!
So let's think about it a different way...
When I meet customers at shows I'm always talking about my art. These are just short conversations in everyday language that explain why I painted what I painted.
If I'm not around to have that conversation because my work is, say, in a show or because a juror wants to know more about my work, then the artist's statement stands in for me. We could re-frame the definition this way:
An artist's statement is a starting point for a conversation about your art.
I think that makes it easier to understand. Still not great, but we now have a better chance at writing something meaningful.
Writing an Artist’s Statement is a Struggle
There are plenty of artist's statement examples and outlines that are freely available online. But when you write by checking items off a list you can capture the basic idea of an artist's statement yet totally miss the point.
The difficulty is that you will feel compelled to connect things as diverse as motivation, technique, materials and history. That's difficult to do while keeping it short. And concentrating on these things won't always help you to differentiate yourself from other artists—most oil painters use the same materials and techniques, for example.
To show you what I mean, here's a statement that I crafted based on templates that I saw online. It does everything that these sites suggested, but it's dense, generic and a great source of boredom.
You can't read this and have an understanding of me as an artist because it doesn't fill its most important role—to be a starting point for having a conversation about my art:
A Typical (Bad) Artist's 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.
A Light Bulb Moment
My artist's statement existed in this state for a long time.
I disliked this format but couldn't find way to improve it. Although I saw plenty of examples when I searched online, most of them had the same dense structure.
A light bulb moment finally arrived in 2018 when I stumbled on a list of statements attributed to famous artists. These particular examples were short and to the point. As I read through them it became clear that they were all excerpted from interviews.
They showed me a new way to look at the artist's statement—not as a formal essay, but more as the way you might talk about your art over a cup of tea.
How do you actually write it?
The trick is to focus on the first few introductory words. You need an opening that will provide the context for the rest of the statement.
A profound personal experience that shaped your art? An observed behavior that informed your sense of the world? Concern for the environment? Use things like that in the opening.
Avoid the cold open of "My art is about..." because you'll immediately have to write about your art in a descriptive way. That belongs in the second sentence or paragraph where you can now say how your art fits into this context.
And remember, this is supposed to be a starting point, not the entire conversation!
A Better Version
Here's where I've put this advice into practice. For the sake of clarity I've split it into three parts. Each section is an artist's statement in its own right and each comes at the statement in a different way.
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.
I take these everyday objects, things that anyone might have lying around their house, and bring them together on a canvas to create art. Even the most commonplace objects have an aesthetic quality if you look at them in the right way.
Why This Works
This example is my actual artist's statement. It shows you how I talk about my art using everyday words.
The most important part is what I don't say: there's no mention of things like education, technique, materials, methods, history, philosophy and influences. I haven't tried to convince anyone that I know more about art than they do. By leaving out these things I've made it easier for the reader to relate.
In real-life the extra detail does enter the conversation, but only when a customer wants to know more—and the typical person isn't interested in taking that kind of deep dive.
Since my artist's statement now mirrors the way I talk about my art with customers, I know I'm on the right track.
I hope that I've given you some help in writing an artist's statement of your own.