The Artist Statement: Getting Started

When I tell artists about writing and how important to their careers it is I usually get a look of dread. How do you put something so visual into words? Artists are not usually articulate about their work, a lot of times it comes from the unconscious. The language is visual so how do you articulate in speech and writing what you are doing?

Many artists also tell me that their grammar is not good or their writing is not good. However, everyone has a story to tell and this is your chance to tell the story of your art. I’m going to give you, here, a few tips about writing.

I used to confuse the artists statement with the bio. The bio is a narrative version of your resume. Pick a few of your greatest achievements and highlight them in your bio. The artist statement is something that answers the questions your viewer may have about your work. It engages them and brings them into a deeper level of understanding. It creates a relationship between you and your viewer. It’s what can turn a viewer into a collector.

I used to be nervous about making an artist write their artist statement because sometimes the art of making art is not really knowing what your doing. Then someone pointed out to me that it can be an exploration, a process that brings the artist into a deeper understanding of what they are doing, who they are and what their direction is. If you are one of those people that hates writing, think of this as an adventure. A discovery if you will and you will enjoy it.

First and foremost remember that writing is a process. In my last job as the Executive Director of Women’s Studio Center we had many writers and I would see their work again and again in our writers forums. They would revise past pieces and bring them in for feedback. Until they got it right. They loved it and reveled in the details. Think of it as creative as making your art and if you can be articulate you will not only succeed but soar.

I like to start with an exercise called free writing. Get yourself into that creative mode where you are one with the paper and let the words flow. It doesn’t matter what you say or how it comes out, don’t worry if the grammar is correct. Just let it out. You can start by saying “I’m stuck, I don’t know what to write. Writing about art is so hard. What shall I say?…” Keep on going and it will eventually come out. Leave it aside and come back in a few days and look at it. Then piece together the good parts or free write some more.

Another great exercise is to have an “art idea party.” Put out your work and some wine and a few snacks and invite some friends over. Ask them to talk about your art. To ask questions and see what they think. It can be a difficult situation to take notes in so you can turn on a tape recorder. (Make sure your friends know that you will be taping it for your own private use first). Ultimately you will want to answer the questions that the viewer has of your art so this is a good way to get started.

Remember that writing is a process and developing your artists statement is an ongoing process. As your art evolves so will your statement. It’s a work in progress but getting the first one out is ultimately important. You will use it in all kinds of applications – grants, fellowships, residencies – and in catalogs, press releases and more. By being in touch with your art and your direction you will know which opportunities to seek out. In the coming posts I will be talking more about the writing process. I love writing so much and want to share some secrets and tips that I have learned over the years. I also want to make the process easier for you and eliminate the intimidation. Writing can actually be fun and inspiring. Your artist statement can be the most inspiring thing you do.

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