ARTIST STATEMENT GUIDE
How to Write an Artist Statement
If you are an emerging artist, you’ll know that applying for artist opportunities, exhibitions and events is a crucial part of developing your practice. During the process of making applications you’ll be asked for an artist statement, which is different to an artist CV - but what exactly is an artist statement, and what should it contain?
As Uncovered Collective is made up of practising artists, each of us had to learn how to write our own artist statements for various opportunities and from reviewing hundreds of applications ourselves, across multiple exhibitions, we have come up with a few tips for what to do and what not to do. So we hope this guide is useful if you are looking to create or update your artist statement.
Of course, every artist and their practice is unique - so there is always room for something a little bit different!
What is an Artist Statement?
In short, an artist statement is a descriptive passage of text that gives an overview of an artist and their practice. Artist statements can often be confused with artist bio’s and artist CVs, the distinguishing feature of an artist statement is that it focuses on the artist's influences and perspective - explaining which aspects motivate the artist to create artwork.
Artist statements are more descriptive than an artist bio, though there can be overlap. For example, if a painter is inspired by their hometown and this feeds into their artistic practice. Compared to an artist bio though, the artist will go into more depth and communicate their vision in their statement.
There is no recommended length or word count for an artist statement, though it is advised to save a general text between 150 - 400 words that you can expand or shorten, depending on what you need it for. More often than not, application processes for exhibitions will have a specific word count that they require. It is common to find artist opportunities that ask for a 1000 word statement, but also to see opportunities that want something a lot shorter.
How to Start Writing an Artist Statement
We know the feeling of staring at a blank Google doc with a cold cup of tea by your side… you sit and think about your art practice, but it’s so layered and complex that it seems impossible to articulate. This is the same for most artists and it makes sense - the reason many people create artwork is to articulate ideas and visions in other ways that are not words. Well, don’t stress because we have a few exercises below that will help you get over that initial barrier - but first let's get into a good headspace…
Before committing to writing your artist statement, accept that there is a need for a planning phase. The important thing to keep in mind is, this is a draft and will take some time to shape up - there’s really no rush. You can always update, restart or completely trash this draft, so try and let yourself relax so that you can write freely. If it sounds bad when you read it back, who cares!
Forget the Arty Farty Jargon
Just because you aim to send your artist statement to galleries, curators and whoever else, it doesn’t mean it needs to be full of complicated words. In fact, this is one of the most common mistakes that we see artists making. Resist the urge to include lengthy words and arty jargon in your statement, as these words will probably not come natural to most of us.
The main priority for an artist should be to come across as genuine. Fluffing up your statement with an overused thesaurus really takes the sincerity out of it, so try not to overdo it. You can always go back through and swap out some words later, but get the basics in place first. We understand that the “art world” is often associated with a sort of ‘pompous’ class, but in reality the most successful artists are the ones who are themselves and speak that way too. Real words have much more impact and that’s the goal.
Check out this arty language heat map:
We recommend using language that is not too casual, but also to mix this with a little bit of research / applying some technical language where it does fit.
What Should an Artist Statement Include?
How long is a piece of string! No really, because every artist and their practice is unique, there is no one size fits all when it comes to what to include. Instead, we suggest you think about some keywords and main topics that you aim to get across to the audience. See below for a list of suggested topics.
First or Third Person?
There is no right or wrong answer because it’s again, subjective. Collectively, we tend to prefer an artist statement that is written in third person, as it usually reads in a slightly more humble tone when compared to first person, however depending how it is written this can go both ways. Ultimately this is up to you - we might suggest writing the initial draft(s) in first person, as that will probably come to you slightly easier and then swap it out into third person if you’d like to.
Should an Artist Statement be in the Past or Present Tense?
Long story short, we suggest writing your statement in the present. This conveys that you are an active artist, in a continuous journey of investigation - this tends to be more engaging for the reader because it comes across as being more relevant, fresh and unpredictable. Rather than listing things you’ve achieved previously, like a CV.
I am exploring… OR I was exploring…
Topics to Include: Pick and Choose
What are the key ideas, issues, struggles, goals within your work or studio practice?
Thematic focus of work (goal, purpose, intention, exploration).
Really important to give the reader a visual and to set your work in time and space.
Content of work (themes, ideas, subject matter).
Influences (cultural, historical, theoretical, art canon, personal)
Exercise 1: Tell a Friend About Your Art Practice
Have a friend listen to you summarise your art practice, not over email, not over text - but out loud. You don’t even have to prepare anything, just start talking. Do you notice any areas that are difficult for you to talk about, is anything unclear or confusing for them? Maybe there are some sentences you quite like the sound of, well write those down! Simply speaking about your work can be the best way to remove any barriers, then all you need to do is get typing
Exercise 2: Why Do You Make Art?
