Artist statements, even though they might appear like a load of pretentious art-talk (which many of them sadly are), serve a very important purpose: presenting your passion in a bite-sized package, to be easily consumed and understood by the reader or listener (you can, and should know how to pitch them too).
But what many of us present as an artist statement is usually exactly the opposite of what it should be; we focus on intellectually sounding words and sentences like this: “As wavering phenomena become rediscovered through subversive personal practices, the observer is left with an awareness of the boundaries of our era.”, rather than actually trying to communicate clearly.
And taking the time to create a great artist statement will also help you clarify your wording, so you can give a short and captivating presentation anytime you find yourself in front of an interested buyer, are giving an interview or just get asked by a random person at a party somewhere about what you do.
The worst thing to do when casually asked about what kind of art you make, is to go rambling on about your work for half an hour and spewing random artist’s names and isms with no head or tail. Again, the goal is to start with small bite-sized pieces of information that are easy to consume and intrigue the listener to want to know more, not your subconsciousness going full monty.
A FEW THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
Be genuine and sincere.
This is the most important one of all. Never feel like you need to defend your right to make art; regardless if you only paint pretty flowers because you like pretty flowers or if you are composing some conceptual piece that will explain the meaning of life itself, what you do is your choice so tell it how it really is. There is absolutely no need for big words and fake concepts.
Short and sweet; 3 – 5 sentences is ideal.
It can be longer if you really want to, though I couldn’t recommend it. The important thing to keep in mind is not to write half a page.
Clear and simple language.
Regardless of who your target audience is and what you do, make your artist statement understandable to even the people that don’t know anything about art. Especially if your work focuses on being beautiful, rather than conceptual. Truth be told, nobody likes to feel dumber than the person they are speaking to and if your goal is to get them even close to as excited about what you do as you are yourself, it might be better to talk to them like you would to a curious friend rather than a judging professor.
Base your language on evoking emotions, not just intellectual concepts.
Easy for anyone focusing on beauty or any other emotion-evoking art, but even conceptual artists can present their ideas by building on emotions. Think about it; your artist statement should intrigue the reader to become curious about your work and give them some sort of key to be able to understand it better. And curiosity is an emotion, not a mental state — nobody thinks they’re curious, they feel curious.
No comparisons to other artists, living or dead.
The fact that you’re trying to make your work more understandable by comparing it to someone else — usually a more popular and successful artist — is a bad move. Not only are you passively implying unoriginality, but unless you’re comparing your work to Picasso (and you shouldn’t), there’s a big probability that people just won’t know the artists you’re mentioning.
Note that comparing your work to other artists is a wonderful and necessary tool when figuring out your style and creative toolkit, but as such, comparisons should be done in the studio and while doing research, not as part of a presentation or sales pitch.
Nobody cares about technicalities or tools.
If you’re a landscape painter, talk about why you’re drawn to nature, not about the fact that you use oils instead of acrylics because they blend better. But you can always use materials to strengthen your narrative: oils are an old, slow drying medium and can allow for a much more mediative and relaxed workflow, thus complementing nature’s unhurried pace, compared to our fast-paced lives. But only if this is really why you chose to start painting landscapes in oil, don’t make things up because they sound nice.
Maybe the only time it actually is appropriate to talk about the tools is when you are using a rare, obscure or otherwise exciting process or material. It could be cutting edge stuff like Virtual Reality or blockchain tech or wet plate collodion photography (an almost alchemistic process that is quite hard to do and regarded highly by hipsters around the world).
Review your statement as you progress in your work.
Be it quarterly or yearly or some other period of time, the point is not to write your artist statement once and then leave it be for 20 years. It’s also a nice reality check to sit down and think about what your work is about and if anything has changed since the last time you wrote it.
And for all the times you really want to go hot-air-ballooning with words, you can visit my Artist Statement Generator and experience the magic of semi-randomness in action.
HINT: A good way to tell if your artist statement is OK or not; if it looks like the one you can generate in the link above, it probably shouldn’t be on your CV or portfolio.
GETTING YOUR STORY STRAIGHT (YOUR PERSONAL BRAND)
Since the beginning of human creation, art has been evolving in a more or less linear fashion. This is especially obvious in the era of isms; starting with the old impressionists, evolved by Henri Matisse and the other fauvists, and the expanded freedom of colour and form that eventually lead to cubism, futurism and abstraction.
Due to a great lack of functional means of communication, artists all over the world took much longer to evolve their styles and to find new inspirations for their work. Picasso had no other means to come in contact with a totally foreign culture than by visiting a museum exhibit. And it took him a long time to get his imagination juices flowing enough to be able to produce his masterpiece The Young Ladies of Avignon, that eventually lead to a revolution in art.
But now, with the power of the internet our playing field has been broadened from a straight line into a worldwide area of everything goes.
If one wishes to decorate his or her home with some fine art — from bio art to classical realism — today one can find almost anything online. And with such an abundance of art, it does bring up the question of how to stand out from the crowd?
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
IF YOU WANT TO GET EXHIBITED:
The art market is a volatile place for investors, and these are the people gallerists cater to, so there are certain check boxes your work has to tick in order for them to decide to sign and represent you and your work.
Having a regular production is the best sign for a curator to know that you’re serious about your work.
If you only create one work a quarter, your chances of being perceived as a viable candidate are much smaller than if you have a regular output of work. It doesn’t have to be one work a day — unless that’s your thing of course — but having a history of regularity is one of the most important traits an artist can have for a collector or gallerist.
