How to Write An Artist’s Statement That Doesn’t Suck

frustrated snapped pencil

image by e-magic

This is a guest post from artist Hannah Piper Burns.

Artist statements: the bane of almost every artist’s existence!

Maybe it’s because artists are such visual thinkers, or maybe because it’s literally impossible to translate between mediums. Whatever the reason, writing a new statement is enough to make anyone pull out their hair. Am I right?

While I am certainly not immune to statement stress, I am fortunate enough to come from a writing background. In graduate school, I was often harangued for it, accused of being better at words than artwork. But as the years passed my peers began to appreciate my unique perspective and abilities. To this day, I am my classmates’ unofficial Statement Doctor! They know I am the one to email for help with exhibitions, academic reviews, grant proposals, and juries, and because I have a well-known and unabashed love of words, I’m happy to oblige. Now I pass my secrets on to you, Internet! Here are five tips for improving any artist statement:

1. Start Off With a Bang

Almost every artist statement I have ever read starts out with the words “My work is”, “My painting/drawing/sculpture/video/performance is inspired by”, or “In my work”. I hereby call an official moratorium on all of these openers! In a competitive field like this one, you need to stand out from the pack. When a dealer or curator or jury or grant committee flips through page after page of statements, you want yours to be a breath of fresh air.

2. Less is More

Seriously! My own artist statement is six healthy sentences long. I find that many artists hide behind verbosity, as if the more they write, the closer they can get to the truth. But if people need to read paragraph after paragraph, they might think your work can’t hold up on its own, and that is a big-time kiss of death. A big part of what I do with other people’s artist statements is trim sentences and words like so much fat off of a steak. Nobody, from dealers to curators to your audience to your own mother, wants to read a novel to get a gist of the work. So keep it short and sweet!

3. Learn to Love Language

Short doesn’t have to mean content-less: Maximize your impact with unique, fascinating verbiage. You’re an artist, after all! Make sure you have both long and short sentences, which create a syncopated rhythm that is enjoyable to read. Please, whenever possible, use active rather than passive tense, and find verbs and adjectives that really strike to the heart of what it is you do. Thesaurus.com, Dictionary.com, and Etymonline are your friends. Personally, I always love statements that utilize onomatopoeia, like “ooze”, “slither”, “flush”, et cetera. Which brings me to my next point:

4. The Words Should Match the Work

Is your work whimsical? Or is it violent? What is the scale? Make sure your prose reflects the qualities of what it describes. Using verbs and adjectives that really match the qualities of your creative output will create a statement that both excites and informs. Have you found a great quote from an artist, writer, philosopher, or theologian that you feel speaks to your process, form, or content? Consider using it as an introduction to your statement, or even as the statement itself! I recommend looking for inspiration online or in the art theory books gathering dust on your shelves.

5. Get a Second Opinion

Just like when we make artwork, sometimes we are so involved in the process of writing a statement that it can be hard to be objective. Make sure you get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your statement before you publish it or send it out. Try reading it aloud while showing some images or clips. That why, you can get a better sense of the rhythm and flow of the prose while your critic can see how well the words actually match the work.

If you follow these steps, you’ll have a statement that is fresh, creative, professional, and accessible. Of course, the best thing you can do for your writing is also the best thing you can do for your artwork: keep at it. Happy statement-ing!

Hannah Piper Burns is a video and multimedia artist, art writer, and curator who walks her puppy in Portland, Oregon. She currently serves as Communications Director for the Museum of Pocket Art and Research Club, and as Social Media Outreach Coordinator for artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. You can see her artist statement at hannahpiperburns.com

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Comments

  1. says

    After two weeks of taking notes and jotting down ideas, I was just sitting down to re-vamp my artist statement. Perfect timing, and great tips. Thanks!

