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Writing Your Artist Statement, By Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D.
An artist statement is an essential part of a good portfolio. Gallery owners respect the professionalism of a good statement. A good statement allows people who love your work to find out more about you, offers your audience more ways to connect with you, and increases their appreciation and perceived value of your work. Equally important, an artist statement gives you the opportunity to see what you do through the eyes of language, to validate your creations from a new perspective. However, artists attempting to write their statements are faced with the daunting problem of coherently organizing all those words!
Words are a completely different experience from the tactile world of art making. Paper and paint inhabit the world of our senses, while words remain the detached curios of our minds. Once in a while, when the two worlds connect and words entice our senses, we love it.
So what stops us from using words to describe our art, the same words that have been with us since we could walk? Why are we so suspicious of language, one of our fundamental connections to being human?
The answer, in part, relates to a fatal combination of art critics and education. Art critics use language as scepters of judgment; if their words determine our self-worth, then by all means, kill the messenger. Formal education uses language as a means of control; we are taught when, where and how we can or cannot use which words, and, consequently, we grow to mistrust our relationship to language. The mistrust smolders underground, mostly unnoticed, until our words are thrust into containers, like the artist statement. Suddenly, words make us visible targets for judgment and criticism.
An opportunity to write an artist statement often causes us to second guess every idea we ever had about our work. We convince ourselves that we have nothing to say, or certainly nothing to say of value. Our first instinct is to either turn off the light and head out of the studio or pump ourselves up to overwrite. But running away confirms our fears that there must be something to run away from. And pumping up encourages us to use flimsy or pretentious words to smooth over our mistrust of language. This, in turn, fuels our perception that language cannot adequately describe our art.
Luckily, you have an alternative to giving up on your statement before you start. Instead, pretend that you have a lot to say that is neither self-important nor trivial, but is rather relevant, revealing, and wonderful. Imagine that all of your objections to writing have been overcome and you are simply going to write whatever you believe to be true, at the moment, about your work. The good news is that by letting yourself go, you can discover and create a working artist statement.
There is an unselfconscious language about your work which you use all the time. Every time you talk or think about your work, you experience a relationship between words and your art. The trick is to learn how to catch yourself doing this, and then faithfully write it down.
A Few Tips For Getting Started:
Treat your artist statement with the same care that your treat your art. It's all about you.
Use a notebook that is lovely or practical and keep it with you at all times-- in the studio, in the car, beside your bed.
Find and use a writing pen or pencil that flows smoothly across the surface.
Take a few weeks to jot down any fleeting thoughts that come to you about your work. Give yourself permission to gather. Selecting and sorting can come later when you have enough in your basket.
Make specific times and dates with yourself to transform your notes and write your statement. Respect these times. Do not tolerate interruptions.
Prepare your internal space. Close your eyes and conjure up your worst critic. In your mind's eye, lead this person out of the room. Give them another task, besides breathing over your shoulder, say, climbing a tree, or skipping stones, or going to the local library. Tell your critic not to come back until you are ready. Critics are terrified of being abandoned, that's why they are so tenacious, so reassure yours that there will be a place set just for them at the editing and revision table. Critics are also stubborn. You may have to do this more than once.
Write more than one statement. Like different works of art, an artist statement also thrives on change and rising out of "the moment." What suits this month's work may not work for next month's work.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Let yourself write badly. Crumple up lots of paper balls and throw them in a corner. That's the beginner's way. Then, when your statement comes out great, which it eventually will, you will know the difference.
Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D. is an Artist Career Coach and writer. Her website is Artist-Statement.com.