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a fundamentally different approach to

Accelerate Your Art Career…

a fundamentally different approach to

Accelerate Your Art Career…

YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT… WHY BOTHER? Part 1

by | Dec 22, 2023 | Artist Statements, recent | 0 comments

Part 1: Four Rational Reasons To Not Write An Artist Statement

When you hang around me, you will hear the following Origin Story a lot.

It is the beginning of my quest, and it begins with a question….

Why Don’t Artists Want to Write Their Artist Statements?

I stood on unfinished, wide, wooden planks staring at a trio of large seascapes: Before, During, and After a Storm. Outside, tourists were roaming this quaint, Maine town surrounded by inlet waters. Inside, a summer breeze poured through the open gallery door.

Inside, I stood transfixed. 

It was July 1992 and I was taking a break from the graduate school grind. This gallery had felt unimposing, a place to be quietly invisible. And, anyway, I loved looking at art.

But something other worldly was happening as I stood in front of these paintings. Even though the subject matter and execution didn’t seem exceptional, a force poured into me from those canvasses. From top to toe that force held me captive.

The longer I stared, the greater this force became. 

I began to merge with the paintings as if all the power of nature were dragging me into the riotous explosion that grew from an initial calm and ended in a salty tangle of driftwood, seaweed, and the deep thrumming of a storm’s aftershock. 

The energetic fingerprint of this artist was undeniable.

When I turned away, all I wanted was more connection with the person who sparked such a visceral response that the very boundaries of my skin were expanding out into the universe…

The gallery owner, inconspicuously attentive, immediately looked up from his desk and came toward me as I approached him.

I’d love to know more about this artist, I said.

Of course. And he walked over to a tall filing cabinet (do you even know what that is?), pulled open a metal drawer and pulled out a single sheet of paper.

Eagerly, I reached for the paper, excited to find out who had skillfully, and fully, used the elements of paint, brush, and canvass to affect me so deeply.

Only, instead of connection, I was met with the dry dust of resume names, dates, and references. It was like following a spectacular sip of fine wine with sawdust.

I looked up, confused. 

No, I mean, I want to know more about this artist. You know, what that’s all about. 

And I flicked my hand toward the seascape trio on the back wall.

Oh, he gave a wry laugh, you want an artist statement.

Please, and I held out my hand.

Sorry, I don’t have one.

Really… why not?

Because artists don’t like to write them.

Really… why not?

Because—and here he hesitated, looked up at the ceiling, gave a long sigh—it’s like pulling teeth. I ask and I ask and I ask.

Even if it makes the difference between a sale and no sale? I was struggling to understand.

Yes, he said, even that doesn’t move the needle.

And that, my dear artists, was when my graduate work in creativity took a long, winding detour down Artist Statement Lane.

Suddenly, in-between classes, I found myself popping in and out of galleries. Luckily, in Western Massachusetts, galleries are more abundant than colleges and universities!

Each time, I spoke with a gallery director or owner. And each time I heard the same story:

We love artist statements. Artists won’t write them. Or, if they do, they’re terrible. Full of art speak, convoluted sentences with arcane language, or self-deprecating, or wildly egotistical. They give us artist statements we can’t use.

Or they don’t give them at all.

Since most of the art in these galleries was really good, I knew these artists were professionals, which in my mind meant they were also mature, educated, and dedicated to their work.

So Why The Heck Do Artist Not Want To Write Artist Statements?

You might think that in the next round, I’d be talking to the artists, yes?

Sadly, no. Tracking down contacts, setting up appointments—all of this would take too way too much time away from my intense, Creative Behavior and Human Development doctoral program.

Instead, I became curious, even obsessed. For no reason I can sort out, statistics was the easiest class to think it through. I had two notebooks: one for statistics and one for Why don’t artists want to write artist statements? 

Not realizing it at the time, I was writing the nuts and bolts of my future book. Each time I had an aha about the why not artist statements, I would start imagining a simple process to turn the why not into a why, of course! 

Within a couple of months, I’d figured out a process I thought could move artists from reluctance and resistance to a finished, compelling artist statement.

Now all I needed was an artist laboratory.

I turned to my local arts association and offered to give a free workshop, even though I’d never given a workshop in my life.

Over five days, with a two-hour class, seven artists and I refined the process of writing an engaging, authentic artist statement based on the principles I’d crafted.

When the process worked for every one of them, no one was more surprised than I.

These seven artists proved that artists are perfectly capable of writing an authentic, engaging artist statement that hits all of the benchmarks.