  2. says

    It is holding me back. Got a few sales here and there, but am numb beyond all when it comes to artist statements. Even this advice doesnt help, though it is cool to read.
    Where can I go to pay someone to do it? Sounds desperate, but I dont care.
    Ill never be able to do it myself and its necessary, do ready to offer $ for statement.
    A friend tried to help, but I didnt wanna exploit for free, and she wasnt ‘on’ enough to actually pay, so it was unresolved.
    P.

  3. Sculpture Artist says

    Discover my Artwork at Saatchi Online <a href=”http://www.saatchionline.com/mariofeijoca” title=”sculpture Artist”>Sculpture Artist</a>  Thank you

  4. LTyson574 says

    Thank you for this. I am a photographer trying to take the next step toward a profitable professional career in the world of Visual Communication. I want to do right and do it well, and applying your advice seems like a huge step in the right direction.

  5. Sara Wolf says

    I have been trying to write a statement for my show proposal and have been feeling incredibly blocked! This completely made me rethink what I was writing. Immediately after reading your article I opened a word document and wrote my whole statement! Just had to say thanks :)

    • says

      I agree about the world speaking for itself… every artist statement I’ve ever read has seemed superfluous at best, annoying at worst. I wonder why we even need them. Even the most impressive ones don’t usually tell anyone anything they really need to know.
      I wish someone would invent the five word artist statement.

  6. Keef says

    Wow. Was just about fed-up with statement advice (gotta write a wrap-up about my future in the arts for a segment in a film I was in) when I ran across your HPB post. Love it before I knew it was her. And I love me some HPB.

  7. Kim says

    You say to “start off with a bang,” but you don’t give your readers any concrete examples of how to do this. What are some other phrases we could use instead of “In my work,” etc?

  8. Kristie McClenny says

    I am suddenly in need of an artist statement. I have done the Google waltz in hopes of finding the cure for my ill education of what to and not to write to define and express my own creative joy. How does one effectively do that anyway? You helped, yes you did. You worded your suggestions beautifully. Thank you.
    Are you game for second opinions? :)

    • Kim says

      No, don’t boast. Explain. Think it as if a friend of yours is coming to the show to look at your art and was wondering about it…what it means, how you got your ideas, how you work, etc. She’s trying to find a connection to your work and get inside your head. Since you can’t be at the gallery 24/, the statement acts as a stand-in for you. It’s actually pretty helpful.

  9. says

    Great tips, Hannah! One comment – how about an example of a powerful opener? You’ve given great advice, but a non-writer won’t know how to do it without an example. I’m a writer, and I’m curious as to what you think is a great way to “start with a bang!” I have no doubt it’s great!

  10. says

    “… fascinating verbiage. You’re an artist..” That’s the issue, as an artist, I am not full of “fascinating verbiage”. In fact, the opposite.

    I wish this page contained examples of all of these points.

  11. julie pearson says

    oh, if only all my verbose artist friends would read this and heed the advice…thanks so much for the good words!!

  12. colette says

    hey so i am a student and i doing a series of artworks about “Making your Marks” and for this series i wanted to make a literal mark on the world so my series consists of me just randomly making my mark on an a4 piece of paper which is the world map, i used water colour paint and some random marks with a permanent marker. how would you write an artsit statement for this . could you pls provide an example as this would be incredably helpful. thankyou very much.

  13. says

    Dear Cory,
    I saw your name on Artsy Shark and I hope to learn more from your shared wisdom.
    Grate wishes
    from The Manhole Artist
    Bobbi Mastrangelo
    PS Check out my unusual art based on manhole covers.

  14. says

    Wow, I learned some terrific pointers for m next artist statement from Hannah Piper Burns.
    I have “Grate Fun” with my manhole themed environmental art.
    Here is my artist statement that I submitted to the WEAD (Women Environmental Artists Directory) juried exhibition in San Francisco. http://bobbimastrangelo.com/MyNews/?p=3628
    Thank you Cory for enlightening us!
    “Grate wishes!”
    Bobbi Mastrangelo
    “The Grate Lady”

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