A critical aspect of writing a short artist statement is to keep it easy to read. And this can be a difficult task when your art has so much to say, but you’re not sure how to tell it.
Do you have a hard time expressing your process and thoughts?
An artist statement provides information on an artistic work or series. Written by the artist in the first person, the statement is often brief. Short artist statements range from a hundred to a couple of hundred words.
While it enables a more profound understanding of the artwork, a statement should avoid telling the reader what they are seeing. Instead, it should leave room for the viewer’s interpretation.
Artists write many statements during their career. A statement appears:
- Next to art at exhibitions.
- Submitted with proposals and competitions.
- In programs or publications about your art.
- On your website.
Your website or art portfolio may contain multiple artist statements. You may write a different artist statement for:
- A single art piece.
- A thematic series of artworks.
- An entire collection.
And visual artists are not alone in their need to write a short artist statement. Musical artists, literary, digital and dramatic artists also need to write brief descriptions of their work.
So, how do you write a short artist statement when you could write a book about what you create?
8 steps to writing a short artist statement
When writing a description of your art, it’s easy to confuse it with biographical elements. But an artist’s biography is different. While a bio often accompanies a statement, it’s a separate piece of writing.
The artist biography tells your career story. It’s about how you arrived at where you are today and where you’re going. On the other hand, an artist statement gives the viewer information about your artwork. It deepens their understanding of your art.
Step One – Understand your art
Before you write your artist statement know what you are writing about.
Maintain an artist’s journal
An artist’s journal has many benefits. It’s a useful tool for developing an understanding of your artistic approach. Some artists keep one journal. Others, like myself, use many journals, one for each project.
The journal records:
Read through your journal to analyze how you approach your art making. I highlight aspects such as:
If you don’t keep a journal, then collect your thoughts by answering a series of questions about your art.
Sample questions for an artist statement
- What style of art does your work reflect?
- What materials did you use to make your art?
- How did you choose the medium and tools?
- How did you make your art?
- Describe the process to create your art.
- What techniques do you incorporate into your art?
- What was your aim with this artwork?
- How did you come up with your idea?
- What or who inspired you to create this artwork?
- How did you select the subject?
- What are you exploring?
- What did you discover?
- How does your art represent the subject?
- What theories, philosophies or beliefs inform your art?
- What do you want your audience to take away from your work?
- How does this art relate to your previous body of work?
- What story does it tell?
- How did accidental discoveries lead to the finished work?
- How does art history inform your work?
- What is unique about your art?
- How does your art relate to
- What does it mean to you?
Brainstorming to create a mind map is another method you could use to understand your art. A mind map is a colorful writing tool. It links themes and ideas together.
Step Two – Read other artist statements
You may be hesitant to read other artist statements.
- How does the statement begin?
- Does it grab your attention?
- Is it easy or difficult to understand?
- Does it follow a definable structure?
- Does it add or subtract from your enjoyment of the art?
- What does it tell you?
Read statements online, in publications and galleries. When it comes to writing your artist statement, you’ll also need to consider your audience and the purpose of your statement.
A statement written for a university audience differs from a statement prepared for a public exhibition.
Step Three – Read the submission guidelines
If your statement is for an exhibition proposal or competition, then check submission guidelines. Some guidelines limit the number of words. Others give specific criteria on what they want to exhibit.
For example: If a gallery seeks proposals for new collections of artwork not previously exhibited to the public. You might choose to use words like:
Short artist statement for a website
If your statement is for use on your website, you have unlimited room to write about your art. But keep your reader in mind. Use online writing techniques, such as short paragraphs, headings, and dot points.
While your word count is optional on the web, view your statement as an example of what you submit to an exhibition. Keep it short and concise. Focus on how and why you created your art. If you want to elaborate on your processes or philosophies, write a blog article and link to it.
Step Four – Choose a structure
Structure refers to the way ideas are ordered in a document. Using a recognized structure for your artist statement will:
- Communicate your message effectively.
- Link similar ideas.
- Create a smooth flow of words.
- Organise your thoughts.
- Allow the reader to follow the text.
1. The Three-Act Structure
The three-act structure is the most common and classic of writing structures. It borrows from storytelling and has three parts: a beginning, middle, and end.
With this structure, aim to have three paragraphs for your first draft. Each paragraph addresses a stage of your art creation story.
- Introduce your art’s discoveries, themes, concepts, and challenges.
- Elaborate further by exploring how you achieved your art.
- Conclude your statement with a summary and revelation.
Begin your first draft by grabbing your audience’s attention with a hook. Approach the short artist statement as if you were telling a story about your art. Your introduction also sets the tone and mood through your choice of words and sentence structure.
Another aspect of storytelling is conflict. What did you have to overcome to make your art? Write about the challenge in the second paragraph, but to keep the reader’s interest, hold off revealing the resolution until the beginning of the third paragraph.
2. The Inverted Pyramid
The inverted pyramid is the preferred format for short-form journalism. If you read the news, you’ll be familiar with this structure. It begins with the most important information at the top.