Now, Let’s Unpack The No.1 “Reason” Artists Tell Me They Don’t Want To Writing An Artist Statement

I’ve been surfing the web, looking at the myriad of material different organizations have put together on artist statements.

A favorite seems to be the artist statement Dos and Don’ts list. Like this one that offers the kind of basic information an artist just starting out might consider. 

Or another one where the esteemed staff of the New York Foundation for The Arts (NYFA) backs up their basic list with years of experience reading artist statements. 

The challenge here is that so many artists are either beyond the beginner stage, or don’t consider their beginner stage a reason to undercut their intelligence or maturity with simplistic approaches—yet still find themselves resistant to writing an artist statement

Oh, dear, did I forget to mention that your artist statement is considered a professional addition to your portfolio? And that any portfolio is immediately diminished if your artist statement is missing? And when your portfolio is diminished, so are the opportunities open to you on your path toward selling your art. 

That said, simple lists, like simple explanations of an artist statement, aren’t going to crack the artist statement reasons de resistance. 

Why not? 

Because resistance is a cover story for so much else that’s going on in our creative psyches. 

Once I began looking under the artist psyche hood, I found seven core “reasons” artists use to rationalize away any need for an artist statement.

Today, we’ll look at four of these.

Far and away, the most emphatic and dismissive reason that comes up time and again is this: 

No. 1:  I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

#1 – My artwork speaks for itself! I mean, what is there to say that someone can’t already see?

Besides the overtone of confidence, and a deeply felt self-assurance and support for one’s work, there’s the paler undercurrent of arrogance—which many not be the best tone for engaging your potential buyer, m’ thinks…yes?

This No.1 reason for not writing an artist statement is a true push ‘n pull that offers little opening for another perspective. In fact, this “reason” has very much closed the door, if not actually slammed it shut.

This reason works by virtue of an unspoken hierarchy: visual language bests word-language, as in a picture is worth a thousand words.

However, since everyone loses when exclusion takes over, the more effective perspective is not this or that, but this and also that.

It reminds me of a lesson I learned in graduate school when I took a course in Group Dynamics that experientially proved how more brains are better than one. 

In this case, visual language and word language are better than either by itself. (I’ll make the entire case for this assertion in another post.)

So, maybe Reason No.1 isn’t what it seems to be…

Right now, let’s go through three more reasons (#2, #3, #4) you might give me for not writing your artist statement!

Reason No. 2: I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No. 2 – Reducing my intuitive, reflective, and emotional creative process to words feels like caging a magnificent beast.

First, what’s up with “reducing?” 

 

Isn’t this what you do every time you choose one color over another? Haven’t you just “reduced” your color scheme?

Or you cut into the wood at this angle and not another angle?

Or you select the angular stone instead of the rounded one?

Or you layer in these coarser fibers instead ones with a finer weave?

Or you shift the angle of your camera this way instead of that way?

Or you slice the orange in your still life horizontally instead of vertically?

How, may I ask, is this any different than selecting one word over another? 

Pause. Think about it for a few seconds. Just think about the logic here.

Words have a range of characteristics in the same vein as the range of materials from which you select every time you start your creative process.

Maybe Reason No.2 isn’t what it seems to be…

Reason No.3: I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No.3 – I want my viewer to draw their own conclusions. I don’t want to interfere or impose on  their interpretation or experience.

Goodness, such concern you seem to have over the power you hold when it comes to words, but absolutely no concern when it comes to your art?

And while I applaud concern when it makes sense, I can’t applaud the rationale.

For one thing, none of us are in control of what another experiences. Each of us brings a constellation of past conditioning—what our mood is that day, do we have a headache, or just backed into a car, never mind our complicated DNA—to the viewing of a piece of art.

For another, Reason #3 completely misses the point of an artist statement, which is not an explanation of what your work means, or a roadmap to what someone should be experiencing when they see it.

If you are doing it right, your artist statement is not telling, or explaining, it’s revealing your relationship to the piece they’re viewing.

Maybe Reason No.3 isn’t what it seems to be…

Reason No.4:  I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No.4 – I don’t want my work judged by an artist statement when my true medium is visual. I want my work to stand on its own. 

This is Reason No. 1 (visual language vs the language of words), but with a couple of twists: judgment alongside the stand-on-its-own rationale.

Let’s start with the latter: I want my work to stand on its own. 

This one has always puzzled me because your work, from inception, does not have any way to stand on its own. You, the artist, are implied by its very existence.

The work is you and you are the work. That’s one of the powerful aspects of creative work: the creator and the creation are essentially inseparable. This is also one of the mysteries that draws people to you and your work.

