FAQ writing an artist statement
An artist statement is a general introduction to your work in which you clarify what your work is about and why you made it. In this way, the reader gets to know you better as a person and as an artist. It’s also important if you work with visual language, dance or music to put what you make into words for your audience or financial backers.
When do you use an artist statement?
An artist statement can be found in every portfolio, often under the heading ‘About’ or ‘Biography’. You can also use it in your CV, with job applications, admissions, grant applications or in your publicity material. You can write an artist statement about the whole of your collected work, but it can also be about a specific project. Just like with your CV, you adapt your artist statement: to the audience and the objective for which you are writing. Make a long version of about one page and a short one-paragraph version.
There is no fixed structure for an artist statement: everyone tackles it in his or her own manner. There are, however, a number of elements that often appear in an artist statement. For example, the introduction is often a short paragraph in which the work is described in a general sense. Thereafter, you can go into the details. You can, for example, describe how your ideas are presented in the work. You can do that by saying something about your motivation, vision, background and/or techniques used. You can also describe why your work is interesting to the audience. Which response do you hope to elicit? The statement is merely a springboard for discovering the work. It doesn’t have to prescribe an outcome. In the final paragraph, you summarise the most important points.
The following questions may help you to make your text concrete:
- Why did you make this work, what do you want to say with it, what is the idea behind it?
- How did it come into being?
- What is your philosophy behind creating art or the work’s origin? Keep this relevant and short. If it’s all in the past, it’s fine to skip it.
- Why is a particular technique, approach or medium important to the work?
- Where does your work stand in relation to contemporary art? Who were you influenced by, and how does your work relate to the work of your sources of inspiration? Mention how something or someone influenced your work. Do not put yourself on a par with other artists in doing so.
- In the case of a statement for specific work: how does this work relate to your previous work and your entire oeuvre?
- In the case of work that forms part of a series/series of projects: how does this work relate to the other projects?
- Write in the present tense and in the first person: ‘I’ and not referring to yourself in the third person, your name or ‘the artist’.
- Keep your language objective. Be self-assured, but honest and don’t act self-importantly.
- Don’t make it too dry and keep it personal. Stick close to the way you use language. Don’t use colloquial language.
- If your work is humorous, this humour can be reflected in your text.
- Keep the sentences short and clear, avoid too many subclauses and adjectives. You should also not get lost in woolly or overly artistic language.
- Have various people within, but also specifically outside, the profession read your artist statement. The reason for this is to check whether you have made any mistakes and to get feedback on whether your text is easily understandable for a broader target group.
- Look at examples from others for inspiration.
- If you are able to figure it out: ask someone else to write for you.
Biography vs artist statement
Your biography consists of the highlights from your CV, expanded upon in a few paragraphs. You often show this together with your artist statement and the biography is often slightly longer in that case. Your biography is about you and therefore less about your work. The biography also has a different form to an artist statement, because you actually write this in the third person. You do not therefore use ‘I’, but for example ‘the artist’ or ‘the choreographer’ and your first name and surname. You should also include a portrait photo in your biography.