As a professional artist, you need to have more than your work to get around in the art world. Along with your portfolio, you should have an artist statement available at a moment’s notice. An artist statement should be considered just as important as your works.
WHY DO YOU NEED AN ARTIST STATEMENT?
An artist statement is most often the front line of communication between an artist and the public. It will be used when you submit your portfolio to competitions, galleries, and museums. It may sometimes be displayed when people are viewing your works in person or on your website. If it’s online, your artist statement will be read by people from all over the world.
Useful Article: How To Create A Professional Portfolio
There are many paths to becoming an artist, through school or an apprenticeship, or through inspiration and self-teaching but no matter how you got there, being a professional artist means that you have to have an artist statement. If you have never written a statement before, or aren’t sure that your current statement is up to art world standards, it can be a quite daunting task to compose one.
Luckily, Agora Experts are here to help. Compiling years of experience in the art world, they are more than happy to share what they’ve learned.
Here are some valuable tips for writing an artist’s statement:
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Remember, as an artist you are not only writing to an art gallery, but also to visitors, students, and potential buyers. You want all of these different groups to be able to understand what you’re saying about yourself and your art. You aren’t always going to be standing next to a patron to explain everything to them, so you have to make sure that your statement communicates all your ideas to any viewer.
CONTENT FOR YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT
Between 150-200 words (two paragraphs) is the best length for a statement that is going to be published. It is long enough to let a viewer learn more about you and your work, but not too long that they can’t follow your story and get distracted.
What information does an artist’s statement need to include? There are three elements to consider: the “how,” the “what,” and the “why.” There should be enough information in your artist statement that someone can begin to imagine the art that you make without having it in front of them.
The ‘How’ refers to how you created your works. Many visitors are interested in knowing about your artistic process. Describe your works; what colors do you use, do you make large marks or small marks, or do you use blending so there are no visible marks at all? If you’re a photographer, what kind of tools are integral to your process?
Are your paintings abstract? Portraits? Do you take photos of landscapes? What is your imagery? When people describe what you make, what do they say? Describe the content of your works in a general way to flow from how you work to what you make.
And last, The “Why”:
Why do you make what you make? What does your life say about your work and your work say about your life? What symbols do you use and why? Explain the influences behind the meanings of your works.
You don’t have to have the same amount of each type of information, but it is a good idea to have part of your statement devoted to each of these categories. However, if one category seems far more relevant to your work than the others, feel free to emphasize it in your statement. You can put as much or as little of each category as you like; if your works are about the medium then you can focus more on how you make your works and if it is more about the “why” and your inspiration, focus on that. Balance your content in any way you need to.
Write down the answers to these questions on your own and then cut them down do the absolute essentials.
Once you have your content, then you can move to style.
THE THREE C’S OF STYLE
Every artist statement must follow the three C’s of style: they should be clear, concise, and consistent.
Be clear: Use accessible vocabulary; keep in mind that your readers may not be scholars, artists, or art historians. Write like you’re speaking to a person on the street, somebody who goes to museums “every now and then,” as many of your viewers will fall into that category. Make sure the content in your artist statement is not too complex or technical. This will intimidate your audience.
Be concise: Don’t go on for pages and pages about your work. Even the most interested person will get lost in too much information. You want your statement to pull the viewer in, but you don’t want to bore them.
The average museum and gallery visitor spends 5 to 15 seconds looking at each artwork, according to numerous museum surveys. You want your statement to be brief enough that they can get the essential information in that time, and that their flow isn’t too disrupted when they stop to read the statement in full.
Be consistent: Make sure that what you say in your artist’s statement matches the works that are going to be on display. If you also have a press release or biography available, make sure that your statement doesn’t contradict these texts at all. Keep updating your artist statement as you grow and evolve as an artist.
REMINDER: An artist statement MUST be in the first person, everything is “I” not “he/she/they.” Imagine your statement is having a conversation with a viewer, it is speaking for you, and you would always say “I did this.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Write out your statement a few different ways and think about which one best describes you and your work. Read your statement out loud to make sure it flows properly. Read it to people familiar with you and your work and listen to their comments.
