Writing my artist’s statement

Yes, well, I suppose sooner or later I was going to have to engage in writing an artist’s statement. I’ll preface my remarks in this post to point out that I’m no stranger to writing. Not only do I blog (fairly) frequently which is good writing practice, but also I write for hard cash and have had a lot of experience in writing for publication. However, I’m definitely not a creative writer. Don’t look out for the novel any time soon.

But the artist’s statement presents a unique challenge. Earlier this year, I found that if I wanted to apply for membership of Prism, I would have to get my head down and put some serious thought into a plausible statement. Needs must, and so I gritted my teeth and got on with it. I expect you understand the problem: so much of what is written about art, often by artists themselves, is incomprehensible garbage (to put it mildly).  Faced with a challenging piece of art, you may find that the artist’s statement, far from elucidating the work, serves only to obscure it still further.

There is an amusing artist statement generator which I’ve just completed as a bit of a jape. The Market-O-Matic 1.0 (Fine Arts Version) invites you to add your name and a few choice adjectives to a standard list provide, click on the ‘Crank out the Crap’ button and sit back to enjoy the results of your complete lack of effort. However, this cynical approach, while good for a laugh, really won’t do. How, then, to proceed?

Before attempting to write the statement, I did a fair bit of reading around the subject of artists’ statements. There’s a useful guide on textileartist.org, a website I’ve praised previously. Joe, of Joe and Sam, who write many of the articles, has come up with a ten-point list to help the aspiring artist to write ‘a great artist statement’. (‘Great’ would be, obviously, great, but I’m really looking for adequate at this stage…). Number 3 on the list is: ‘You do NEED an artist statement’. This struck a chord with me, as I had until this point assumed that artists’ statements were a pain in the butt and you only needed one because somebody else said you needed one. Number 4 on the list emphasises the usefulness of the artist’s statement in answering questions. They say: ‘The artist statement serves as a de facto answer to common questions about your body of work, as a whole or in a series, and it allows for more in depth conversation about your concepts’. Useful advice further down the list includes a strong recommendation not to bore your audience with jargon, to keep the statement short and to avoid showing off. All this seemed very sensible, so I set to work.

And you know what? It was a surprisingly useful exercise and I’m pleased I did it. I was only ever going to undertake it with a metaphorical shotgun to my head, but when forced to the point I derived some benefit from it. It made me really think hard about what I was doing, and why, and it’s helped me to discover a focus and direction in what I’m creating that I didn’t have before. I did keep it short, at 220 words which includes a list of artists who have influenced me, and quite a bit of it was factual, explaining the range of materials I use. It wasn’t easy to write, and it went through several versions before I had something I could consider satisfactory. Another key point is that it’s for one point in time only. As Joe, on textileartist.org explains: ‘It’s a good idea to constantly revise your [artist statement] to ensure it appropriately represents you as you now!’. I’ve not revised it since I wrote it, about five months ago, but I do take it out from time to time and I think about the extent to which it’s true, and how I might change it. It helped me a lot to realise that a statement doesn’t have to be the last word on what you’re doing. It’s flexible, aimed at a moving target.

So, I suppose, I’m a convert to the cause. Who’d have thought? What I still have an issue with, and it’s one I’ll discuss in a later post, is the whole problematic business of describing myself as an artist in the first place…. as ever, watch this space.

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