Write about the most important aspect of your art first. Was it a new discovery or the tools you used? Select a feature about your art that you want your audience to remember above all else and put it first.
In the second paragraph insert details that expand your reader’s knowledge. If they read on, this information rewards the reader.
In the last paragraph include background information about your artwork. This information adds to your art but isn’t necessary for its enjoyment.
3. The TEEL Structure
TEEL or T.E.E.L. is an academic process for structuring a
- The first sentence presents the topic or principal idea.
- The second sentence explains the principal idea.
- The third sentence provides evidence by referencing art history, influence or personal discovery.
- The final sentence sums up the paragraph and links back to the principal idea.
4. The Technical Structure
This structure breaks your statement into three paragraphs to reveal different aspects of your art.
- Write about your aims, motivations, style, and genre in the first paragraph.
- The second paragraph describes the tools and methodology.
- The final paragraph explores the achievements and discoveries.
While you can change the paragraph order, tie the beginning and ending together for a balanced structure.
5. The Creative Structure
Confidence and creativity characterize an artist statement that breaks from the norm. This type of short artist statement engages the viewer with additional information that provokes curiosity in the art.
Although your art stands on its own without the statement, together they convey an immersive experience.
Format examples include:
- Project notes.
- Field notes.
- Journal extracts.
- “Laboratory” notes.
Unlike the other three structures which employ whole sentences and paragraphs to relay information, the creative structure is less formal.
Characterised by headings, subheadings, fragmented sentences, lists, and occasional doodles, the creative structure acts as an extension to the artwork.
Step Five – Write your first draft
Once you’ve chosen the structure for your short artist statement, break it into its parts. Your first draft connects the information you’ve gathered about your art with your chosen structure.
With your first draft consider what your audience wants to know about your art. Focus on selecting the information you want to convey rather than word choice, punctuation and formatting. Revision polishes language, whereas the first draft decides your message.
If you’re having trouble putting your thoughts to paper, go back to step one. Read over your notes, use color to highlight the aspects you want to communicate then transfer them into your chosen structure as dot points.
Don’t be concerned with the word count just yet. However, you may want to limit the information in each section of your structure to just a couple of aspects. And don’t forget to write in the
Step Six – Revise as many times as you need
Break the items on the checklist into groups. Each group represents a new revision. Between each edit read your writing aloud. Reading aloud and listening allows you to hear how the words flow and work together.
During the first revision
Re-examine the statement structure and core message. The core message is what you want your reader to take away with them.
- Have you left anything out?
- Is there too much repetition?
- Does it add value or is unnecessary?
When you’re happy with the message, move on to the emotion. The emotion you want to elicit effects:
- Your choice of words and phrases.
- The sentence structure and variety.
Also, revisit your target audience. For an art gallery, your target audience includes a broad public audience, not just art collectors or curators.
Finally, check your grammar and whether your formatting is consistent. Is it easy to read? Does it follow
About readers and word choice
Unless you’re writing your artist statement for a university project, your readers will have various backgrounds. While a significant portion of visitors to art galleries have university degrees, galleries and art exhibitions attract visitors from all walks of life.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 51% of visitors to art galleries in the 2009/2010 period had postgraduate degrees. While this is a significant statistic, it also means 49% did not. Your statement needs to appeal to a broad group of people, not just the highly educated.
Limit art speak. While flowery and artsy language sounds important, it confuses the message. It also appeals to a limited audience. Make your artist statement easy to read. Keep it pithy.
Step Seven – Get feedback
Honest feedback helps you find annoying errors. It also tests your artist statement for its readability.
Receiving feedback is difficult. Some people won’t respond with a diplomatic or encouraging voice. Listen to what your readers say, and take on board constructive feedback.
While you might feel inclined to ask your peers for feedback, also seek out people who reflect your audience. Ask for structured feedback. Providing a short questionnaire avoids responses like, “It’s great.”
As well, you can hire an editor or art writer who
Step Eight – Revise again
Use the feedback you receive to revise your artist statement. Recheck your document for grammar, and ensure it fits with the relevant submission guidelines including the word limit.
Writing a great artist statement
Eight steps may seem like a lot of work for just a few hundred words. For an artist, a great short artist statement means the difference between exhibiting and not exhibiting.
If your submission to a gallery or exhibit is unsuccessful, read over your artist statement and the gallery’s submission guidelines. How does your artist statement respond to what the gallery’s seeking?
Next, review how well your statement reflects your art. What does it say about your art and how easy is it to understand?
Before writing your artist statement do your homework. Know your art. Keep an artist’s journal to record your journey, but also read up on the gallery and exhibition to see if your art fits.
Then, use this eight-step guide to research and prepare your short artist statement. Remember, an artist statement is different from an artist’s bio. And if you need help ask for a professional review.
Do you have any advice for artists writing their artist statement? Leave a comment below.
Feature image – © Anna Jurkovska | Dreamstime.com