Artist Statements: Who Cares, Right?

If you’ve ever been to an art gallery, you know that nobody cares about artist statements. You go there to look at some pretty art, take some pretty pictures, and buy overpriced postcards of Starry Night. If you wanted to know about a certain artwork or artist, you could just look it up online, right? Who wants to read all the drabble when you could be standing in front of the painting, stroking your chin, like a real intellectual?

(D’ya think he’s reading the artist statement?)

 

Well, surprise surprise! I care! I don’t read every placard I see when I go to galleries, but if I see a piece that really grabs me, I want to learn more about it, and who better to explain the piece than the artist themselves? Artist statements are integral to both art viewing and artmaking: artists often uncover more about their pieces by writing about them. In this experiment, I wanted to explore a concept I hope to turn into a fiber art piece by writing an artist statement describing it. A little counterintuitive, right? But doing so helped me better understand what I want the piece to convey to my audience, and how I get there through visual means.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the way things usually go in the conventions of this genre. Normally, you’d need an art piece to describe before you start describing it. But after that, it turns out you can’t just start throwing around adjectives willy-nilly. Here’s some statement-writing advice I’ve discovered through this writing process:

  1. Be concise, to a point. Some recommend statements be 100-250 words long, others write around a page, single-spaced. It’s all about how you grab the reader, and how much stamina you think they have to read about your work.
  2. No fancy language! You want these statements to be accessible to anyone reading them, and since gallerygoers come from all walks of life, the language used shouldn’t be overly flowery or complex. Say what you want to say in a simple way.
  3. Demystify the process. Gallery patrons only see the finished artwork—they have no idea how you made it, and how important that “how” is to the meaning of the piece. If it’s relevant, take them on a journey of making and point out places where the process becomes visible to the naked eye. Let the audience follow along with you!
  4. Interpret and analyze. What aesthetic aspects add to the meaning of the piece? Why’d you draw that flower, or use that shade of blue? You don’t have to put every detail under the microscope, but find a few surprising ones that speak to the piece’s concept and milk ’em.
  5. Tell a story. In the end, art is all about storytelling. What story is your piece trying to tell? This doesn’t mean that you have to start every artist statement with a narrative vignette (although did…); just make sure your words clearly reflect the message your piece attempts to send.

Although there are some “templates” for this type of writing, with each paragraph assigned to an area of explanation or analysis, there’s a fair amount of wiggle room here. Some artist statements (found here) begin with an overview of the artist’s main focuses or their whole body of work, then focus on the piece at hand. Some begin with a vignette, telling the story behind the piece, then backing it up with “evidence” from the artwork. They can be poetic and narrative or direct and analytical, in the first person or the third. The real test is this: does the statement help the audience understand the intention behind the piece? Does it help you connect to your audience? If so, you might just have an artist statement people will want to read!

2 thoughts to “Artist Statements: Who Cares, Right?”

  1. This blog was very interesting to read! I am not familiar with artist statements, but now I feel I have a much better understanding of them. Artist statements seem to be so personal, yet they are so public because they are pasted on a wall! I think what you said about how it seems counterintuitive to write an artist statement before making the piece is interesting. In a way, what you are doing makes sense because you are actively making decisions and understanding why you are making them. When creating an art piece, I feel like it would be easier to just drift off and do something different. Then you might create meaning from that. By writing the artist statement first though, it seems like you will have a clearer direction of where you want your piece to go.

  2. Hi Brooks! This was an effective post — I actually really enjoy going to art galleries and shows when they come into town, but I usually don’t go up to check out the artist’s statement. Part of the success in your post is in that you’re an artist yourself, so I believe you about the significance of a piece of art, and if there’s a particular piece that I may be interested in learning more about, I should check out the artist’s statement. I also like that you pointed out how an artist’s statement isn’t just a synopsis of the artist’s process, but it is also a story. Art is storytelling, no matter what form it’s in, and it’s important that someone attempting to appreciate a certain piece know the context of that art.

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