If you are represented by a gallery, or if you have an agent, see if they are available to help you with your statements. Agora Gallery, for example, often helps artists edit their statements. If you don’t feel like you’re the best writer, have someone help you correct your grammar and make sure the artist statement says what you want it to say.
REMINDER: If you are sending your statement somewhere with a word requirement (usually between 150-200 words) take their advice and write at least that much. Whatever word count they give you is likely the minimum for certain publications, and you don’t want to be left out because you didn’t provide enough text. Many organizations have similar requirements, so you don’t want to have to re-work your statement every time you send it somewhere new.
TIPS FOR NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS:
Write your statement in your native language first, and then translate it. You can use a professional translator, or you can try to translate it with an application online. Just be sure that you have it double checked by a native speaker of whatever language your statement will be published in before you submit. Don’t try to limit yourself to your foreign language vocabulary. Do your very best to compose something for yourself.
REMINDER: Do not submit a statement with too little information or no statement at all. If a gallery or competition asks for a statement, be sure to provide one. If there is a suggested word count, meet it. You don’t want someone to misunderstand your process or your work by writing more into your statement just to reach a word requirement for publication. Your statement should be personal to you and your work and not according to someone else’s thoughts, especially since a statement is something that will usually be seen by anyone who looks at your artwork. You want to be able to communicate with viewers in your own words.
FONT, PAPER, DESIGN
Once you have your statement ready to go, you need to prepare it for submission. You may submit to a gallery, a contest, a local collective; it doesn’t matter, they all will need your statement, and you want your statement to do its job. Whether it’s a paper submission, or online, here are some tips for making sure your statement makes it to the correct people.
Most submissions to galleries these days are online, like ours, which makes worrying about how your statement looks a no-brainer. The online forms will take care of that for you. If you have the information there, then that’s all you’ll need.
If you are submitting a printed statement, here are some tips for making it up to the art world standards:
KEEP YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT CLEAN
Make sure your paper is clean, crisp, and classic. You want to look and have your materials look as professional as possible. You are essentially engaging in a business when you submit your work to a gallery and you want to present yourself the same way.
Plain printer paper or basic letterhead is the best way to make a professional impression. You don’t need fancy paper, paper you made by hand, or special design paper to submit your statement. It may seem eye-catching at first, but in reality most fancy paper designs are distracting from any important content. If it looks like a party invitation, chances are no gallery will take it seriously. If you want to go the extra mile and use nice stationery, do not go for something with an elaborate design. A thick card stock can be nice, but keep the paper white or off-white so that it is not too distracting from the content.
KEEP YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT READABLE
The same rule applies to fonts. Make sure your font is clear and able to be read easily. You can never go wrong with basic fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Fancy fonts can take away from your content. It doesn’t matter if the font matches what you think your art feels like: if a gallery owner or buyer can’t read it, then it hurts more than it helps. You want the communication to be as easy as possible between you and your audience, so make sure that your statement is readable.
Along the same lines, do NOT handwrite your statement. Very few galleries will even read a handwritten statement as it is unprofessional. It’s also a lot of work to handwrite an artist statement, and if you’re submitting to multiple galleries, writing out all those statements is a waste of your time. It’s easiest to type it out.
If you don’t have regular access to a computer or a word processing program, you can always work on your statement online and pay a few cents to have it printed at your local copy center.
AFTER YOUR SUBMISSION:
For now, you’ve done all you can. It is now in the hands of the gallery manager, collector or client that you’ve presented it to.
As you grow and evolve as an artist, you’ll want to revisit these steps as you revise your artist statement to reflect your current work. Remember, your brilliant work only does half the job. Your professionalism and other important things like your artist statement, CV and business cards make up the other half.
Join the discussion: Do let us know if you have any other suggestions about writing the perfect artist statement. You can also ask your questions in the comments and our experts will answer all your queries!
This post is also available in: Spanish