3 Thought-Provoking Questions for a Better Artist Statement

A strong artist statement is essential to the effective marketing of your art.

There’s no skating by on this one. You need at least one artist statement for each body of work you create.

Writing your statement is a process. Like any other type of writing or artmaking, you can’t expect to nail it in a single sitting. And, like all good things that take time, it will be time well spent. The process helps you gain clarity about your art.

Terri Schmitt painting

©Terri Schmitt, Lemons and Ball Jar. 16 x 20 inches.

If you can’t define your art in a statement, you will likely face difficulty marketing your work. Where else will you get language for wall labels, brochure and website text, informal presentations, and conversations?

Answering these three questions will help you write a better artist statement.

1. What, in particular, do you want people to see in your work? Is it . . .

  • Your labor?
  • A special material?
  • An emotion?
  • Color? Line? Texture?

What is important to you?

Discuss how you handle this aspect of your work. The words you choose for your statement should be clues that lead viewers to these discoveries.

Declaring “I love color” is weak language. Who doesn’t love color? Show us exactly how you respond to color and use it to transfer meaning from your head and heart to the viewer.

Vickie Martin collage

©Vickie Martin, The Organic Planet. Mixed media on canvas, 24 x 20 inches.

2. What is a distinguishing characteristic of your art?

A distinguishing characteristic might be one of the items in the list under #1 above or something else.

What makes your art different from artists working along the same lines? Emphasize this quality when you speak and write. Help us to see what makes you an original.

Part of your job is to educate others how to look at your work. Most people haven’t had a visual education. They need to be shown what to look for.

3. What do other people find delightful or surprising about your art?

If it captures one person’s attention, it will probably be fascinating to others as well. Listen to what people say about your art. Their discoveries might shock or confound you, but trying to understand where they’re coming from is part of the communication process.

You will learn a lot by listening to these insights, and I think you’ll be surprised that they pick up aspects of your work that you hadn’t consciously considered.

If you care to, please share your responses to these three questions in a comment.

sizzling-tonight-550

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27 comments to 3 Thought-Provoking Questions for a Better Artist Statement

  • I find that writing an artist statement is really difficult, I imagine I’m not alone in this feeling. These are all brilliant tips for writing one but it’s also a matter of writing it so it sounds genuine. I try to get several honest friends (especially if they are writers and/or marketers) to help me edit.

    • Lori: It IS hard. That’s why you should constantly be exploring (and saving) the words.

      If it helps at all, I have difficulty defining the benefits of some things I do. My mentor is very helpful with this.

  • this is timely. I just finished a series that I’ve been working on since last September. It’s called “Poke Salad Annie Series” and as I type that title, it practically shouts the need for an artist statement! Thanks Alyson, I’ll start working on it now!

  • Thank you Allison! I really need the specifics for laboring over my artist statements and although I usually encompass one or two of these, I certainly will try to use all three to make mine have more depth and portray myself in a positive and professional manner.

  • This is a variant of the general artist statement I’ve been using. I’ve read lots of text on how to formulate these, but frankly I can’t say I’m sure I’m doing it right yet. I’l be grateful for any advice. Here goes:

    ‘I’m a pattern and surface designer living in Belgrade, Serbia. When I draw, I try to bring a touch of wild to everyday items – exploring the boundaries between Beautiful and Strange.
    
    I love elaborate patterns, eccentric color schemes and birds, flowers, insects and crabs. I draw by hand and color by tablet. There is nothing in life I would rather do than this.’

    • Nice Nidija. I especially like the idea of the intersection between the beautiful and the strange. Maybe you can explore what specific meanings that takes in your art itself? How does beauty and strangeness interact in the patterns & eccentric color schemes? :)

    • Oops, sorry to misspell your name Lidija!

      • Thanks, Grayson! No worries about misspelling, I usually read right through it :) Yeah, I’ll try to think more in that direction. My problem perhaps is that I have no formal artistic training so maybe I don’t know how to talk about it myself. I’ll try to think about it more.

  • Thank you, Alyson. We can always make use of your reminders and help. I thank the other artists for sharing, too.

  • This was very timely – I haven’t thought about my artist statement in awhile – I was pretty satisfied with the one I wrote a few years ago – but times have changed and my focus has changed – this reminded me I need to update it – and relook at it on a regular basis.

  • So, I cheat on my artist statement.
    I have a friend that is a FANTASTIC writer. She listens to me talk about my work, then writes what I am trying to say and she hears what it is I am NOT saying. She creates the draft statement that I can edit so it feels ‘right’ and this works perfectly for me… as long as she has the patience to listen to me ramble :-)

  • Thank you, Alyson for these simple tips. Writing an effective and relevant artist statement is a lot more difficult than it seems!! Defining your artwork and your thinking process really allows people to experience and appreciate what you do on a deeper level . Actually, I feel like writing your artist statement about a body of work BEFORE creating it would be helpful, too.

