Your artist statement is the first thing people will read about you. It’s often seen before someone sees your work or reads your artist CV. It’s the chance to make your first impression by quickly telling your story along with some basic information that will hook the reader into learning more about you. Your artist statement can determine whether a prospective employer will bring you in for an interview, whether a gallery will represent you or whether a magazine will hire you for a photo shoot.
Your artist statement is meant to be a complement to your artist CV (read this article if you’re stuck on writing your artist CV). It’s a place for you to paint a comprehensive picture of who you are as an artist. Since it will be used in combination with your artist CV, your artist statement is an opportunity to hook the reader and get them interested in exploring your experience and your work: Think of it as the summary or teaser, with the detailed fine artist CV following.
Your artist statement is your opportunity to hook your audience. It should be a compelling narrative that encapsulates who you are as an artist, expressing your overarching creative philosophy and motivations, along with relevant personal history or background that informs your creative work and provides context. Remember that in some cases, gallerists or collectors may be reading hundreds of artist statements and CVs; in order for the artist statement to be effective, it should be both concise and compelling.
In our short attention span culture, there is very little time to engage, so you will need to use your creativity to hook the reader. Your artist statement shouldn’t be boring, too long, or discuss things unrelated to your work. If you don’t find it entertaining, don’t expect anyone else to continue reading it.
As we’ve discussed, the principal purpose of writing an artist statement is to draw the reader in and give them a sense of who you are. The best artist statements straddle a line between selling yourself and self-aggrandizement. You’ll want to discuss the meaning of your work without being confusing or overly critical or theoretical. Rambling passages that are too long and too convoluted want to be avoided. At the same time, you won’t want to seem prosaic or too flat.
Your artist statement should be written in the third person, rather than in the first person: “Vincent Van Gogh is an Impressionist painter” instead of “I am an Impressionist painter.” It should include pertinent details such as where you’re from, and where you currently live, your medium and style.
What Should My Artist Statement Say?
The artist statement should begin with one compelling sentence about what makes your work unique, setting you apart from other artists working in your medium. Here, you might wish to include information about accolades you’ve received or perceptions drawn about your work by curators or other arts professionals. Just be sure to avoid hyperbole: try and avoid using words like, ‘best,’ ‘only,’ or ‘most’ – these words tend to signify that the artist considers themselves to be singularly unique, and those types of statements are generally too grandiose for the typical emerging artist.
You also want to make sure that your artist statement is a concise expression of your practice and the mediums in which you create. Keep your artist statement short and sweet – you don’t want the reader to get lost in your message.
While you should include some biographical details, you’ll want to leave the majority of that information for your artist CV. Remember, your artist statement is more a summary than a full-fledged history of your work. Your artist CV will fill in those blanks.
Your artist statement should:
- Be no more than 80-120 words. Your bio shouldn’t be a laundry list of your accomplishments and experience, but rather deliver one to two key points that leaves your reader wanting more.
- Open with a compelling bio. Your opening sentence should encapsulate the single thing that best identifies your practice as an artist. Save biographical information for later on in your bio.
- Include mediums, themes, techniques, and influences. You’ll definitely want to highlight whether you’re a painter, what materials you work with and how you work with them, and what you’re inspired by, without rambling on for too long.
- Explore the context of your work. Is there a particular political or social climate that especially influences your practice? Are there pop culture references associated with your work? If so, you’ll want to highlight that in your artist bio.
- Be reviewed constantly. Make sure you check your artist bio periodically to keep it current.
Your artist statement shouldn’t:
- Include a laundry-list of your accomplishments. Those will be added education and work experience areas as well as creative highlights section.
- Offer too much praise. Stay away from making yourself sound like the art world’s next big thing. Instead, be modest: Tell the reader who you are and what makes your work interesting without being overly hyperbolic.
- Misspell or write poorly. You’ll want to make sure you review your artist statement for spelling and grammatical errors, which can make your bio appear sloppy and unprofessional. Make sure you have a friend or colleague proofread your artist statement, and run it through apps like Google’s Grammarly to ensure your artist statement is properly written and punctuated.
Structuring Your Artist Statement
Take a look at this example below:
Here, artist Chi Zhang opened her artist statement with a description of her work and a reference to her inspiration. The first sentence explains both her medium and artistic process, which gives the reader a good sense of the type of art she makes.
In the following sentence, Zhang goes on to further delve into her work by indicating the processes through which she creates, and the ‘why’ behind her work: she uses ‘photographs and drawings’ in an effort to ‘explore how different dimensional forms change the same structure.’ She also highlights how this practice inevitably turns out a finished piece, one that is ‘minimized and presented in its smallest form.’
Finally, Zhang’s artist statement gives her work some geographical and personal context, by explaining how her work has been influenced by her birthplace and its resulting implications. She addresses how growing up in China has caused her to reflect on ‘China’s economic development’ while revealing her ‘personal memories.’ Zhang additionally a brief sentence about her education and current location. In total, Zhang’s artist statement is a mere six sentences, and clocks in at 124 words as recommended in our overview above.
Zhang’s artist statement is a breath of a fresh air compared to a long-winding, convoluted artist statement: a gallerist or collector reading her statement would likely be able to envision her work before they’ve even seen it. Imagine if the statement were twice as long, or overly filled with praise – would a reader give her work a second look? Maybe not.
Remember that your artist statement will serve as an example of your professionalism and expertise. An artist statement that’s sloppy or overly theoretical could be an indicator that you’re still developing your career as an artist. And while that may certainly be true, it’s always wise to dress for the job you want: If you’re looking to be taken seriously by galleries and collectors, then consider whether your artist statement reflects an artist whose career you’d be interested in following.
Want some additional guidance? Share your artist statement in the comments!