Writing about art is hard. Writing about some art that you made by yourself can be even harder. There is a very famous saying among artists, and it goes a little like this “if I would be able to describe my work with words, I’d probably be a writer and not an artist”. Admittedly, there is some truth to that. But what is also true that as an artist, there will be some point where you will be asked to write an artist statement – and quality will matter.

As an (professional) artist, you will very often have more than your work going around in the art world. And even at exhibitions, your statement is probably the first communication between you and the public. In addition, you might also need it when submitting your portfolio to galleries, competitions and museums. Or it might be displayed when people visit your website – if it’s online, people from all around the world will see it.

There are numerous ways to become an artist, through art school or as self-taught. But no matter how you got here, as an artist it is essential that you have a good artist statement. So, what exactly makes a “good” artist statement?

Captain Obvious: Describe Your Work

First of all, you should begin with asking yourself the right questions: If someone would be standing next to you in front of your art, what might they ask you? What could you say to give them a deeper understanding and therefore, enrich their viewing experience? You should write about your work with the goal to add something to their viewing experience, rather than just summarize information. Focus on things that are particularly unique about your methods and materials.

If you’re thinking now that this might be a little too complex for you, don’t worry, I gathered some practical questions you can answer to get you started (but please, don’t try to answer/fit all of them in one artist statement):

Why did you make exactly this art piece that you made?
And what specifically does it say about the world?
What does it help people understand?
How does your artwork look like?
Out of which materials did you do it and how?
How does it address the history of its medium?
What sort of culture, topic, or issue does it describe?
What are you expecting your audience to gain from it?

Every child is an artist. The problem ishow to remain an artist once we grow up.

Pablo Picasso

It’s about the Art, Not the Artist

Now this one might be a little bit trickier. Yes, you can make art about your personal experience. You should, however, always ask yourself some questions beforehand. Why should my personal experience be relevant to anyone but myself? Generally speaking, if your work is about yourself, why should we (the others) care?  What does your experience show about the world that we are living in and what could people learn from your story that might be useful in their own, personal life? To sum it up, just try to see your experience as a vehicle to illustrate a much larger context that effects whole cultures and societies. By making a case about a broader issue, topic or idea, other can easier relate to it, and therefore, gain some learnings out of it.

Not All Aspects of Your Work are Interesting, so choose wisely

In general, you should focus on the most interesting aspects (which there are only a few) about your work. Maybe your artist statement can reveal something about your work that isn’t immediately known by just looking at it. If that’s the case, write on. If not, there is really no need to elaborate how you started with a “sketch” or an “idea” – it’s basically the same for all of us artists. Instead, figure out the things that make your work unique and try to bring the people’s attention to that – whether it is your process, concepts, research, relationship to art history or anything else.

"I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them.It doesn’t matter how the paint is put on, as long as something is said."

– Jackson Pollock

Keep it short and sweet

It is important to keep in mind that most of the people reading your statement (including curators and critics!) may only have time to skim through the first few lines of your artist statement. It is what it is, people have very short attention spans these days. The way to deal with it correctly is to load as much punch into the delivery as you can. If you are able describe what you do in only four sentences, do it. Less is more. You don’t want the success of your application to rely on whether your recipient can read 1,000 words in 30 seconds.

Also, don’t over-complicate your sentences by ‘beating around the bush’. Be specific and don’t use vague words that distract and prevent you from coming to the point. “My art practice is concerned with exploring notions of emancipation” – what that really means is “My art is about emancipation.”

Remember, you’re still trying to be brief, with 2-3 paragraphs at a maximum. Sure, you could write more, but why would you want to? Combine sentences and delete ones that aren’t vital. Henri Matisse once said that “all that is not useful to the picture is detrimental.” The same goes for your artist statement.

Besides, you can also always consider writing more than one statement if you have multiple bodies of work. Getting too much into one statement will only make you look like you’re trying to be everything to everyone, without really saying anything at all. That’s what we call bad marketing.

"all that is not useful to the picture is detrimental."

– Henri Matisse

Get Help

Another habit I urge you to ditch is to rely on the built-in spell check of your text editor. Not everyone is a good writer, and that’s totally okay. But don’t let that be the excuse for producing a clumsy statement. Get a friend, buy them a beer or coffee, and ask them to read over and edit the text for you. A poorly written statement will not only make it harder for people to understand your ideas – especially grammatical errors could also make you look indifferent and unfilial towards whatever opportunity you were applying for.

Let it Rest

Most artists, in my opinion, hate their statements because they rush them. They are mostly in preparation for an exhibit and last-minute, they don’t really care to spend much time on them. But how do you expect it to be any good if you don’t work at it?

If you’re suffering from writers block, don’t give up. Like a good cup of tea – let your statement sit for a few days and come back to it with a fresh mindset. Another great tip of mine is to use the voice recording app on your phone. Record yourself talking about your work out loud to a friend (or your cat.) After you transcribe your speech and edit out the likes and ums, you might be surprised with how good it sounds. And if not, at least you’ll have something down on the page that you can work from. Look at it from the other side: A Text that is conversational and seemingly effortless is easier and more fun to read that text that seems like it was painstakingly laborious to write.

Nothing is Set in Stone

During your career, your approach to art will grow, change, and mature along with your personal development. It’s the same for your artist statement. Don’t let it sit on a shelf and collect dust. It should be organic, so don’t be afraid to change things and constantly make it a little better.

You should view the time where you write your artist statement as an opportunity to clarify your thoughts. A well-written statement, approached deliberately and thoughtfully, can be a boon to your self-promotion efforts. You’ll use the language on your Web site and in grant applications, press releases, brochures, and much more.

If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.

– Edward Hopper

Final Steps

Make sure your statement passes the litmus test. Ask someone what it said. Above all, viewers should be compelled to put the statement away and look back at the work. Your statement isn’t successful if people read the words on the page, and then put them down and go on to the next artist.

“Hey, that was a good artist statement!” It’s a sentiment you don’t really hear very often, so it can be a great way of distinguishing yourself from others. And if you’re still doubting, you can check out some of the examples below to know where to get started.

8 Examples of Really Good Artist Statements