How to avoid writing a yawn-worthy artist statement (with examples)
Artist statements are found on gallery walls, in art brochures and on websites. They’re requested as part of proposals, award entries and art directory listings. These words are a window into your art and practice – and so they need to be compelling.
In fact, your artist statement is a crucial part of how people understand and connect with your art. Plus, the way you write about your work also sets the tone for your practice, guiding people on how they should approach and interact with it.
It’s a big task for a humble document! So, how do you write an artist statement people actually want to read?
Bring your art to life with words
As a writer of artist statements, I read a lot of them. A lot of good and a fair few terrible ones too. The most memorable have always felt as if the artist is talking directly to me – in their voice.
They delve into the inspiration and motivation behind the art. And they give me a glimpse at their creative processes and delve deep into their work, to make their art feel like a living thing. They act as an invite to feel, to think, to ponder, to take action.
#1 most common mistake in artist statements
On the other hand, the most common mistake is including irrelevant biographical material. Like telling your audience how you’ve always been a creative person who started making art in some form as a child. Yaaaawwwwnnnnnnnn.
If this is you, (no judgement!) this blog will step through what makes a great artist statement. By the end, you’ll know how to write an artist statement that captivates your audience and enhances the experience people get from your work.
1. Know yourself first
No two artist statements (like no two artists) are the same. They don’t have a fixed format or word length and this means you have full creative licence to write what you want, how you want… But this lack of structure can feel daunting! If so, you’re not alone.
Before you start writing, take a moment to reflect on who you are as an artist, and what your art might mean to you and others. Take note of:
- The core message/feeling your art is trying to convey: is it uplifting or calming? Does it inspire introspection or outrage? Is there a clear environmental, political or social message you’re trying to share?
- Other common ideas, themes or values come through in your art: are there common biographical elements? Sustainability or social justice issues you raise?
- Any recurring imagery, symbols or colours that show up: does your art feature quirky compositions, strong lines, vivid or sombre colours, or even wild brushstrokes? Try to be as descriptive as possible.
- The vibe or personality of your work: How do you want people to approach your art? Is it straightforward, silly, serious or serene? What kinds of spaces would it fit best in?
- Who is your audience? What do they believe about the world? What do they hold dear? What keeps them up at night? What are their dreams and goals?
Create a mind map for each of these questions and brainstorm until you run out of ideas. Use a Thesaurus to help you be as descriptive as possible. It is these details that’ll give your art depth.
Consider these two artist statement examples
“Poppi is my fun and clever alter ego. It’s a line of jewelry that doesn’t take life too seriously. Poppi adds a splash of color to jeans or an extra spark to ignite a little black dress; heck, it’ll even brighten up a trip to the grocery store.
If nothing else, it’s a statement. Poppi laughs. Poppi flirts. Poppi screams. Poppi says it all without you saying a thing.”– Dawn Benedetto, Jeweller
Why do you think Dawn makes jewellery? How does she want her audience to feel? What is the personality of her jewellery brand?
“Many people take great comfort in the bathroom towels being the same color as the soap, toilet paper, and tiles. It means there is a connection between them, and an environment of order. Home is a place not only of comfort, but of control. This sense of order, in whatever form it takes, acts as a shield against the unpredictability and lurking chaos of the outside world.
“My work is an examination of the different forms this shield takes, and the thinking that lies behind it. I use domestic objects as the common denominators of our personal environment. Altering them is a way of questioning the attitudes, fears and unwritten rules which have formed that environment and our behavior within it.”– Artist, Andy Yoda
What message is Andy trying to express through his art? How does he want his audience to feel? Who is his audience? How are they feeling?
2. Weave your story through your artist statement (without overdoing it)
Above all else your artist statement needs to feel authentic. By sharing relevant parts of your story, you create space for others to identify with you and your journey. But your artist statement isn’t the place to share your entire background and list your achievements. That’s what your brand story and bio is for.
So how do you weave your story through your statement, without sharing too much?
Find the common thread and pull
Think about your time as an artist. Your previous jobs. Life experiences.
Why did you start creating? Was it something internal (like a desire to express yourself)? Or was it external (like a need to create space for calm and wellbeing)?
If there’s a natural link between your *why* and *what* you create, tell your audience. If not, don’t mention it.
Think about your process. Do you have skills you’ve combined from different experiences that inform why/how you create? Mention it. If not… don’t.
