What is an Artist Statement and How to Write It
An artist statement is like the mental and relational business card of the creative world. It is a short, sweet, and to-the-point description of who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It is memorable, impactful, and inspirational. It’s your guiding light and should be the first thing that someone thinks about when they think of you and your art, whether or not they’ve even read your personally written statement.
And best of all, an artist statement is fairly easy to write, because it’s literally just a description of the things that you think about every time you make something creative. By following a few simple guidelines, you can write your own artist statement and start making waves in your communities and creativity.
Why Should I Make an Artist Statement?
Think of a famous brand or artist. When they enter your mind, what things do you associate with them? What distinguishes them from the other brands and artists in the world? What is their mission statement? In a sentence or two, how would you describe what they do and why they do it? That short snippet of words and thoughts is, essentially, their artist statement.
As creators, we want people to know what we’re about. We need people to know what we do, but also why we do it. The more humanity there is behind your art, the more likely it is that other people will connect with what you create and support you and your endeavors. You want to appeal to people’s empathy and show that you’re a human being, just like they are.
For example, consider the story behind the inception of the band Bon Iver and its main contributor, Justin Vernon. The story is almost a legend in today’s music landscape. In a season of loss, lack of direction, and heartbreak, Vernon retreated to his father’s hunting cabin in Wisconsin, and in a few months of near isolation, he created one of the most influential and talked about albums in the twenty first century, For Emma, Forever Ago. That story and its implications are Bon Iver’s artist statement. While the album itself is beautiful, the fact that the story and implied statement behind its creation was so pronounced and poignant truly catapulted both Vernon and his music to new heights.
What Is Not an Artist Statement?
A Long, Drawn Out Manifesto
When you write your statement, you don’t want it to be too long. Imagine you’re introducing someone to somebody else; if you spend ten minutes talking about every interesting thing there is to know about them, whoever you’re telling is probably going to get disinterested about a minute in.
You want to use your words and language efficiently and specifically, exposing the core of what there is to know, without getting too lost in the details. You want to hook people into what you’re saying. As they get more interested and involved in the artist, they will search out all the details and specifics on their own.
A Personal History
As an artist, your history is likely very interesting and full of incredible details and exciting stories. However, in your artist statement, you don’t want to discuss those too much. You can likely leave all but a few key parts of your history out. Every artist statement is different, but you probably don’t need to state your entire education history, every project you’ve ever worked on, your romantic history, or every life-changing event you’ve been through.
Pick one to three events that most fully describe you, and move on as quickly as you can. Remember, you want people to know your origin and purposes, and the rest of your details can follow as they dive deeper into your art and works.
A List of Cliches
This where many artist statements end up stumbling. The most important thing to remember is that you want to stand out from the crowd when you write your statement.
For example, phrases like “I love painting because I love creating beautiful things” or “I write because I love reading, and want to give back to the writing community” can be absolutely true! But they’re also likely true of nearly any other artist in your field. Do your best to push back the top layer of personal inspiration and really dig down into the most unique and personal reasons why you do what you do!
What Is an Artist Statement?
A Short, Concise Self-Description
When you’re composing an Artist Statement, you want to keep it concise. Often, the shorter and better composed your statement is, the easier it will be for people to remember exactly what you say and mean. You want to make it easy to understand, memorable, and something that will stick in people’s minds. It’s easy to feel the urge to delve deeper into your creative muses and passions, but find what the main things are that get you out of bed every morning and state those as articulately as possible.
Multiple studies have shown that the average human attention span lasts less than ten seconds before they start looking for stimulation in other places. So keep your statement interesting, and keep it short! Imagine yourself telling someone in an elevator who you are as an artist. You only have a few seconds to make an impression on them, so do it as efficiently and memorably as possible!
An Inspirational Message
Your artist statement exists to inspire both yourself and others. It should drive you to want to make beautiful things. It should drive other people to want to see what you make. Fundamentally, you want to change someone’s perception of you and your art, so really speak from your heart. Let your wonder and amazement with what you get to do as an artist shine through your statement. Don’t dull down your excitement and passion for your craft; rather, flaunt it, display it, and maybe even exaggerate it!
An Explanation of Your Uniqueness
Everyone’s heard the classic phrase, “I do this because I love it!” If you’re an artist, that’s (hopefully!) a given. So instead of just saying what you love, say why you love it. Briefly touch on a unique origin story or the specific emotions behind what you do.
For example, if you’re an immigrant to your country and much of your artistic inspiration comes from those special experiences you have, touch on that. If you have synesthesia and it strongly dictates how you create art, mention that in your statement. If you’re a musician whose first instrument was a guitar you found in a dumpster, say that in your artist statement.
The point is, everyone is different, and everyone has fascinating stories to tell and aspects about themself that are special. Your uniqueness is what is going to make you memorable, so lean into that!
How do I Write an Artist Statement?
When composing your Artist Statement, you’re giving someone a window into your soul, a look behind the stage, and a new perspective on your art. If you’ve ever heard another artist talk about why they made something the way they did, you’re likely hearing their artist statement in one way or another. So when writing your artist statement, look at your own work, and put into words why you did what you did. It might take some soul searching to really understand your own heart behind your art, and that’s okay!
Again, make sure your statement is as tightly crafted as possible. Trim all unnecessary words, tweak every sentence, and maybe even consult a thesaurus to find the right words that really match what your heart is trying to say. Of course, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself and your audience with excessively flowery words, but write your statement with eloquence and poise.
Make it somewhere around four to five sentences, or 100-300 words long—something that anyone could read in under a minute and understand perfectly the first time through, but still gives them something to think about.
Always remember that you can have multiple drafts. Your artist statement doesn’t have to be the same in a year as it is today, or the same in a month, or a week, or even tomorrow. It’s something that can evolve and shift and change over time, following your journey as an artist. You don’t ever need to have a true final draft, so don’t shoot for perfection. Just aim to write something that is completely true of the artist that you are right now!
Artist statements are the relational currency of the creative world. They serve to inspire, inform, and impact people. They can sometimes be a challenge to write, but having your own personal statement written out can help guide you as an artist and a person. Once you really have something that connects with what’s in your heart, maybe even write it down in a prominent place, so you can have it for reference!
Here at Canvas Cultures, we have personalizable canvases that will allow you to display your own artist statement! Just create a picture or design with your statement on it, and you can get a high-quality, professional-looking canvas with your heart’s artistic desires on it. And if you want any other inspirational messages to yourself, just check out our motivational canvases to help you drive your creative goals all the way to the finish line. At Canvas Cultures, we want nothing more than to help you reach your creative goals!