Your Artist Statement Is Like A Coconut

Friends and I were reminiscing about Gilligan’s Island last week when I revealed too much about my TV-watching habits as a child.

Remember how the castaways on that series made everything from coconuts?

professor-coconut

The Professor fashioned a radio and battery charger from coconuts. Why, oh why, couldn’t he make coconut glue and repair a boat to get them off the island???

Maryann was famous for her coconut cream pie.

Everyone drank out of coconut shells, which also became vessels for almost anything imaginable.

Coconuts sustained all of the survivors of the S.S. Minnow. Though they grew weary of coconut-this and coconut-that, they wouldn’t have survived without this fruit.

Your artist statement is like a coconut. Bear with me here.

The deliberate process of articulating your work will sustain you just as the coconuts sustained Gilligan and crew.

You don’t write an artist statement just because someone asked for you to submit one.

You write an artist statement because you are in charge of your art career.

You know that if you don’t talk about your art, someone else will and perhaps not in a way you appreciate.

Once you have a statement you’re proud of, it will sustain you. You will use it for everything.

Of course you can’t use it to make tropical drinks, but you will use your artist statement in the following situations:

  • On your website.
    I prefer statements next to the art, where they make sense, and not on a separate page by themselves.
  • In a brochure.
    There’s no need to put the headline “Artist Statement” in a marketing piece intended for the general public because most people have no idea what that means. They will read it as more information about your art, which is just what you want them to do.
  • As the skeleton for a section of your grant application.
  • As the outline for your artist talk.
    You only need a few sentences to build an entire talk around. The talk could be at an exhibition opening, for a private group, or on a video you post to YouTube.
  • Pull out your best sentence to use in your signature block and on your business card.

Your Statement Is Too Important To Be Half-Baked

Relatively Pain-Free Artist StatementYou don’t write a statement once and forget it. You’re constantly improving your statement, just as you are constantly improving your art.

The words you crafted three years ago are insufficient for the work you’re doing today.

The bottom line is that you need to nail your artist statement. And keep nailing it.

Articulating your art – giving it the consideration it deserves – should be a priority. It’s not just the final product that will be of benefit. It’s the process you work through to get to it.

Don’t wait until a coconut bonks you on the noggin to see the light.

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12 comments to Your Artist Statement Is Like A Coconut

  • Brian Sherwin

    “You know that if you don’t talk about your art, someone else will and perhaps not in a way you appreciate.”

    OR writers will simply avoid you. I’m more apt to write about an artist if he or she has provided an artist statement on his or her website. The artist knows about his or her work more than anyone else. I might be a critic… but I don’t like playing ‘guessing games’ — so tell me what you do… and why. ;p

  • Absolutely freaking excellent! A saver! (on accounta I re-write mine every time my art shifts gears, which it seems to do on a semi-annual basis).

  • While I am thinking about it, I wanted to give feedback about the “Relatively Pain Free Artist Statement” product. I worked on one daily for a specific body of art, to be in time for my current solo show. I used it additional to my standard one. At the reception Friday I was surprised at the many people who offered comments about how much they liked my statement, and how it enhanced their perception of the art. I think people just don’t read. But I am glad to be wrong. Writing it also helped me to produce the art: it grounded me in my visual message. So, I recommend this product to anyone who feels tongue tied!

  • the basics of my art have not changed, but my work has grown and matured…so thanks for the inspiration to go back and take another look! plus i want to add photos as you suggested!

  • Hi Alyson,

    I read this title and thought — coconuts! Before I opened the post I thought
    hard, tough, you break into it to get the meat and milk. Sustaining. It turns
    out I was right in part. Plus you did say our titles should be attention grabbing. You are right! I will work on my artist’s statement. I do have one, (or several) and I’ll improve it (them). Good advice as always. Writing a frequent blog I do talk about my art, but usually about the piece of the moment. It seems to me that an artist’s statement is like a resume in the driver’s seat. It’s the direction you’re heading for, not your
    last destination. That’s why it has to change as you do.

    Thanks again Alyson,

    XO Barbara

  • I’d love to be able to write about what I make, but I’m still developing, learning and finding my voice, so should I learn about writing an artist statement at such an early stage or after I’ve produced a body of works?

  • This post is extremely relevant. I’m actually exploring new ways to tackle artist statements within my company. We’ve put out a Two-Minute-Challenge (utilizing the power of image, sound and text with video). We’ve offered the platform for people, of any age and medium, to answer “Why and how are you creatively independent?”

    I found that by focusing on the WHY it leads to more unique perspectives on art, life and the creation process. It allows people to stand up for their individual point of view, their methods and their lineage of inspiration and work creation.

    If anyone wants to join this ongoing conversation, more info can be found at http://creativelyindependent.net/blog

    We’re posting everyone’s videos and starting to do Individual Intros (People Spotlights).

    Thanks for bringing up this needed topic… and of course I was totally sucked in by the pop reference (I’m that girl too!)
    Best,
    Jess

  • Your post is creative and helpful. You’ve got me thinking. Thank you, Patti

  • As ever Alyson interesting, challenging and informative.

    ‘About Phil Kendall’ continues as a work in progress on my website. it started in March 2008. Me and it will reach that moment of Zen perfection one day…