Here, in this example, Ronelle Reid weaves in her background through her artist statement. She does this to show how her compositions invite audiences to think differently about the animals she paints.
“I’ve spent countless hours studying animals in museums, using the taxidermic displays to understand and convey their forms. However, it wasn’t until I started work with RSPCA that my experience with animal welfare gave me a new perspective.
Now, fuelled by this understanding, I combine my formal education in painting, screen and printmaking to plan each composition, purposefully breaking the rules of taxonomic categorisation. In doing so, my work draws attention to the interconnectedness between species and invites viewers to see how they are being forced to adapt in rapidly changing ecosystems, or risk extinction.”– Ronelle Reid, Wildlife & Conservation Artist
By mentioning her animal studies and welfare experience in this snippet, Ronelle gives us a strong sense of her passion for animals and their ecosystems. This is the common thread throughout her work.
3. Describe your art style using the senses
Style is a very personal thing. It’s informed by your natural process, influences and even the subject matter. If you went to art school, or know a little about art movements – you might think of style in terms of abstract art or avant garde, pointillism or pop art, surrealism or symbolism… (you get my drift).
But a word of warning when using these movements to describe your style. Know your audience, first. If you’re writing a statement for a more academic, informed art audience these terms will (most likely) be okay. However, people with limited understanding art styles – and the difference between expressionism and impressionism, won’t get a lot out of these terms. Especially without an explanation about what that means.
So, when writing about your style, think about how you create work from start to finish.
- Do you use a certain colour palette? Is it discordant or neon? Natural or dark and full of contrast?
- Do you arrange items in a particular way? Do you purposefully place unusual objects/ideas together? Or find yourself drawn to scenes where light is a feature?
- Are there similar lines, marks or strokes across multiple works? Are they loose abstract markings or confident lines? Are they illustrative or realistic?
- Do you start with an idea, or free flow onto the page/canvas? Is it organic or forced? Experimental or iterative?
- Do you prefer certain materials? Why? Are they tactile and sensory? Vivid or versatile? What about it draws you in?
Pause a moment to really look at your art (I’ll wait). Now, grab a pen and paper and describe your style using evocative language, as if to someone who has never laid eyes on it before.
Use all the senses so your audience can engage wholly with your work.
Example: Flor Rojas evocative collection statement
“The Spume series is all about rich, robust textures, delicate dabs, and mouth-watering movement.
Threading them together is a subtle, matt finish that devours the light, drawing you in. Begging you to investigate the push and pull between the shapes and shadows. Inviting you to explore the foamy and delicate, the crunch and the grit. Tempting you to touch the full-bodied flicks and the dark, inky waves.
I’ve experimented with the thickness of the mediums and rich pigments to add fullness and gravity to these handmade sculptural pieces. While at the same time, playing with expressive, gestural strokes to add spontaneity and airiness.”– Florencia Rojas, Sculptural Artist
Note, the use of personal pronouns in Flor’s example? (i.e. “…tempting you to touch the full-bodied flicks…”) She addresses her audience directly, including them. Inviting them to be a part of the experience.
4. Use strong, confident language
Avoid writing wishy-washy statements like, “my art aims to make people think…” or, “through my art I aspire to…”. It either does or it doesn’t.
These weak phrases undermine your work. And if your writing lacks confidence, your readers will assume the same of you. You’re not an ‘aspiring’ artist – you’re a practicing, professional artist!
Make a strong first impression. Your audience wants to understand the impact of your work and will draw on this to form their own opinions. The best way to do this is to write with an active voice, and address your reader directly, like Laura does in this example:
“I create paintings and drawings from the simple act of looking. I’m inspired by the beauty and presence of the things I see. The way light affects ordinary objects. Late afternoon sun abstracting an interior. Marveling at the beautiful shapes in a portrait. Painting the wonder of the moment… and inviting you to see it, too.”– Laura Swytak
Note the pointed invitation at the end of this statement?
What’s the difference between active and passive voice?
When writing in active voice, we follow the ‘Subject’, ‘Verb’, ‘Object’ pattern. For example:
- The painter sloshed their brush in their coffee mug.
Painter (subject). Sloshed (verb). Brush/coffee mug (objects).
The sentence arranged in passive voice is harder to follow, because the emphasis moves from the subject (painter) to the effect of the action on the object.
