Writing an Artist Statement

There are many types of documents an artist creates over their career. There are show listings, artist resumes, artist CVs, and artist statements. Each serves a different purpose. So what is an artist statement, and what is an artist’s statement used for?

Simply put, an artist’s statement is like an author’s biography on the back of a book. It’s meant to go with the created piece and to provide insight into the artist’s background and motivation. The intended audience for an artist’s statement is the end viewer of the artwork. Often the artist’s statement is shown along with the piece of art (or pieces, in a multi-work show). The statement helps the viewer of the art understand where the artist was coming from.

Think of an artist’s statement like a personal greeting from that artist. It’s as if the artist were standing there and giving a brief introduction to their frame of mine when they created this piece or pieces.

Artist’s statement often contain:

  • How the artist got started in this style of artwork
  • What other artists inspired this artist
  • What the artist’s early experiences were as they learned and grew in this art form
  • What the artist hopes to examine with their art

An artist’s statement is meant to be insightful without being a tome. The typical artist’s statement runs a page of text. That’s about 3-4 paragraphs long at most, or about 300 words.

Artist’s statements are meant to be conversational and personal. So they should read “I first learned about …” instead of “Jane first learned about …” It should use easily understandable terms rather than complicated art terms. An artist should assume a person new to art wandered into the gallery. The artist wants to welcome them – not off-put them with terms they might not know. If an unusual term is necessary, it should be explained in context. An artist’s statement isn’t the place for listing memberships or accolades. It’s about helping the viewer understand your way of viewing the world.

Caution should be taken when instructing a viewer how they “should” perceive the art. Rather, the artist’s statement should look at the situation from the artist’s point of view. So an artist’s statement might say “I explore the melancholy hopelessness present in the homeless community” rather than saying “I want viewers to feel sad and angry when they look at these images.”

An artist’s statement is a living document. As the artist grows and changes, so does the artist’s statement. It’s good for an artist to review their statement each year to see where it might be updated. Interests change. Perceptions change. The artist’s statement grows along with the artist.

Here’s an example of how an artist’s statement can be showcased. This is a show by Louis Despres at the Davis Art Gallery, in Worcester. The white card on the left contains the artist’s statement that accompanies this show. It explains the artist’s intentions for the exhibit. It says, in part, “This ongoing work is about emotions, about being uncomfortable, about joy and sadness and everything else in between …” This gives a sense of Despres’s mindset while creating and working with this art.

Davis Art Gallery

Davis Art Gallery

In the end, an artist’s statement reflects the personality of the artist. It can be formal or playful. Straightforward or flowery. Often the statement can say as much about the artist as the work does.

Look through the BVAA online galleries – many of our members include an artist’s statement beneath their portfolio of work. If you’re a BVAA member, contact us to add or update your gallery at any time!

BVAA Gallery of Work

 

Be sure to read about all of the:

Six Essential Artist Documents