What Stands Between You and Writing an Artist Statement or
Is it a dry creek bed, or the Grand Canyon? A closed door, or the
Chase Manhattan Bank vault? Or maybe, it's the whisper of many
doubts: Artist statements are so predictably icky. What can you say
about your work that someone else can't simply see? What's the point
of words for a visual experience? How am I going to be authentic, but
not arrogant? Sincere, but not sentimental?
And yet, you know that pros consider artist statements an essential
part of a good portfolio (or About Me pages essential to a web site).
Gallery owners are relieved by your professionalism. People who love
your work will know more about you. Offering your audience more ways
to connect with you increases their delight, as well as the perceived
value of your work. But, goodness, all those daunting words between
here and there!
For artists, words are a completely different experience from the
tactile world of art making. Paper and paint inhabit the world of our
senses, while words remain the detached curios of our mind. If we're
an Independent Professional, we want to reserve center stage for our
business. Once in a while, when the two worlds of work and words
connect, language entices our senses and engages our imaginations,
and we love it.
So what stops us from using words to describe our art? Tell about
ourselves? These are the same words that have been with us since we
could walk. What causes us to be deeply suspicious of language, one
of our fundamental connections to being human?
The answer, in part, relates to a fatal combination of art critics and
education. Art critics use language as scepters of judgment. If words
are the messengers that determine our self-worth, then by all means,
kill the messenger. Formal education uses language as bastions of
control. If we are told when, where and how we can, or cannot, use
which words, we grow to mistrust our relationship to language. The
mistrust smolders underground, mostly unnoticed, until our words are
thrust into a container, like the artist statement or About Me/Us web
Suddenly, words make us visible targets for judgment and criticism,
so we hide our discomfort at this possibility with what we consider
rational responses. "My work speaks for itself." "Statements are
inconsequential to my work." "I have nothing to say that my work doesn't
already convey." And the list goes on.
An opportunity, like writing a personal or artist statement, often
causes us to second guess every idea we ever had about our work. We
convince ourselves that we have nothing, really, to say, or for certain,
nothing of value. Our first instinct is to either turn off the light and head
out of the studio or office, or pump up our peacock feathers.
But running away only confirms our unspoken fear: there must be
something to run away from. And pumping up encourages us to use
flimsy or pretentious words to smother over our mistrust of language.
This, in turn, fuels our perception that language related to our work is
Luckily, there is an alternative. Try pretending, that you have a lot to
say, which is neither self-important nor trivial, but relevant and
revealing. Imagine that all of your objections have been met and you
are simply going to write whatever you believe to be true, at the
moment, about your relationship to your work. Because, the good news
is: you can recover your own words.
Why and how do you do what you do?
There is an unselfconscious language about your work, which you
use all the time. Every time you talk or think about your work, you
create a relationship between words and your choosen passion. The
trick is to learn how to catch yourself doing this, and then faithfully write
it down. Yup, I said: write it down. How else will you engage that part of
your brain for continued support and help?
But why bother at all?
Because an artist statement or personal statement builds a
compelling bridge between you and your audience. An inspiring
statement gives the people who see your work another reason to
remember you. It's reinforcement, clean and simple. And there's not an
artist or independent professional around who can't use a little extra
reinforcement to make it's way through the crowd.
Equally important, a statement gives you the opportunity to see what
you do through the eyes of language, to validate your creation and
profession from a new perspective. Really, you can't lose! You can only
Want to get started? Try this:
--TAKE care: Treat your statement with the same care that your treat
your work; after all, all of it is you.
--GATHER raw materials: Use a notebook that is lovely or practical and
keep it with you in the studio, in the car, in the office, beside your bed
and take a few weeks to catch any fleeting thoughts that come to you
about your work. Give your self permission to gather. Selecting and
sorting comes later, when you have enough in your basket. Find a
writing pen or pencil that flows smoothly across the surface. Make it a
--TIME: Make a specific date with yourself. Respect this time. Do not
--PERPARE your internal space: Close your eyes and conjure up your
worst critic. In your mind's eye, lead this person out of the room. Give
them another task, besides breathing over your shoulder, say, climbing
a tree, skipping stones, or going to the local library. Tell your critic not
to come back until you are ready. Critics are terrified of being
abandoned, that's why they are so tenacious, so reassure yours that
there will be a place set just for them at the editing and revision table.
Critics are also stubborn. You may have to do this more than once.
--WRITE more than one: Like different works of art, a statement also
thrives on change and rising out of "the moment." What suits this
month's work may not work for the next month. Independent
professionals need to revisit their intentions from time to time, and
writing a new personal statement gets the juices flowing.
--GIVE yourself permission to make mistakes: Let yourself write badly.
Crumple up lots of paper balls and throw them in a corner. It's the
beginner's way. Then, when it comes out great, which it eventually will,
you will know the difference.
--WRITE as much as you want: Winnowing down is so much easier than
filling in later.
--DON'T hesitate to ask a professional: Some things just beg for help. If
you find yourself endlessly circling a dead pigeon, really?aren't there
other things you'd rather do and still get that statement written?
Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D. Coach / Writer / Creative Thinker, helps you
develop your career and present your work with fewer struggles and
more credibility. Call: 413.659.3307 (9-5 EST) Or email:
firstname.lastname@example.org Find "Writing The Artist
Statement: Revealing The True Spirit Of Your Work" at
www.artist-statement.com --Copywrite August 2004, Reprint by
permission only from email@example.com