Curators tend to look at the whole oeuvre — the whole body of work any particular artist has produced over the years.
Today, it isn’t as much about one work, or even one exhibition — what matters in the long run is the totality of our production. Rather than focusing on the importance of each piece we make, it’s much better to take a step back and observe it in the context of everything we have ever done.
Questions you could ask yourself that could help you create a coherent body of work:
Does it brings anything to the story of who you are and what you’re are about? Does it complement or juxtapose the works that came before it? Does it maybe break a certain “tradition” of motifs you had previously been using in your work? Are you becoming more serious, more cynical or more playful in the way you tell your stories? …
A brand is only as strong as its presence in the lives of its customers.
Regardless how much competition we face as creatives, how many applications, CVs and portfolios the galleries we all are trying to get in receive in a day (usually a lot), the decision of who gets signed and who is left on the applications pile of the gallerist’s desk is mostly decided by a simple question: “Do they know us?”
If we want to get into a gallery, it is imperative to be present at their exhibition openings and talks, to mingle with the people in charge and slowly become part of their circle. This is probably incredibly obvious, but a lot of us are guilty of not showing up in person, when this is actually what matters the most.
Build relationships with people, regardless if they’re the owner, head curator or just answer the phone.
When just starting out, our chances of just popping up at an opening of a gallery that we have been eyeing for a while and getting friendly with the curator or owner aren’t really great. There’s a social divide between freshly baked art students and prominent art world figures, and to say it takes courage to just get up to one and start talking is an understatement.
But we can start out by getting to know the people working there; maybe we know somebody who is now working the reception or handling their social media. They of course won’t be able to arrange a meeting, but could share some valuable information about what is going on inside the gallery.
There’s really no better insider than an intern on coffee duty — they might not be in charge, but they do hear and see a lot about what is going on inside the institution. Also, having friends in the field is always a wonderful thing to have, so build sincere relationships, not just means to an end.
KEEP IN MIND: Public institutions, unlike private galleries, do not have to be profitable to stay afloat, so if you are living in an area where the art market isn’t as strong as in New York or London and most of the galleries are publicly funded, getting exhibited there requires a different tactical approach.
If for example you create more conceptual pieces, that aren’t as focused on being aesthetically pleasing but rather propagate a message — like political and other critical art — public institutions tend to be a better target as they won’t judge your work by the merit of how well it could sell, but rather on the power and importance of your message.
Be it public or private, before applying to any institution for an exhibition, the best thing is to first asses what their goal is; is it making more profit than last year, is it fighting some social injustice or just showing beautiful work. If you can find their basic intention, you will have a much easier time aligning your story and your work with theirs and finding the common ground from which to build your arguments and getting their attention.
IF YOU WANT TO SELL YOUR WORK:
Similar to getting a show in a gallery, getting a sale requires us to be regular producers. But unlike gallerists, that care a lot about our work’s future worth, followers and collectors usually don’t buy our art because of investment reasons, but because they like it. So regularity here is merely a means to show up and build public presence. The more we create, the more we are able to be present on social media for example, and our chances to be seen by potential buyers greatly increase.
The same goes for having a coherent body of work. Here the emphasis isn’t on showing a maturely developed personal style that is important for being taken seriously by gallerists of any medium or large institution, but the mere fact that only by being consistent and coherent in our work are we able to create a personal brand for our customers.
You don’t buy the new Stephen King novel because you are expecting a romantic comedy and you don’t read J. K. Rowling because of her knowledge of biochemistry. Each creator has their own body of work, distinct from everybody else and thus people learn to expect a certain kind of art from any one of them. This is really important, because it’s the cornerstone of any great personal brand.
And there are other things to keep in mind:
Personal brands are almost as important as the products we produce.
It’s important to hone your skills, but working too hard on figuring out your style and technical skill without giving your audience the chance to also get to know you might not be the best tactic.
Each of us has a unique story to tell, a unique background of why we do what we do. Why not focus on that, rather than being just another still life painter or just another one using resin to make his or her work. In today’s oversaturated world it shouldn’t be the materials or the singular creations we make that define us and our personal creative brand, but the amalgamation of everything we stand for, everything we are.
The main point of any product, even an art piece, is to fulfil a need and satisfy a certain want that people might have.
Either to make their lives easier, richer or to give them the ability to express themselves even if their own skills don’t allow them to, art should satisfy a certain want.
This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing what you like and focus exclusively on impressionist portraits, just because they’re in vogue right now, but that you need to focus your attention on the people that would like what you do.
HINT: Facebook Ads is wonderful, because it lets you target a specific audience — even to the level of “somebody that works at a particular company” — so you can really focus on only the people that you believe share your love towards a specific style of art.
Regardless of whether you wish to get signed by a gallery or attack the market directly via online stores and social media, don’t think too much about how your work looks compared to all the other similar creators, focus instead on your message and personal story.
The issue of uniqueness could once be resolved merely through personal style; Renoir was different from Matisse, Gauguin nothing like Cézanne … The number of artists an average collector or gallery visitor knew, was more in the hundreds and differentiation amongst them wasn’t as hard back then as it is today.
Now you can open Saatchi Online and find millions of artists, many of them producing quite similar works, so style doesn’t really help as much as it once did. The only real differentiator between two similarly looking artworks is the story behind them and the artist who created them.