Your artist statement is the first thing people will read about you. It’s often seen before someone sees your work or reads your artist CV. It’s the chance to make your first impression by quickly telling your story along with some basic information that will hook the reader into learning more about you. Your artist statement can determine whether a prospective employer will bring you in for an interview, consider your grant proposal, or hire you for a photoshoot.
What is an Artist Statement?
An artist statement is a short but impactful description that gives readers essential information about you as an artist. It can go at the top of your resume, in a cover letter, artist bio, art exhibition, grant application, on a gallery’s website, or in your social media profile. Throughout your career, a variety of people will come across your artist statement. Among these readers, there will likely be some key decision-makers including curators, grant administrators, gallerists, employers, artist residency panels, art collectors, and others.
When you’re not present to talk about your work in person, your artist statement is your spokesperson, and you want your voice to be heard. If you struggle with speaking about yourself or your art, it can affect how you come across professionally to these decision-makers. Unless you plan to have someone else create your artist statement for you, you’re going to have to confidently write about your work. Being comfortable in doing so will improve the quality and clarity of your writing.
Three Essential Qualities of an Artist Statement
While every organization, employer, panel, or curator may have a different project or purpose in mind when looking at your work, they’re all reading your artist statement to see if you have the essential qualities they are looking for: a clear identity, solid career potential, and a fit for their project needs or organization’s mission. An effective artist statement helps you convey how you meet these three qualities.
1. Clear Artistic Identity
Having a clear identity shows that you are serious about your work and that you have reached a point in your artistic development where you are not only confident in what you are creating, but also have an established identifiable style. Many arts professionals don’t want to (or can’t afford to) take risks with an artist. They want to know what to expect from you going forward based on your style, goals, and history. To demonstrate a clear identity, be sure to address the following points:
- Who are you? This can be as simple as where you are currently based geographically, where you are from, and how you self-identify as an artist. If origins are not important to you, just focus on where you are currently based or give another detail important to your identity. Some things can be inferred, such as wanting to only go by your first name. You don’t necessarily have to explain this, you can just show it.
Start with the facts. where you are from, your education and the media you work in aren’t opinion-based and should be simple to layout, even if speaking about your work makes you squirm. Your artist statement consists mostly of facts. Be sure you are familiar with exactly what an artist statement should include. Having a structure to follow makes it easier to develop your own.
Example: You might be a Latinx painter who grew in Peru and is now based in Harlem, perhaps you would rather identify yourself simply as a New York City-based visual artist. Be as specific as you are comfortable with, but just be sure to introduce yourself and establish who you are.
- What do you do? Be sure to mention the art form, media you work in, or the materials you use, especially if you opt for going for a broad title like “visual artist.” However, don’t stop there. Your readers want to know details about your creative process and what goes into making your art. Do you have a special technique? Do you use rare materials or any special process? Be specific about it and describe what you do in an eloquent and vivid way. Because an artist statement is concise, you want to be sure that every sentence is impactful.
Example #1: “As a sculptor, I bring drawing into the three-dimensional realm through a special technique of mixed media assemblage.”
Example #2: “My work transcends the limits of painting using my unique approach to framing as an essential component and object in its own right.”
- Your history as an artist. Mentioning exhibition highlights, awards, education, and training are the best ways to establish your history as an artist. However, you may have not exhibited extensive or have no exhibition experience at all. In this case, focus on your artistic education, which doesn’t exclusively mean academic training. If you are a self-taught artist, mention it. If you studied independently under a master artist or craftsperson, include that. Your story as an artist is as important as your artwork. In your artist statement explain what brought you to your artistic practice and how you gained your skills. Even if it has nothing to do with art, your non-art experience or education can add another dimension to your work and makes you and your work more interesting!
For example, financial services professional Tom Mulqueen began painting after having been in a coma. His artist statement reads:
“My Mom let me borrow her paints as I recovered. The first painting was simple, but I began to learn about mixing colors and shading, and I studied Bob Ross’ technique. I have continued as a self-taught artist, and I have developed my technique and explored additional media. I believe that art is an attempt to express the inexpressible, and should invoke a sense of wonder.”
