Based on the number of questions I’ve received about this topic I think it is safe to say that writing an artist statement can sometimes be the hardest aspect of taking the professional path with art. It can be very difficult for some artists to write about exactly what they are doing even though they are fully aware of what they are doing. For some each word used to describe their art becomes a philosophical game of Russian roulette-- “Did I say the right thing? “, “Does this make me look stupid?”, and a dozen other questions barrage the task of writing an artist statement. Loathing aside, writing an artist statement is something that must be done and done well. Don’t allow it to become an obstacle on your path. Master it with the same persistence that you have had in mastering your chosen medium(s).
More often than not an artist will attempt to shrug off the need for having an artist statement by suggesting that his or her art should speak for itself. That noble view is rarely enough to spearhead a career. The simple truth is that an artist statement can play a huge role in the success or failure that an artist experiences as far as school applications, grant applications, and exhibit enquires are concerned. The ‘my art defines itself’ attitude will not work in these scenarios because there are millions of artists who say the same thing to the point that the anti-artist statement statement is generic. In other words, saying ’my art defines itself’ does not say much to those who require an artist statement in the first place. In fact, ‘my art defines itself’ often translates to ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ to individuals who expect an artist statement. To put it bluntly, if you don’t care to write about your art why should anyone else care to learn about it?
The ‘my art defines itself’ position is generic because it is obvious that people will discover something when viewing art-- chances are they will discover something beyond the intention of the person who created the piece. This is why having an artist statement can benefit an artist. The point of an artist statement is to inform people about how YOU see your work while still leaving how your work is interpreted open-- if desired. The thoughts behind your process and methods may not always be obvious to the viewer. Thus, the artist statement serves as an introduction of sorts. In other words, your artist statement can be a starting point for individuals who are interested in learning or writing about your art.
When discussing the importance of having an artist statement I’m often hit with “But so-and-so does not have an artist statement!“ from artists who attempt to find any reason they can to avoid writing one. While it is true that some successful artists do not currently utilize an artist statement I can promise you that at some point ‘so-and-so’ did. Face it, an artist like Damien Hirst does not need to actively use an artist statement. His work has been widely discussed in the press and online-- his statement is known. An emerging artist does not have it so easy. Thus, having an artist statement is important for an emerging artist because it can answer questions that may otherwise go unanswered.
In closing, your artist statement should be close to your practice in that it should grow with you. In other words, the artist statement you write today may not reflect the work you are creating a year from now. At some point you will need to make changes to your artist statement as your work evolves. However, in order to make changes to your artist statement you need to have one to work from. Thus, it is vital to throw caution aside and write! You probably won’t get it right the first time… just keep writing and be sure to get feedback from peers. With luck you may not need to rely on an artist statement five years down the road-- though some of us think that it is important to have one regardless of fame.
Links of Interest:
Take care, Stay true,