What I really hear, here—and this is echoed by the “judged” aspect—is a fear of artistic intimacy vis a vi your viewer. You want your artwork to do all the heavy lifting—by itself.

And this when the best thing that can happen to your artwork is to have an extension of its magic in word language so the viewer experiences more bonding with what you do, not less.

Maybe Reason No.4 isn’t what it seems to be…

What’s Next:

Maybe all four of these Reasons  aren’t what they seem to be.

Next week, let’s peek under the artist psyche hood and see what’s simmering behind all these rational arguments against writing an artist statement.

There just might be someone under there whom you recognize…

———————————————————————————————————

Whenever you’re ready to update your artist statement, or even write your first one, join my waitlist for: Writing The Artist Statement eBook & Ambitious Bundle.

It’s not enough to know what an artist statement is. You need to know how to write one!

This new 3rd edition eBook with it’s Ambitious Bundle takes you from head scratching to a polished, compelling artist statement. Check it out!

Art Career Reflections Blog

Artist Statement

Why Bother?
PART 1: Four Rational Reasons…

Part 1: Four Rational Reasons To Not Write An Artist Statement

When you hang around me, you will hear the following Origin Story a lot.

It is the beginning of my quest, and it begins with a question….

Why Don’t Artists Want to Write Their Artist Statements?

I stood on unfinished, wide, wooden planks staring at a trio of large seascapes: Before, During, and After a Storm. Outside, tourists were roaming this quaint, Maine town surrounded by inlet waters. Inside, a summer breeze poured through the open gallery door.

Inside, I stood transfixed. 

It was July 1992 and I was taking a break from the graduate school grind. This gallery had felt unimposing, a place to be quietly invisible. And, anyway, I loved looking at art.

But something other worldly was happening as I stood in front of these paintings. Even though the subject matter and execution didn’t seem exceptional, a force poured into me from those canvasses. From top to toe that force held me captive.

The longer I stared, the greater this force became. 

I began to merge with the paintings as if all the power of nature were dragging me into the riotous explosion that grew from an initial calm and ended in a salty tangle of driftwood, seaweed, and the deep thrumming of a storm’s aftershock. 

The energetic fingerprint of this artist was undeniable.

When I turned away, all I wanted was more connection with the person who sparked such a visceral response that the very boundaries of my skin were expanding out into the universe…

The gallery owner, inconspicuously attentive, immediately looked up from his desk and came toward me as I approached him.

I’d love to know more about this artist, I said.

Of course. And he walked over to a tall filing cabinet (do you even know what that is?), pulled open a metal drawer and pulled out a single sheet of paper.

Eagerly, I reached for the paper, excited to find out who had skillfully, and fully, used the elements of paint, brush, and canvass to affect me so deeply.

Only, instead of connection, I was met with the dry dust of resume names, dates, and references. It was like following a spectacular sip of fine wine with sawdust.

I looked up, confused. 

No, I mean, I want to know more about this artist. You know, what that’s all about. 

And I flicked my hand toward the seascape trio on the back wall.

Oh, he gave a wry laugh, you want an artist statement.

Please, and I held out my hand.

Sorry, I don’t have one.

Really… why not?

Because artists don’t like to write them.

Really… why not?

Because—and here he hesitated, looked up at the ceiling, gave a long sigh—it’s like pulling teeth. I ask and I ask and I ask.

Even if it makes the difference between a sale and no sale? I was struggling to understand.

Yes, he said, even that doesn’t move the needle.

And that, my dear artists, was when my graduate work in creativity took a long, winding detour down Artist Statement Lane.

Suddenly, in-between classes, I found myself popping in and out of galleries. Luckily, in Western Massachusetts, galleries are more abundant than colleges and universities!

Each time, I spoke with a gallery director or owner. And each time I heard the same story:

We love artist statements. Artists won’t write them. Or, if they do, they’re terrible. Full of art speak, convoluted sentences with arcane language, or self-deprecating, or wildly egotistical. They give us artist statements we can’t use.

Or they don’t give them at all.

Since most of the art in these galleries was really good, I knew these artists were professionals, which in my mind meant they were also mature, educated, and dedicated to their work.

So Why The Heck Do Artist Not Want To Write Artist Statements?

You might think that in the next round, I’d be talking to the artists, yes?

Sadly, no. Tracking down contacts, setting up appointments—all of this would take too way too much time away from my intense, Creative Behavior and Human Development doctoral program.

Instead, I became curious, even obsessed. For no reason I can sort out, statistics was the easiest class to think it through. I had two notebooks: one for statistics and one for Why don’t artists want to write artist statements? 