2. Career Potential
Curators, art administrators, grantmakers, and organizations pride themselves on helping artists reach or exceed their potential. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship where an artist gets recognition or support, and in turn, these decision-makers build their respected name and reputation as a trusted source for identifying talent. When these decision-makers read your artist statement they want to get a sense of your potential and the longevity of your creative output. They should get the impression that you will continue to create, develop, and flourish as an artist, a sort of return on their investment.
Career potential doesn’t need to focus on future marketability or financial related success, in fact, it is the careers focused on deeper meaningful goals that draw the most support. Your goals might be to create socially engaged art, there are grantors that want to support social justice causes. Or you may want to hone your practice so that you can become a better educator, there are certainly organizations who want to support that kind of goal. Showing your career potential is about getting your goals across, and showing your confidence in achieving them.
To highlight your promising career potential, be sure to illustrate:
- Your career goals. Your goals and what you will be creating in the future contribute to the value of your art and your upward mobility. Because an artist statement is meant to be short you do not need to divulge a full detailed future plan, you also never know what will happen in the future or where your creative explorations might lead you, so keep it somewhat vague but purposeful.
For example, you might say, “I strive to create socially engaging work that can bring light to the income disparity in my hometown.” You can describe your goal without laying out the step-by-step plan or all the details.
- Your presence. Your current presence as an artist can be demonstrated by having a personal website, dedicated social media, selling on an online marketplace, or putting your work out there in another way beyond traditional exhibiting.
- How you stand out from other artists similar to you. What is unique about you, your creative process or your work that differentiates you from other artists in your art form or genre? How are you as a cityscape photographer different from another cityscape photographer? For example, “While photographers typically capture the spectacular density or our nation’s urban areas, my photographers reveal spaces that are considered ugly and desolate .”
3. Good Fit
Being the perfect fit for every person, project or purpose isn’t possible, and you likely wouldn’t be interested in every single offer that came your way. What you should be striving for in your artist statement is making yourself appeal to the audience that you want to attract. Your identity and career potential tie into your work is a good fit. The identity you present and the experiences or training you disclose will steer what audience you are speaking to and what projects you might fit into.
How Do I Get Started?
- Get inspiration from others. Read the statements of people that inspire you as an artist. Take note of how they highlight or explain their work. Pay attention to the adjectives they use.
- Make a list of adjectives. Find the right words that you associate with and describe your work. This is your list of keywords that you can draw from when writing your artist statement.
- Put it together. With your basic facts laid out and your list of keywords, add in the best adjectives to take your artist statement from straight facts to a descriptive text.
- Put it out there. Get someone to read your artist statement. This can be a friend, colleague, or fellow artist. If you are uncomfortable speaking about your work, it’s essential that you get outside input. Giving someone a written artist statement to review and provide feedback is often easier than verbalizing it. Send your draft to someone and ask them specific questions about their impression. Do they have lingering questions after reading your statement? Do they feel anything important was left out? Does your artist statement leave them wanting to know more?
Artist Statement Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t expect to write the perfect artist statement on the first try. If you haven’t spent time revising and refining it several times or more, you’re not thinking thoughtfully enough about it.
- Do use descriptive and meaningful adjectives to paint a vivid picture of your practice.
- Don’t refer to yourself as an emerging artist. It isn’t a bad thing but an artist statement should feel timeless, not defining one moment early in your career.
- Do speak about yourself like a confident established artist. Be proud of your work and yourself – self-assurance is respectable.
- Don’t use overly complicated language or jargon. You want your readers to understand who you are and your work. Write clear and thoughtful sentences.
- Do review your artist statement at least annually. Read through your statement line by line and consider if all the sentences are holding their weight and if they are still relevant to where your artistic practice is now.
Writing an artist statement can seem like a large task, but following the steps above, you will have a solid start to update and adapt to your developing artist career. Got any questions? Comment!
Shelissa Aquino is an artist, curator and advisor. A graduate with a degree in Arts Administration, she has worked for major museums and arts organizations across New York City. Shelissa is currently an administrator for a global corporate art collection.