This past month I’ve worked with several artists on how to breathe new life into an old statement. Writing about your work in an artist statement is the hardest writing you’ll ever do. But it's necessary work that not only strengthens your writing but clarifies for you—the artist—why it is you make what you make. This means that when you get back to the studio, the work on your statement will give you more focus, direction and conviction.
In honor of Spring, I’m offering three simple steps to help you clear the cobwebs off your current statement – you have one right? If not, these guidelines can be used to help you write one.
Step 1: IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE
Ask yourself: What is purpose of your new statement? What are you using it for? For example:
- Are you applying for a grant or residency?
- Are you planning an exhibit?
- Is this the statement to replace the out-of-date one on your website?
Once you know the purpose for your revised statement, name your audience. Are they members of the grant panel who will be reading your proposal? Is it a visitor to the exhibition space for a specific body of work? Is it a collector visiting your website?
Step 2: ASK YOURSELF: WHAT DO THEY CARE ABOUT?
For example, members of the panel reviewing your residency application want to access whether or not you’re a good fit for the residency. Make sure that whatever you write addresses topics that would make you a good candidate. What makes this residency unique? How is that a perfect fit for the kind of work that you do?
What do you want a collector or visitor at your next show to know about your work? Is there something unusual about your process? Or maybe you have a story about the subject that will give your viewers a doorway to understanding the work on a deeper level. Write that story. (You can edit it later.)
Step 3: READ YOUR STATEMENT ALOUD WITH YOUR AUDIENCE IN MIND
Take out your old statement, stand up or walk around and read it aloud. Imagine your listeners, your audience, in your mind's eye. You may cringe while you’re doing this, but persevere. Mark the places that ring true. Mark the moments that sound phony, confusing or unintelligible.
The places that ring true will stay in the statement for now. The phrases that are hard to understand will be the words that you will revise and then weave into your new statement.
Now do a freewrite using the phrases that left you cold. Ask yourself: What did I mean by that? Set a timer and write for 10 minutes without stopping. Or ask a friend or artist coach to interview you. They take notes on what you say. If they are skilled, they will keep asking you probing questions. Sometimes you will say things in speaking that you wouldn’t ever think to write down.
I’m preparing a quick video with more tips and tricks to coax the best artist statement. Stay tuned for more.
In Blue, by Wassily Kandinsky, 1925, oil on canvas, 80 x 110 cm, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany, Public Domain