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What an artist statement is… and what it is not

What an artist statement is… and what it is not

When you can’t be there in person  to talk about your work, your artist statement speaks for you. In your voice and words, it introduces you, your beliefs, your process and your work.

For example, say you perform in shimmering light to the song of the humpback whale. One person in your audience may think, “This dancer is embodying the spirit of a sea creature.” Another is thinking “Her message is about ocean conservation,” while yet another decides “Whether on land or sea, all living creatures are connected.”  Should you choose to reveal what really inspired you – perhaps a friend who never fulfilled her wish of seeing a whale – that is what you say in your artist statement.

Who is it for?

Anyone meant to get a clear understanding of what your art is trying to portray. You’ll see it in theatre playbills and concert programs, you may include them in press releases to journalists, you will be asked to submit them in grant applications and scholarships or to festival directors.

What an artist statement is not

  • Instructions to the audience
    Your artist statement should not tell audiences how to react, feel or think. It is meant to enrich the way they experience your work by providing insight into how and why you created it.
  • An English test
    Or a test in whatever language you write. People who aren’t great writers can write great artist statements. Likewise, people who are very good at writing can write terrible artist statements. People who read artist statements are interested in your work, not in whether or you only use words with more than 10 letters in them.
  • Something you should write in 10 minutes
    Artist statements take time and care, even for experienced writers. Give yourself time and plenty of breaks; you don’t have to write it all in one sitting. When you’re stuck, get someone else to read it with fresh eyes. Listen to their honest feedback.
  • A 10-page essay
    Keep your artist statement short. It’s an appetiser, not a replacement for your performance. It meant to leave the reader hungry for the main course. It should not be longer than half a page. One page, max.
  • Your biography
    An artist statement is about your work, usually of a particular piece or project. The ‘you’ part should be limited to the particular beliefs, values or experience that influenced this piece.
  • Impersonal
    You want the reader to care about the work, so write as if you were there, facing them. An easy trick is to write in first person and use the active voice. So instead of “This piece was composed to…” write “I composed this piece to…” Another trick. read it out loud to a friend or to yourself in the mirror. It should feel natural, like having a conversation.

Need help getting started? Download ARTERI’s artist statement template here.

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Image credit: Saya Woolfalk’s No Place Exhibition.
Image source: https://aapaa.org/artists/saya-woolfalk/no-place-exhibition/

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