How to write an Artist Statement

how to write an artist statement

Your artist statement (or artist’s statement) is a written description of the work that you do. The aim is to represent and support your work as an artist, to give your audience a better understanding of what inspires your art and what you hope to convey with it. You will submit it alongside your portfolio when you enter competitions and contact galleries and museums. Your statement will also be displayed alongside your work online and in the real world.

In the art world your statement will often be as important as your portfolio, so you need to take the time to get it right. If it’s wrong, it could stand in the way of success, even if your artwork is amazing.

How to write an artist statement 

1. Keep it between 150-200 words

Two paragraphs are plenty to give the reader an insight into your work. If your statement is much longer you risk losing your audience part way through, and if you bore them at this stage it’ll be tougher to get them excited about your work.

2. Answer these three questions

How – how do you create your work? What mediums do you use, and which colors do you prefer to work in (if any)? What is your signature style that lets people know that the work is yours?

What – do you paint landscapes? Are your sculptures abstract? What do you photograph? Give your audience an idea of what your work consists of, so they can know straight away whether your content fits with what they’re looking for.

Why – explain the meaning behind your work, and tell your audience why you do what you do. Does your art reflect your life in some way, or were you influenced by another artist? Show some passion here with the hope of igniting passion in your audience.

3. Use the first person (I, me, mine)

This technically comes down to personal style and preference, but first person will make your statement much easier to read and will make you more accessible as an artist. Using third person for an artist statement has the potential to read as cold or pretentious if not used carefully, so keep an eye on your tone.

4. Be clear, concise and consistent

Your writing needs to be clear and your vocabulary needs to be accessible, so write as if you were talking to an average person in the street. Avoid ‘art-speak’ and bear in mind that not everyone reading your statement will be a scholar.

According to surveys, an average gallery visitor will spend 5-15 seconds viewing an artwork so you don’t want to distract them with a clunky statement sat beside it. Avoid flowery languages and get straight to the point; you only have 200 words so use them efficiently.

Finally, ensure that your statement matches up with the work that will be displayed. Keep updating your statement or create a couple of different versions that you can tailor to fit different collections.

5. Inject your personality

Does your work have humor in it? Is it supposed to be emotive? Do your themes tend to be a little dark? Your statement needs to be ‘on brand’ so try to match its statement to your personality as much as possible.

6. Get your presentation right

Most submissions are done online these days, but if you’re sending a printed statement there are a few things to consider.

Ensure that your font is legible so your audience doesn’t have to work hard to read your statement, and use clean, crisp and high-quality paper. If you have letter headed paper you could consider using that for added professionalism.

Everything about your statement reflects on you, so don’t forget these details.

Examples of great artist statements

Christine Sun Kim, visual and performance artist

Considering the fact that I was born deaf, my learning process is shaped by American Sign Language interpreters, subtitles on television, written conversations on paper, emails, and text messages. These communication modes have often conveyed, filtered, and limited information, which naturally leads to a loss of content and a delay in communication. Thus, my understanding of reality is filtered, and potentially distorted. This is part of the core of my practice as an artist and I am now taking ownership of sounds after years of speech therapy. Instead of seeking for one’s approval to make “correct” sounds, I perform, vocalize, and/or visually translate them based on my perception.

As a visual and performance artist, it is always my intention to approach sound by constantly pushing it to a different level of physicality, and despite my complex relationship with Deaf culture, I attempt to translate sound while unlearning society’s views and etiquettes around it. Using my conceptual judgment and compromised understanding, I challenge and question its visual absence and sometime tactile presence. Fortunately, with today’s advanced technology such as computer programs and high bass speakers, I have been given alternative access to sound. It does not necessarily mean that it’s a mere substitute or replacement of sound.

Hye Keon Man, digital media artist

My work explores social issues based on personal experience. As a woman and a Korean immigrant in the United States, I have struggled to adjust to my new culture. Every situation summons different customs, requiring me to adopt unfamiliar behaviors in order to conform to expectations. My work reflects my desire to resist such pressure by using physical dissonance to reveal different perspectives upon the “norm.”

Art is not meant to be merely decorative or beautiful; instead, it can be a question, an argument, a proposal, a resolution. By addressing the everyday challenges that beset us all, my work strives to encourage others to confront social concerns and constraints and to seek to surmount them.

Sam Durant, multimedia artist

My artwork takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues. Often referencing American history, my work explores the varying relationships between popular culture and fine art. Having engaged subjects as diverse as the civil rights movement, southern rock music and modernist architecture, my work reproduces familiar visual and aural signs, arranging them into new conceptually layered installations.

While I use a variety of materials and processes in each project my methodology is consistent. Although there may not always be material similarities between the different projects they are linked by recurring formal concerns and through the subject matter. The subject matter of each body of work determines the materials and the forms of the work. Each project often consists of multiple works, often in a range of different media, grouped around specific themes and meanings.  During research and production new areas of interest arise and lead to the next body of work.

Hanne Darboven, conceptual artist

I built up something by having disturbed something: destruction becomes construction. Action interrupts contemplation, as the means of accepting something among many given alternatives, for accepting nothing becomes chaos. A system became necessary: how else could I in a concentrated way find something of interest which lends itself to continuation? My systems are numerical concepts, which work in terms of progressions and/or reductions akin to musical themes with variations.

In my work I try to expand and contract as far as possible between limits known and unknown. Generally, I couldn’t talk about limits I know. I only can say at times I feel closer to them, particularly while doing or after having done some conceptual series…. The most simple means for setting down my ideas and conceptions, numbers and words, are paper and pencil. I like the least pretentious and most humble means, for my ideas depend on themselves and not upon material; it is the very nature of ideas to be non-materialistic. Many variations exist in my work. There is consistent flexibility and changeability, evidencing the relentless flux of events.

Millie Wilson, installations artist

I think of my installations as unfinished inventories of fragments: objects, drawings, paintings, photographs, and other inventions.  They are improvisational sites in which the constructed and the readymade are used to question our making of the world through language and knowledge.  My arrangements are schematic, inviting the viewer to move into a space of speculation.  I rely on our desires for beauty, poetics and seduction.

The work thus far has used the frame of the museum to propose a secret history of modernity, and in the process, point to stereotypes of difference, which are hidden in plain sight.  I have found the histories of surrealism and minimalism to be useful in the rearranging of received ideas. The objects I make are placed in the canon of modernist art, in hopes of making visible what is overlooked in the historicizing of the artist.  This project has always been grounded in pleasure and aesthetics.

Fred Sandback, sculptor

Over the years I have preferred the title “sculptor.” I like the groundedness of it, referring back to my early love for the sculpture of Michelangelo, Rodin, and Henry Moore, for example.

Early on, though, I left the model of such discrete sculptural volumes for a sculpture which became less of a thing-in-itself, more of a diffuse interface between myself, my environment, and others peopling that environment, built of thin lines that left enough room to move through and around. Still sculpture, though less dense, with an ambivalence between exterior and interior. A drawing that is habitable.

The above remarks indicate only the “stage,” of course, the general shape of the medium I have chosen, not to be confused with that which is expressed therewith or therein. This content, because of its nature resists verbal explication.

Whatever philosophical, historical, or literary artillery I bring to the workplace, it is of no assistance in the art of trying to stretch a line between two points. In that I am alone and voiceless.

Conclusion

Think of your artist statement as your cover letter and your portfolio as your CV. As you develop as an artist you’ll want to keep revisiting your statement to reflect your changing style and content. It’s worth taking the time to get it right, as it’ll give your artwork the platform that it needs to allow it to shine.

Do you have any other tips for writing an excellent artist statement? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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