- The brush was sloshed in the painter’s coffee mug.
Brush (object). Sloshed in the coffee mug (effect of action). Painter (subject).
While in this example is harder to follow, there are times when passive voice is okay. (I know, I know. Confusing!)
For example, “The canvas has been stretched by hand.”
A quick way to identify passive voice is to look for past tense. Words like, ‘am’, ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘are’ or ‘been’. Or sometimes, the verb is followed by the phrase, “by the…” (<<< see what I did there?)
- “the crowds were being chased by the zombies…”
If you get stuck, copy and paste your text into the Hemingway App. This tool will signpost any problem areas in your writing and help you improve over time.
5. Be clear and concise
Good, clear writing is difficult to achieve on the first go. Even for professional writers! (I should know, I rewrote this next bit about seventy-billion times).
The aim of your statement is to grab your reader’s attention and excite them from the get go. Begin by explaining what you create and the core idea up front.
Assume your readers aren’t artists or art academics. Write like you speak. Use less words, shorter sentences with contractions (i.e. ‘we’ll’ not ‘we will’) and basic language and grammar.
Maintain your reader’s attention by varying your sentence length and addressing them directly.
Artist statement writing tips
If you confuse your audience they won’t connect with the work. Instead try to:
- Break up text into smaller paragraphs of around 2 sentences
- Explain one idea per sentence
- Read your work out loud to catch any confusing or clunky sentences
When you’re emotionally invested in your practice it can be hard to be objective. Clarity often comes from taking a step back to see our work with fresh eyes. Not an easy thing to do!
Ask a trusted friend, colleague or collector to tell you what they find most interesting about your work. This will help you gain some perspective.
6. Capture your audience’s imagination
Unforgettable artist statements make an instant connection with the reader. So while your artist statement is about your work and practice it’s important to remember it’s also about your audience.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about using lots of flowery adjectives. This is great news, because it means you don’t have to have a large vocabulary.
Your artist statement is really an invitation to your audience to participate in the work and co-create alongside you. To do this you want to:
- Reference specific parts/processes of your work(s): if you’re too vague, people won’t connect the dots
- Connect these parts directly with your ideas: spell it out in clear, concrete terms
- Use the senses: and/or draw attention to overlooked ideas, objects, people
- Write for humans: makes it relatable to your specific audience (but don’t try to appeal to everyone)
- Infuse your writing with personality: revisit your mind map. Find words that match the vibe you want people to feel from your work and use them
- Stay true to yourself: write in your voice, using language natural to you
There is only one artist like you. Even if your work is similar to a thousand other artists’, your culture and background, experiences, thoughts and feelings are yours alone. Lean into your unique “you-ness”.
Write from a place of authenticity, where your unique voice and personality come through. And do so with your audience in mind.
7. Edit, refine and revise
You’ve written your artist statement. Congrats! Before you send it off or add it to your website, it’s important to get review, edit and get feedback.
As the writer, I’m sure you’ve read it a thousand times already. Unfortunately, this means you’re too close to the draft. You’ll miss tiny errors (like missing words or typos) because your brain will automatically correct these for you.
How to edit your artist statement
Here are some tips to help you edit your statement (in order of importance).
- Put it away until tomorrow: Time helps you find distance from your draft. You’d be amazed how many errors you spot tomorrow that you missed today.
- Read your statement out loud: If you stumble over any of the words or phrases, chances are your readers will too. Edit these until it flows.
- Ask a trusted friend/colleague to give you constructive feedback: Is anything unclear? Are the right messages coming across?
How often should you revise your artist statement?
Your artist statement isn’t set in stone. As your work evolves over time, so should your statement. Revisit it yearly (or more frequently if needed) to see if it still captures your art and practice well.
In fact, you may need more than one statement for your practice. If your work and the message it shares varies, you might need to have multiple statements to draw from. Each time you write one you get better at doing it, so don’t give up!
Having your artist statement to draw from, will also make all your pitching and marketing so much easier. This document does so much of the hard work for you.
I know how tough it is to write about your work, without second-guessing yourself or getting overwhelmed. So this blog, will help you craft an inspiring artist statement your audience will love.
Need more help? Hire an arts copywriter who can help you tease out the most important info about yourself and your art.
Over to you
What are your biggest hurdles when writing your artist statement? Let me know in the comments.