How to Write An Artist Statement

Anna Valdez, Venus Painting, 2019

Originally published via Arte & Lusso, on February 18,201

As we increasingly live in a semi-digital reality convincingly presenting oneself as an artist through a telephone or computer screen becomes a daunting, but necessary task. Art world is notoriously competitive and underlining uniqueness of one’s aesthetic and conceptual vision to capture attention of a gallery or a curator became very important. One caveat here is that no matter how good an artist statement is if artworks in question lack in rigor, substance, or ideas writing the smartest sentences would not be able to correct this, at least in my opinion. Developing one’s artistic techniques together with familiarizing oneself with ongoing global artistic discourse is necessary and shortcuts here rarely work.

Yet, telling an artist’s story through specifics while remaining clear and intriguing sometimes could be crucial.  This should be done through an artist statement but in conjunction with his/her website and social media channels. The main question an artist should ask is how to create an overall strategy to present and activate existing body of work. While it’s common for people to find lengthy subject descriptions complex and misleading, the question arises: what makes a good artist statement? This article explores five key questions every artist should answer in hers.

Lisa Wright, Inflorescence, 2017 – 2018, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm. Image courtesy of Coates & Scarry Gallery.

1. What is your hook? 

The introductory sentences in your artist statement are critical in establishing a relationship between your work and the audience. Here you need to talk about what makes your work unique. Is there something particular why you think your work should capture one’s interest? 

A good example of a hook is the opening remarks in the artist statement of a British painter Lisa Wright: “Interweaving motifs and ideas from historical paintings with contemporary concerns, Lisa Wright’s paintings move between and through different times.”[5]Then she proceeds to introduce her subject matter that sparks curiosity, “Often isolated, the figures within Wright’s paintings and drawings hover on the brink of adulthood.”[5]This hook is a good example of how the artist engages with her audience by introducing the theme and subject matter in her work and does it in concrete terms.

Anna Valdez, Venus Painting, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 213.36 x 167.64 cm.
Image courtesy of the artist and Hashimoto Contemporary.

2. What is unique about your creative approach? 

While it might seem quite obvious to you, your creative direction is not always so apparent to the viewers, especially to those who encounter it for the first time via your website. Allowing your audience to get a clear sense of at least one element of your artistic approach is the key to reveal the distinctive character of your art practice. For example, in her artist statement Anna Valdez, California-based multimedia artist, reflects on her creative approach by directly mirroring the origins of the visual language she uses. “Valdez incorporates articles found in domestic spaces such as plants, textiles, vessels, and keepsakes into her work as a method of storytelling.”[4]The artist’s novel way of incorporating domestic objects imbued with special meaning serve as her creative trademark making the audience perceive her subject matter from a different perspective.  

Karina Skvirsky, Sacred Geometry: Inka Rock 6, 2019, folded and Collaged Archival Inkjet Prints, 17 x 22 x 2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and EFA Studio Program.

3. What medium do you use and why?

In your artist statement, it is important to talk about your medium. Explaining your choice of materials allows your audience to comprehend your work from a different angle. For example, is there a reason behind you choosing performance over video art or combining it?  In her statement New York-based multidisciplinary artist Karina Skvirsky underlines that her artistic approach is in “telling stories through images, static or moving, often using performance to ground them.”[3]By drawing examples from different artistic disciplines that influence her choice of medium, Skvirsky identifies performance as a nexus that ties all genres together. 

There is no one generic way to string together a few mediums and connect them with your work. You need to show your reader why specifically you are choosing canvas, video, or bronze to say what is important to you. The premise needs to come from your personal understanding of the practice.

Jule Korneffel, First date, 2019 acrylic, vinyl, gesso on canvas, 96 x 80 inch. Image courtesy of the artist.

4. What story are you trying to tell with your art?

Having a story behind your artistic practice is crucial. Regardless of what are the main themes of your works, they all have a narrative that is unique because your personal story as human being, as a woman or a man, etc. is also unique. Your art is embodiment of this uniqueness and it also needs to be reflected in any art material, including the artist statement. 

 As a reference to a suitable example, New York City-based visual artist Jule Korneffel shares her connections with the pieces by describing her artistic references, but also parts of her life that influence her. “My paintings are complex organisms with poetic simplicity. Following a highly personal concept, I conjure the image from many sources, entering into one composition (alike a formula). This process engages the entire panel. I use the sides for color tests and coincidental spatters, the backs to note and cross out titles until it matches to the simultaneously evolving painting.”[2]By explaining the origins of her subject matter, Korneffel’s work becomes more approachable. “I like art to be a free, liberated space. I seek quiet joy, an ambient character of my paintings offering self-connection. Painting as a surrogate for living to myself and others,”[2]she explains. 

Arghavan Khosravi,The Anatomy of A Woman Series #1, 2020, acrylic on cotton canvas and found textile mounted on two shaped wood panels, 37 x 29 inches, 96.5 x 76.0 cm 

5. What larger themes or wider conversation (beyond the art world) do you feel connected to?

Artists reflect on their connections with the outside world, initiating conversations about topics that matter. A variety of themes related to politics, environment, culture, and society often circulate in the realm of contemporary art in any given time period. An American-Iranian artist, Arghavan Khosravi, among other things highlights the governmental issues related to the treatment of Muslim immigrants in her work. In her artist statement she discusses the subject matter in her new series of works, “As a reaction to the Muslim travel ban in the US, she also created a series of paintings that incorporate her Iranian passport as their foundation, replete with situations, objects, and characters that demand a narrative only the viewer can provide.”[1] This statement allows to link her visual narrative with the ethnic resonance reflecting on the struggles of Muslim immigrants and connect to the global theme of migration.

In the end, artist statement needs to answer questions of why arts professional looking at it should care and would want to look at your works in depth, schedule a studio visit, etc. Sometimes it is challenging to get a sense of an artist’s inner working through her art pieces, this is where artist statement, her portfolio and press kit come in handy. Take your time as an artist to develop a consistent and unique story that is worth public’s attention and that honors and reflects your practice.