Whilst this may seem like an easy question, it’s not everyday you ask yourself this type of fundamental thing. Turn off your screens for a couple of minutes and deeply reflect on the WHY. Whether it’s love for art itself, for the sake of aesthetics or for a more politically motivated reason, e.g. raising awareness of climate change - understanding your personal motivation from within is key to writing a great artist statement.
Exercise 3: Keyword Map
Grab a pen, write down as many keywords as you can possibly think of - that relate loosely / somewhat to your art practice. A mind map tends to work well for us, but maybe you are a list type of person! You don’t have to commit to any of these words that you write, just write them down as they pop into your head. The aim is to keep writing for 3 minutes and not stop.
We’ve been in a bit of a planning phase ourselves and have come up with a bunch of words below that might help give you some ideas for your own artist statement. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so take anything relevant and run with it!
Colours / Tones:
Skin tones, Earth palette, luminous, fluorescent, zorn palette, pastel, klein blue, greyscale, gold leaf, UV, shiny.
Impasto, smooth, matt, gloss, rough, sleek, satin.
Upcycled materials, watercolours, gouache, found objects, ready-made, bronze, 35mm photography, linen, newspaper.
Calm, serenity, anger, nostalgia, existential, optimistic, tension, hopeful, lost, motivated, lost, energised.
Fiction, movies, comics, nature, travelling, the future, community, animals, relationships, music, belief, mythology.
When you’re done, circle the good ones, cross out the bad ones
Refine, refine, refine…
These exercises should get you a lot closer to having a first draft of your artist statement. From this stage you can work on the intro, the outro and the general flow. Feel free to googling for some nice synonyms, because at this stage you can inject a little bit more of an “intellectual” vibe - providing the fundamental meaning of your words does not change. Just be careful when replacing words with others, ensure that the meaning doesn’t change too much - we see this often! The reason for swapping words via a thesaurus should be to make the meaning of sentences clearer, not foggier.
Things to Avoid When Writing Your Artist Statement
Now, we don’t want to suggest that we are the authority when it comes to writing your art statement, after all - it’s your work and you can explain it however you wish… however, there are certainly some things that we see pop up often which could be regarded as “mistakes” or red flags. Perhaps you disagree with some of the points that follow, and that’s fair enough - though each of these points are still useful to keep in mind when writing your statement:
Delusions of Grandeur
Be careful about making sweeping statements about the art world, or rather, that you have impacted the art world significantly - we don’t mean to sound negative, but in reality this is not for you to decide. There’s nothing more eye roll inducing than reading an artist statement that claims to have all of the answers. Everyone has an ego and every artist has a bigger one, after all - we need self confidence and determination to get stuff done… just keep an eye on it and consider how this may come across to others.
Completed it Mate
We encourage the use of doing words, rather than done it words. As in, if you are an artist with an on-going practice, chances are you haven’t managed to scratch the itch that keeps you motivated. Be careful of claiming that you have solved or answered massive questions, problems or issues… Instead, we encourage the use of words such as “I attempt to”, ”I try to”, “I seek to”... see what we mean? Again, this is another way that we suggest being humble.
Don’t Box Yourself In
It’s common to see artists pigeon hole themselves into a genre that they like, “I am a surrealist”, “I am a minimalist '', though many artists don’t realise that these are quite grand claims. To be a surrealist or part of a larger movement is a fairly significant achievement and certainly doesn’t happen overnight, it requires years of investigation, research and accumulated knowledge. The audience may also see other movements within your work, not to mention that boxing yourself in like this can be very limiting in the long run for your practice. More often than not, it’s better to keep things open to interpretation, maybe subtle hints and nods towards movements rather than explicitly stating that you are entirely positioned within them.
Don't Be a Cliché
Ever since I was a child 🤮
I have always loved art and it is my passion 🤮 🤮
My paintbrush is controlled by an external energy that runs through me 🤮 🤮 🤮
All artists are passionate and nobody cares if you’ve been doing art since you were a child, what people want to read is relevant, challenging and insightful information. We can’t articulate this part quite how we would like too, because there are sadly endless ways to be a cliché, but in short be careful of sounding cringe. If there is one thing you take from reading this guide, please let it be this.
It’s a Journey
We hope that this guide has helped you create your first artist statement, or to make your existing statement a little bit better, and that’s just it - just like your art practice, a statement should continuously be evolving, changing and being adapted. As you continue to refine your practice and realise ideas - it is likely that your statement will too. We recommend reviewing your statement to see if it needs editing before applying to any major opportunities, or just once a year or so.