How To Write An Artist Statement

Written by Nicole Lindeque

When writing your artist statement, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are an artist. Therefore write as an artist, rather than an academic or motivational speaker.

Keep it conversational. It must be easy for any reader to understand and be able to relate to. Always write in present tense i.e. "I am exploring, creating, playing...' in order to avoid self-historicism.

Use emotive language such as; I like to, I appreciate, I enjoy... However, watch out when you describe yourself as 'passionate' about art and your work. It has become a cliché and is interpreted as unimaginative.

"An image is worth a thousand words" is good advice. Your artist statement should not be longer than 6-8 sentences or 8-12 lines. Combine short and long sentences. Remember, an artist statement is essentially just a little note to the reader saying: "Hi there, I see that you are looking at my work. Well, this is an interesting point or a bit of background to my work".

It is a good idea to explain how your medium communicates the content of your work if it is a crucial to understanding the work. If you have used a specific medium as a metaphor, e.g. sculpted in ice to say something about transience when it melts or frozen ideas while it is solid, explain this thought. Nevertheless, do not explain the final meaning or anticipate how a viewer will interpret the work. Viewers should not be told how to think or feel. If the viewer is interested in your work, you will soon have enough opportunity to share your ideas.

Describe your work using adjectives. Do not compare yourself to historically famous artists such as Picasso or Du Champ. Also refrain from attempting to explain obscure references within your work. Leave it to the academics to communicate these connections concisely and clearly. Always make use of a thesaurus and spell-check. Even if it is part of your program as an artist to appear illiterate, spelling errors makes it seem as if everyone you know is similarly illiterate.

Finally, have friends or colleagues proof-read your artist statement. Ask them whether they think it sounds like your writing and it describes your work.

Examples of Artist Statements

Artist’s statement 1 : Penny Siopis

In my recent work I use 'found' objects including found film. I am particularly interested in the things people leave behind by force of circumstance; things which embody very specific memories and experiences, yet have wider social and cultural resonance. These objects are complex subjective traces of emotional investment not always easily expressed. Being 'found' and often made and treasured for intimate and private reasons, these objects are emblematic of a merging of private and public worlds.

K. Smith “Penny Siopis” in ‘Artthrob Artbio: A monthly feature on an artist currently in the public eye’. September 1999, viewed on 24 February 2013, <http://www.artthrob.co.za/99sept/artbio.html>

Artist’s statement 2: Serge Alain Nitegeka

My work investigates the concept of liminality in the frame of forced migration. I study the in-between state and space in which some marginal individuals such as asylum seekers and refugees find themselves. I am interested in the possibilities through which the human form can be stripped down and reduced into simple lines that articulate the relationship between movement and load.

This concept is explored through site-specific installations that depend on the viewers’ participation to be complete. The installations are realized through slight/total transformation of familiar and ordinary space/s so as to command the body to behave and move in a directed way, almost as if to perform a ritual. The idea, or rather the metaphor, is to get the viewers to experience what it may be like for refugees and asylum seekers to cross borders and boundaries, to be in unfamiliar space of different cultures, or to negotiate the mazes of social-political systems and foreign diets.

M. Smith, “Serge Alain Nitegeka” in ‘Artthrob Artbio’. Viewed on 2 March 2013, <http://www.artthrob.co.za/Artbio/Serge_Alain_Nitegeka_by_Bhavisha_Panchia.aspx>

Artist statement 3: James Webb

‘I am fascinated by the dynamics of belief, not just in a religious, theatrical and social way, but also in an art historical and economic way. I never studied art or music at university. Instead, I read for degrees in Drama and Comparative Religion. I also obtained a diploma in Copywriting. These three subjects, along with an appetite for cinema and experimental music, are keys to my contemporary art practice.'

'The realm of sight is broken down into all manner of media and traditions. Sound’s very different cultural activities are herded into the same kraal and broken down to their lowest common denominator. In order for it to be an effective material, one must understand its nature, history and language, and this goes far beyond an interest in the scientific and demonstrative elements of the medium and its reduced function as music/entertainment, into the realms of its emotional associations, cultural uses and political implications.'

R. Khazam, 'Ghosts and Spectres - For a broader approach to Sound Art', 2009, viewed on 2 March 2013, <http://www.artthrob.co.za/Artbio/James_Webb_by_Renee_Holleman.aspx>

 

References/Further reading:

A. Bamberger, ‘Your Artist Statement: Explaining the Unexplained’. 1998-2011, viewed on 24 February 2013, <http:artbusiness.com/artstate.html>