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'Art-speak' PART Two: 5 tips to write your artist statement

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

An artist statement is a difficult task because where do we begin when talking about why we do the things that we do? A lot of the 'what', 'why', and 'how' of our practice is something intuitive to us, and it is intuitive because it comes from our lived experience. And this fact alone is the precise reason statements are so hard. We never know how much we should share in order to best support our work.

IMA's Amit helps artists create less alienating, more inviting and readable artist statements. Below are some tips to help every artist get a handle on their statement, courtesy of Amit.

Photo by from Pexels

PART 2: Tips to help you write your artist statement

Imagine this: Someone asks you directions to a place very far away, but you happen to know the route perfectly; every road name, every street sign, the landscapes, the buildings, the number of traffic lights, the junctions on the motorway, etc. How do you tell them how to get there?

Is it important they know every single direction right from the point at which you're standing, or do you think landmarks should be enough to guide them? Are they familiar with the area? Are they good with street names? Are they only interested in the general direction to the motorway?

In a sense, we struggle with the exact same dilemmas in our statements:

  • how much information to give

  • what kind of information to give

Well, we're going to look at statements in exactly that way, and with the following tips you'll be in a better position to get your head around your own statements.

(1) We are writing an up-to-date statement, not a biography

Ask yourself: What specific parts of my practice are most important to my current work and practice? Is it important that I mention a background in photography (as an example) if it bears no relevance to my current work?

Why is this important: As artists, we're constantly exploring and experimenting with different mediums and methods. Some stick, others don't. But all the audience has in front of them is the work we're exhibiting and this text. Use the text to get them to engage with the work and get them curious about us. If they like us, they'll find us online where we have the space to talk about the impact that 'photography' had on the way our practice developed.

(2) What is the statement for?

Ask yourself: Am I providing text for a group show? Am I writing for a solo show? Am I submitting as part of a proposal? Is this statement for my website?

Why this is important: Our statement needs to be fit for purpose. If we're showing a single piece as part of a group show, our statement would need to be different to the one we submit for a specific project proposal. What this means is that we should really aim to have a 'core' element to our statement - the infromation that gets used in every statement - and be willing to change the other parts around it as needed.

(3) The CORE statement

Ask yourself: What are the parts of my practice that never change?

Why is this important: No matter how many statements we write and share, the goal of the statement is to inform and help the reader find 'us'. Our work may be part of multiple group shows and fairs across the year - both online and offline - and the CORE statement can (and should) be used to guide those who are interested in our work, back to us. The CORE part of our statement is made up of those never-changing elements; things like who we are - our name, where we're based, what we specialise in. Beyond that; mediums, style, etc. is a personal judgment. For example, if we always use 'glass' in our work, if it's an identifiable feature, it's part of the CORE statement.

Photo by Matheus Viana from Pexels

(4) 300, 100, 50, 10

Ask yourself: Am I being as efficient in my language as I can be?

Why is this important: The audience has come to see the work, not read my statement. There is nothing visually appealing about 'text' on paper when there are artworks up on walls. The viewer will not spend time reading about our work unless they like it and are interested, unless they have a question, or they are bored. And so if they do read our statement, we want them to get back to 'seeing' our work as soon as possible. That means brevity. They need to understand, in a short a time as possible, what we are trying to tell them. And the best way to get to that point is to practice being brief. Give yourself a 300 word limit for your statement. Now, edit that down to 100. Managed that? Go down to 50 words. Managed that? Do it in 10.

You'll be surprised at how much you can actually get across when you force strict limitations upon yourself. Added bonus, those applications that only take maximum character inputs... not so daunting now.

(5) Keep. It. Simple.

Ask yourself: How might a child explain my work to their parents?

Why is this important: Art is for all, and the language choices we make play a big part of that. We may think we somehow impress others by using complex language, but in reality, by using complex language or unnecessarily sign-posting to high-concept literature, we actually end up excluding people from our work. It excludes in the same way that each new generations' slang might exclude the preceding one, and when that exclusion happens, meaningful connections are lost. We don't want this. And we can change it by using much more accessible, easier-to-understand language.

Try a simple version of your statement. Pull back all the technical language and see what you end up with. you might be surprised with the result.

Photo by Dom J from Pexels

Here's an example of an artist statement we helped refine prior to the artists first solo show. The original statement had typical meandering elements; trying to cram in lots of information within each sentence. Here's an extract from the original statement:

Investigating the ways in which textiles can evolve in close affinity with themes related to contemporary fine art, without the restraints of traditional practices and materials.

The statement itself made the 'non-traditional approach' comment multiple times throughout. And so through dialogue with the artist (between each draft), we refined the above down to the more direct and digestible extract below:

[Artists'] practice involves the use of textiles to explore themes and aesthetics of contemporary fine art.

Often the hardest part is the objectivity. When we write and re-write we get lost in our own words and we lose a sense of what makes sense to us. So don't forget to ask a friend or relative. If you have someone who isn't in the art world read your statement, and they manage to explain it back to you relatively accurately, chances are you've done a decent job!

But, as I said, objectivity is hard. If you feel like you require some outside help, why not get in contact with IMA? We've helped countless artists strip back and improve upon their statements; from simple re-writes to complete statement construction.

I hope you find the tips helpful. Stay safe. Stay Creative.

Team IMA

re-IMAgining the art world

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