by Jaimie Choi
As artists, we’re used to expressing ourselves visually through color, light, contrast, texture, and a myriad of other elements. Our work speaks for itself. So when we are asked to write an artist statement to accompany our work, it can be a real challenge. Read on to learn the value of the artist statement and how to write one like a pro.
Georgia O’Keefe on writing versus painting…
“It is easier for me to paint it than to write about it, and I would so much rather people would look at it than read about it. I see no reason for painting anything that can be put into any other form as well.” - Georgia O'Keefe
O’Keefe has a point! Why write about it when you can see it? Well, there are few reasons.
An artist statement is part of the business side of your creative practice. Artists need to write statements for a variety of reasons.
Communications with curators
Public art submissions
Art teaching positions
Art school applications
Communication with buyers & collectors
What is an artist statement?
An artist statement is a brief introduction to your art work and process. It can describe your work as a whole, or it may describe a specific project or individual works. An artist statement provides clarity on who you are as an artist, why you do what you do, and what makes your work unique - and authentic to you. It is a way to tell your story to help you reach your goals, whether your goal is getting into a gallery, securing a grant, or selling your work.
Types of Artists Statements
There are three main writing assignments for artists: a bio, a general artist statement, and a project-specific artist statement.
Your bio is a comprehensive overview of your work, education, process, and history of exhibitions, awards, residencies, etc. It is essentially a paragraph version of your resume. This will live on your website along with your CV (list of professional accomplishments). Bios are often written in the 3rd person and may be up to a full page in length.
General Artist Statement
A general artist statement is a holistic overview of your work and process, themes and imagery, and the motivation behind your work. They do not include the details of your bio, such as your art education, awards, etc. An artist statement is written in the first person and acts as a direct line of communication between the artist and the audience.
“I have always lived by the sea and many of its shores. The energy, passion, and ever-changing beauty of the ocean inspire my seascapes. My concern for the sand dunes, marine life, and their fragile environment is evident in many of my paintings. I hope that my work will inspire preservation so that their beauty will be seen by generations to come.” - Constance Fahey, founding member of The Artists Gallery
A project-specific statement is shorter (perhaps one paragraph) and is specific to a body of work or an individual work. These can be used as project descriptions on your website or may accompany a gallery or exhibition submission.
"Swallows are spiritual birds associated with renewed life and new beginnings. After the past two years of battling a pandemic, it's time to hit the refresh button, take a leap of faith, free oneself to think new thoughts, make new memories and allow positivity to blossom again." - Virginia Hughes, exhibiting artist in Going Rogue
What makes a good artist statement?
A good artist statement strikes a balance between personal and professional. It is an invitation to your intended audience, not a lecture or a dissertation. In other words, it is warm and inviting, adding just the right amount of intrigue: no need for academic jargon or lofty ideals.
Now, let’s take a second look at Georgia O’Keefe. Despite her preference for painting, I think we can see the value of her artist statement on Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1. which sold for 44 million in 2014.
"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Nobody really sees a flower, really – it is so small – we haven’t time, and to see takes time. So I said to myself, I’ll paint what I see, what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it." - Georgia O'Keefe, 1932
Now, it's your turn.
An artist statement is your chance to tell your story in your own words. Not everyone will like your work - that’s just the reality of being an artist - but understanding the story behind your work will help people appreciate and connect to your work on a deeper level. A well-written artist statement may be the clincher behind your work being accepted into a show or the reason someone goes from being a viewer to a collector of your work.