Yesterday a friend emailed me in major distress, a talented artist with years in her belt of life and art. “How DO you write an artists statement!?!” I wrote back urgently as there is nothing more worrisome to me than watching an artist flounder on the very reason for their practice.
She was relieved with the short, direct response I sent her, so for what it’s worth I’ll share my tips on how to write an artist statement with you (btw even if you are not an artist reading this, I highly recommend these steps for your personal manifesto, writer’s creed, or general checking in on what on earth you are doing):
1. Hop off the computer pick up a notebook and write an honest letter to yourself about what you have been doing for the past x months or years in your work and otherwise. Write everything. So you’ve been making blue paintings and sculptures of lemons whilst being obsessed with Dr. Pepper and your genealogy – write it all down, you will start to see patterns, trust me. You can edit in the next step.
2. Reread above (computer ok now) and edit. Keep in mind that all info included in the statement should make you happy, not dizzy.
3. Avoid pretension, it clouds your good intentions. If you need to use pretension you may need to revisit your original intentions behind the work you are doing. Are they true/right/honest?
4. If you can’t explain what you are doing to a 2nd grader revisit everything. Basically start over.
5. Some “experts” suggest changing to the third person. I simply can’t do that. Please do what feels right, it’s not necessarily more or less professional.
Artist statements are not just for galleries and grants. They are a requisite reality check, a grounding vehicle and a way to take inventory of what you think you are doing. This humbling and essential activity should happen frequently, don’t wait for someone to ask you for one.
Also, they are a particularly recent phenomenon: historically artists have written letters, manifestos, or other writings that simply support their work, never stand in for their work.
Lastly, if anyone says an artist statement doesn’t matter, ask them if they think a dentist doesn’t need to know how many teeth are in your mouth before making a diagnosis.
Tagged: artist statement, How to write an artist statement, letter, manifesto