*Updated May 2023
Does the thought of writing your artist statement make you wake up in cold sweat at 4 am? You’re not alone. I am currently writing an updated statement for a solo exhibition, and I feel your pain. After receiving tons of messages asking me to give me insight into crafting this important part of your portfolio, I decided to give you a few easy hacks to make this a simple process.
You don’t have to be a great writer to have a clean, easy-to-understand description of what your work is about. We often overthink what an artist statement actually is. It should be a genuine, honest snapshot of what you care about and how you do what you do. It doesn’t have to be long; a paragraph or two is usually enough.
Look, we DO need to have professional, easy to read statements, but at the end of the day, if you’re an artist, you probably don’t spend the majority of your life working on becoming a best-selling author. In general, people will know this and will not expect an award-winning essay. They just want to learn more about what you do!
Ask yourself this: what do you want your viewer to know about you, your process and work that is not immediately evident just by looking at it? We all want our work to speak for itself, but each person’s perception is completely different based on their life experience, culture and interests. They may fall in love with your art even more once they get the right information.
Take a deep breath, grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and try these easy tips that will take the pain out of the process.
“An artist statement is a concise arrangement of words that acts as a bridge to connect your audience to your art.”
— Vicki Krohn Amorose
Here are five stress-free steps to help you get started:
1. Brain dump.
Make a list of things that you are thinking about when painting, sculpting, photographing, etc. Are you looking for a specific mood when creating? Do you like telling stories? Ask yourself these questions and write down your unfiltered answers on a piece of paper. If you are looking for more questions, Create! Director Alicia Puig shares numerous options in her How To Write Your Artist Statement & Biography Workbook or Vicki Krohn Amorous, author of Art-Write, offers a few great ones in her book as well.
Why did I make this?
What do I believe in?
How did I make this? (Materials, Location, Etc.)
2. Read. Read. Read.
It’s a great exercise to check out what everyone else is doing. Start by visiting the websites of artists you admire and see how they approach this part of their studio practice.
Get a sense of how diverse, vast and unlimited your possibilities are! You don’t have to sound like a robot, and at the same time you don’t need to reinvent to wheel. Be clear and straightforward and your audience will respond.
Invest in art publications to develop your vocabulary. Take a few moments each week to read the art section of The New York Times, Art News, Frieze or any other newspapers, magazines and blogs that inspire you. Want to be the first to get all of the new copies of Create! Magazine? Learn more about becoming a subscriber.
(This goes without saying, but please, never copy or try to replicate anyone’s work in art or writing. Take cues, but never steal!)
3. Jot down thoughts throughout your day.
If you are walking to grab a cup of coffee in your favorite neighborhood and suddenly you get a random idea, write it down. Sometimes hearing inspiring song lyrics or listening to a podcast will give you the words and phrases you need to describe your work. Inspiration is everywhere!
4. Put it all together.
When you are ready, sit down and write your first draft. It may feel pretty rough at first. Put it away for a bit and come back to it with fresh eyes. Reading your writing out loud is a big help. You can catch mistakes and odd sentence structure more easily when you hear it spoken out loud. Repeat this two or three times and then have someone else read it for typos and grammar mistakes.
5. When you are done, ask yourself the following:
Does this make sense to me?
Would someone with no knowledge of art understand this?
Is it true?
Does it reflect what I want the viewer to know about my work and process?
P.S. Still feel uncomfortable with your writing? There are tons of affordable options to have a professional edit it. A friend or peer is usually happy to help!
If you want someone to help you write, we can recommend the following options! Book a session with Alicia Puig here, work with Charlie J. Meyers, or artist and writer Michele Kishita offers this service at www.michelekishitawriting.com
Here are 4 more tips for writing your artist statement & biography. We also cover writing in our essential guide for emerging artists, The Complete Smartist Guide, and in our comprehensive business course for artists, The Smartist School.
Thank you so much for reading! f any of these tips worked for you, let us know and share them with a friend! If you have another topic you want covered, email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.