    Btw, I’m looking forward to tonight’s seminar, too:)

  • My work involves unusual processes. I understand the value in describing my methods because they are an important part of my work and people are curious, but I am more and more reticent to do so. The point of the work is far more than the process by which it has been made, and the challenge is getting those other, harder to talk about layers into the statement too. I want to give viewers an “in” to the work but don’t want put anything in a statement that will limit or negate the breadth of their own experience of it. Just enough to encourage digging deeper.

  • Thank you for this blog topic. It reaffirmed my instincts that I needed to change my artist statement, and how I needed to change it.

  • It’s interesting to see the conclusions people can come to when they’re not guided at all as to the intention and method behind the artwork as well. Even though you are the one who has created the work, it’s always a wonderfully unique give-and-take of meaning with everyone who encounters the work.

    Focusing on distinguishing characteristics is always a good idea, since like Alyson says so many people just don’t have the vocabulary to talk about art!

  • I want people to feel the emotion within the equine expressions in my art…ideally to deepen an appreciation for horses in general, or to deepen the connection with a specific horse in the viewer’s life.

    I would love to get feedback on my artist statement from any horse lovers among you! Does it need to be shorter and if so, what can go?

    Thanks!!

  • Thanks Alyson, you really got me thinking again! Here’s my update one – comments welcome – I’m thinking my language may not be vivid enough! ”

    My paintings and prints come from my memory and imagination and are initially inspired by sea and land. Places I’ve been and places I’ve seen inform the image, but the paintings are simply suggestions and impressions from my mind. I want to create a sense of emotion through the mistiness of soft brush marks in combinations of beautiful colours. I love loose, free sweeping brush marks, palette knife scratches and scrapes. For me, these marks create a history to the piece. Recently, the work is becoming more symbolic with autobiographical and cultural references and sometimes suggestions of figures hovering in the foreground.”

  • Eva C.

    I do wonder if explaining can also be a lost sale. There might be an art to writing the statement while interacting with the public is another thing altogether.

  • Hi Alison.
    I am reading all the comments about the artist statement. Timing is always perfect!…My goal this week is to really clarify my statement and use this verbal description as the focus of my drawing as I drive across country! Then, I will incorporate the words and vision into my new series. Maybe I’ve hit more than one goal with this concept….the hard part is to do the work at hand first…write the statement! Thank you.

  • I’m not in favor of artist statements. It’s my impression that the only ones who need to read an artist statement are art critics, curators, and consultants—all of whom are word people. The rationale for the need of a statement is to help the viewer understand or appreciate the art and the artist.

    Let’s turn the tables. Let’s make it a requirement that in order to understand writers, and what they are striving for in their literary work, that they make a “visual” statement. After all, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” To require a visual artist to describe with words what they are striving to achieve in their art work is just as illogical.

    Not only are visual artists unprepared to write in a cogent and effective manner about their art work, most of us can’t articulate why we do what we do—some of us don’t even know why we do it—we just do it. It’s my belief, having read hundred’s of artists’ statements, that they do more damage to the artist than good. There is mystery in art. It’s one of the major attributes that draws a collector, curator or critic to a work of art. There is no mystery in words—they are what they are—and often times they mislead.

    While I’m not in favor of artists’ statements, I include one out of convention on my website:

    “I dream. To slather paint on canvas. Like butter on biscuits. Melting into pools. Of delight. Running off the edges. Sweet. Like desert honey. Dripping from my finger tips. I dream. To see shapes emerge. Like a distant desert mirage. Shape shifting. With the sun. Moving motion. In summer’s heat. Constantly coalescing. In my mind.”
     
    It’s a cross between prose and poetry—clearly, not a typical artist statement. For journalistic purposes, it doesn’t say much. But for the collector, I think it adds to the mystery.

  • Hi Alyson,
    Thank you for this post and so many helpful others! I find the complaint about non-writers using words to get people to notice our visual art interesting. Writers DO make a visual statement! I am not speaking of how they use words to conjure imagery in the reader’s minds…

    My understanding of the plight of authors is that they get the books written and then seriously struggle with the choice of the VISUAL of the book cover. Most know how important that IMAGE is to entice people to delve into the contents of the book.. Sometimes it is the deal-maker or –breaker even after one has read the summary on the back of the book.

    In the end, our goal is to reach out and communicate an idea with another person. More than one person is a bonus! And each of our brains function in different ways. Why would we miss any opportunity to steer a curious and appreciative someone our way?

    Now, off to the drawing / writing board…
    Kelly

  • Thank you always need pointers on artist statement. I keep them in my folder under marketing and try to tweak them if they apply. It helps me to get started. It depends if they want a general show statement or one on each work. I have both asked for. For me it is much easier to speak about one painting then myself as an artist.

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