5 Reasons You Need a Great Artist's Statement


Galleries, reviewers, critics, granting agencies, and residency programs will all ask for it

Your Artist’s Statement is a communications piece that you will use over and over again. We’d all like to think that our work “speaks for itself” but, once you enter any kind of bureaucratic or committee environment, that’s not going to be the case. Your statement acts as your voice each time you submit your portfolio, apply for teaching jobs or grants, or need to tell the public about your work.

You’ll need to subtly adapt your statement each time you use it but it is important to have a solid base text that asserts your voice. Once that is prepared, you can change your base text depending on factors like required word count, the particular body of work you are sharing, and the audience who will read it.

Watch for a future blog post where I’ll give some tips for how to structure your text for different audiences.

It tells others why your art matters

Your Artist’s Statement is where you communicate your artistic goals, influences, and inspirations. It tells your viewers about the technical skills required to execute your work and it contextualizes your work culturally, historically, and/or politically. A well-written Artist’s Statement will show the depth of your artistic practice by revealing the layers of conceptual content underneath it.

I’ve heard many artists protest that they don’t have any particular artistic influences and that they don’t feel that they are inspired by other artists or movements past or present. Some worry that discussing their influences will diminish their originality. Others insist that they just represent what they see. These objections are totally unfounded: as a creative living in a rich world of images, you are inspired by all kinds of cultural forces that you may not even recognize. Discussing these fluently and contextualizing yourself within them will help others recognize the value of your work.

It helps your audience take a closer, longer look

Visitors to art galleries, even self-professed artsy types, spend a shockingly short amount of time looking at individual works of art. In fact, the median time spent examining a work of art in a gallery, according to a 2017 study, is 28.63 seconds.

There are plenty of reasons for such drive-by viewings, but one of them is that spectators are not sure what they should be looking for in a painting, sculpture, or photograph. A great Artist’s Statement gives your audience clues about what to look for in your work by highlighting important themes, techniques, and stylistic qualities. Ideally, you will describe concepts and processes specifically enough that your audience will easily be able to see evidence of them in your portfolio.

If you capture the interest of your audience in your Artist’s Statement, and give them important visual elements to look for, you’ll send them on a scavenger hunt that enriches their viewing experience. An intriguing and descriptive text will give others a reason to slow down and examine what they see.

Telling your compelling story will help you market your work online

If you would like to sell your art, it is generally not enough to upload it to Etsy and hope for the best. An Artist’s Statement, often found on the “About Me” page of a website, tells a compelling story to your audience and explains why they should invest in adding your work to their collection and/or invite it into their homes.

Most contemporary art buyers want to have a personal connection with the pieces they buy. Beyond acting as decorations, they want to connect with individual artists that they know something about. Many collectors also want the art they buy to resonate with their values or interests. Your Artist’s Statement should allow potential buyers to form a relationship with you, even over the internet.

It will help you to clarify your own artistic goals and practice for yourself

I firmly believe that taking a serious approach to writing an Artist’s Statement will make you a better artist. Since art-making is often a communicative, social practice, speaking to others about your motivations, processes, and influences will make you slow down and think about the relationships you have with your work and your audiences. You’ll be forced to question yourself as you face the challenge of transforming your vision from images to words. Translating your ideas in this way will make you think about what your goals really are and whether you are achieving them.

If you involve others, like a coach, other artists, or proof reader, in your writing process you’ll receive valuable feedback. You’ll discover things about your art and its influences that you probably didn’t know yourself!   

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