The Artist Statement: The Power of Words

Artists are so visual that they often overlook the power of words. Believe me when I tell you that words – the way they are written and/or said – ARE important. You CAN harness that power and use it to express yourself in a unique and effective way. To connect, create a bridge between you and your viewer. A bridge that might just turn a viewer into a buyer and a buyer into a collector.

If you are doubting what I’m saying about the power of words then think of this. Remember the saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me.” It’s definitely not true. In fact, words can do lasting damage. This sounds negative but have you ever wished that someone had used one word in place of another because it would have alleviated the pain they caused or it wouldn’t have been painful in the first place. Words can go straight to your heart. They can change a meaning of everything you just said. They can change the tone of a whole book – and require the author to go back and revise the entire book. Similar to a painting. One dot of red may change the whole thing and require you to go back and rework the entire piece.

As you can see I love words. Editing has become like a creative crossword puzzle to me. Here is an exercise that incorporates using the power of words….

After you have a solid piece of writing, it answers all of the questions that a viewer may ask and you think you are satisfied then go into a room and read it out loud. Does it flow off your tongue? Does it feel good to say? Are there any words or punctuation that you stumble over? A sentence that doesn’t flow properly or convey exactly, exactly what you mean. One word can interrupt the flow of an entire sentence, an entire piece of writing.

Two of the most powerful tools I have found are the Dictionary and Thesaurus. Look up just one word and read the entire definition and suggestions of other words to use. You’ll be amazed and find things you never thought of before. Here is an example:

Inspiration: in(t)-spe-‘ra’-shan, – (,)spi-/in (14 century) 1.a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate with sacred revelation. b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions 2: the act of drawing in: specific The Drawing of air into the lungs. 3a: the quality or state of being inspired. b: something that was inspired. 4. an inspiring agent of influence.

This can also be a marvelous tool if you feel stuck. Here is another exercise:
Write a list of words that describe your art and look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus one by one. It opens the doors to your mind and your heart and suddenly the words will just flow. Start to free write about what each word means to you if you’re still stuck after that.

Another exercise is to have someone else read it out loud to you, after you’re completely finished with it. As they read it you will see if they understand the meaning of what you have written. You can also see if they stumble over words or sentences. Listen carefully. Having more than one person read it is also good because it will let you see who your artist statement resonates with.

Remember that an artist statement is never really finished. Your process and technique will change. You really should review it every three to six months and see if it needs tweaking. If you have followed the steps in the previous posts and in this post congratulations! You have completed your artist statement. Getting over the hurdle of writing your first artist statement can be the hardest thing but once it’s complete you know you will have something you can really use. It will be easier to change and keep up with. You will be able to talk and write about your work with confidence. You will be able to write grants, fellowships, residencies, press releases, exhibition proposals and so much more. Galleries like artists who can write and who can talk. This is the second major step to your success.