(Disclaimer: You may not agree with my take on this subject. No worries, do what works for you! But do consider this approach if you want your artist statement to stand out from the crowd.)
I’ve written a lot about artist statements. A LOT.
This is one of my favorites.
OK, like a parent asked to choose their favorite child, I love ’em all! They all have a nugget of truth. But this one combines my frustration with most artists’s statements, the lack of creativity, the banality, the focus on materials and process over our story, yadda yadda yadda.
I know this is a huge homework assignment. But at least one of these articles could get you to reconsider taking on the “traditional” artist statement.
And again, check out ArtyBollocks.com for starters. It will prove that “arty” “pretentious” “obscure” artist statements are ridiculous, I hope. Here’s another fun site if your creative work takes a different form: The New Age Bullshit Generator
You may be tempted to use a template to create an artist statement. It may feel safe, and easy. And if it gets you started, okay then. But as a friend told me years ago, “You cannot fill in the blanks with passion.” (Wherever you are in the world, thank you Nicci Walker!)
You may be tempted to use hoity-toity words and phrases, (aka “artspeak”) like other famous artists. But this article on the down side of IAE (International Art English) is terrific at uncovering the very (pretentious) aspects that could alienate our potential audience. (My hat’s off to you, too, Carol Ober!)
Avoid anything that reeks of complacency:
“I love color”. Um….who doesn’t love color??
“I am drawn to light and color”. Um…even worse? How can anyone capture an image of anything without light? (More on this to follow….)
“I am inspired by nature…” Um. So is every single landscape painter ever. And probably 95% of the rest of the world.
“I explore form and composition…” Just stop right there. Every painting has forms, shapes, lines in it.
I could go on, but it drives me nuts. These are just a few sentences that most artists believe makes them “unique”. But they’re just the opposite. They sound like every other artist on the planet. Case in point: I could say this about my art, and I’m willing to bet that my work looks nothing like yours.
When artists list the “famous artists” they’ve studied with, I want to pull my hair. All it means is, you had enough money to pay their fees. I get that really popular famous artists can be very selective about who gets into their classes. But I also know that a “famous artist” in one part of the world may be totally unknown in another part. When I moved to California in 2014, I knew only two artists in Sonoma County. Actually, in all of California. And neither of them are painters. (Okay, Jane Garabaldi and Marge Margulies, and only because we were all in the same gallery in New England.) (And yes, they are both stellar at their work!)
An artist statement is not the place to brag about your art degrees, your reputation, to explain your how-to process in-depth.
It’s about sharing something about you, and your work, that will make your visitors want to go back and look at your artwork again.
JoAnne Russo, a highly-acclaimed Vermont basketmaker, was the first person to share this insight with me. I was already doing that, but this made it clear why we cannot afford to muck up this important piece of paper. Because even if our work doesn’t blow them away, our artist statement can.
Here’s my best example: At an art exhibit years ago, I saw what I thought was an awful work of art. Crumpled foil, squished fabric. WTF?? I thought.
Then I read their artist statement, and I almost cried.
It was made by a woman who had been a talented painter for most of her life. Now, in her final years, she had lost her sight and could no longer paint.
But in her heart, she still wanted to “make”. She still wanted to share the things that fascinated her. She was still an artist, even though vast changes had to be made in how she created it.
So she worked with interesting bits of materials with great texture, arranging them in ways that literally and figuratively “felt right”, and urged people to touch them.
OMG. OMG. She wanted to still have her voice in the world. And even going blind was not going to stop her.
Yes. I went back and looked at her work again.
Instead of seeing someone who had no idea how to make “real art”, I saw someone with so much courage, so strong in their heart, that even losing their superpower–a great painter–shewhat believed she still had something to share with the world.
My next example was an artist statement I wrote for a woodworker the year before we moved to California. Here’s my rant about that experience.
The part I wrote that they didn’t value?
Like people, trees respond to what happens to hem. What they live through creates their character. Sunlight and soil, ice and wind…all these things leave their unique mark on the inside. I work wood’s diverse color, grain, and texture, patiently and meticulously, to real the “inside story”. And like people, the story hidden beneath the bark is beautiful, unique, and forever astonishing.
In fact, just read that article if you’re short on time and don’t have the bandwidth right now to go deeper. (And to be fair, that person did include that part in their statement. I didn’t know until a few years later, when their work was featured in a magazine.
Yes, your process is important. But keep it simple.
Yes, your education helped you get to where you are today. I get it.
Yes, art degrees mean you were serious about your work from an early age. Good on you! But not all of us had that privilege or option.
The most powerful story we can tell about our work is why it matters. To US.
It could have been a life-long passion, or it could have been a treasure we buried out of perceived necessity. Until we realized how vital it was to our soul.
Be willing to go deep, to share who you really are, and how your art helped you discover what really matters to you.
Trust me. And trust yourself: If you’re doing it right, they will want to see more of your artwork, your studio, and you.
Questions? Comments? Bring ’em on! I’ll do my best to answer them.
(No snark, please. Feel free to gritch on your own platform, okay?)