Not realizing it at the time, I was writing the nuts and bolts of my future book. Each time I had an aha about the why not artist statements, I would start imagining a simple process to turn the why not into a why, of course! 

Within a couple of months, I’d figured out a process I thought could move artists from reluctance and resistance to a finished, compelling artist statement.

Now all I needed was an artist laboratory.

I turned to my local arts association and offered to give a free workshop, even though I’d never given a workshop in my life.

Over five days, with a two-hour class, seven artists and I refined the process of writing an engaging, authentic artist statement based on the principles I’d crafted.

When the process worked for every one of them, no one was more surprised than I.

These seven artists proved that artists are perfectly capable of writing an authentic, engaging artist statement that hits all of the benchmarks.

Now, Let’s Unpack The No.1 “Reason” Artists Tell Me They Don’t Want To Writing An Artist Statement

I’ve been surfing the web, looking at the myriad of material different organizations have put together on artist statements.

A favorite seems to be the artist statement Dos and Don’ts list. Like this one that offers the kind of basic information an artist just starting out might consider. 

Or another one where the esteemed staff of the New York Foundation for The Arts (NYFA) backs up their basic list with years of experience reading artist statements. 

The challenge here is that so many artists are either beyond the beginner stage, or don’t consider their beginner stage a reason to undercut their intelligence or maturity with simplistic approaches—yet still find themselves resistant to writing an artist statement

Oh, dear, did I forget to mention that your artist statement is considered a professional addition to your portfolio? And that any portfolio is immediately diminished if your artist statement is missing? And when your portfolio is diminished, so are the opportunities open to you on your path toward selling your art. 

That said, simple lists, like simple explanations of an artist statement, aren’t going to crack the artist statement reasons de resistance. 

Why not? 

Because resistance is a cover story for so much else that’s going on in our creative psyches. 

Once I began looking under the artist psyche hood, I found seven core “reasons” artists use to rationalize away any need for an artist statement.

Today, we’ll look at four of these.

Far and away, the most emphatic and dismissive reason that comes up time and again is this: 

No. 1:  I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

#1 – My artwork speaks for itself! I mean, what is there to say that someone can’t already see?

Besides the overtone of confidence, and a deeply felt self-assurance and support for one’s work, there’s the paler undercurrent of arrogance—which many not be the best tone for engaging your potential buyer, m’ thinks…yes?

This No.1 reason for not writing an artist statement is a true push ‘n pull that offers little opening for another perspective. In fact, this “reason” has very much closed the door, if not actually slammed it shut.

This reason works by virtue of an unspoken hierarchy: visual language bests word-language, as in a picture is worth a thousand words.

However, since everyone loses when exclusion takes over, the more effective perspective is not this or that, but this and also that.

It reminds me of a lesson I learned in graduate school when I took a course in Group Dynamics that experientially proved how more brains are better than one. 

In this case, visual language and word language are better than either by itself. (I’ll make the entire case for this assertion in another post.)

So, maybe Reason No.1 isn’t what it seems to be…

Right now, let’s go through three more reasons (#2, #3, #4) you might give me for not writing your artist statement!

Reason No. 2: I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No. 2 – Reducing my intuitive, reflective, and emotional creative process to words feels like caging a magnificent beast.

First, what’s up with “reducing?” 

 

Isn’t this what you do every time you choose one color over another? Haven’t you just “reduced” your color scheme?

Or you cut into the wood at this angle and not another angle?

Or you select the angular stone instead of the rounded one?

Or you layer in these coarser fibers instead ones with a finer weave?

Or you shift the angle of your camera this way instead of that way?

Or you slice the orange in your still life horizontally instead of vertically?

How, may I ask, is this any different than selecting one word over another? 

Pause. Think about it for a few seconds. Just think about the logic here.

Words have a range of characteristics in the same vein as the range of materials from which you select every time you start your creative process.

Maybe Reason No.2 isn’t what it seems to be…

Reason No.3: I Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No.3 – I want my viewer to draw their own conclusions. I don’t want to interfere or impose on  their interpretation or experience.

Goodness, such concern you seem to have over the power you hold when it comes to words, but absolutely no concern when it comes to your art?

And while I applaud concern when it makes sense, I can’t applaud the rationale.

For one thing, none of us are in control of what another experiences. Each of us brings a constellation of past conditioning—what our mood is that day, do we have a headache, or just backed into a car, never mind our complicated DNA—to the viewing of a piece of art.

For another, Reason #3 completely misses the point of an artist statement, which is not an explanation of what your work means, or a roadmap to what someone should be experiencing when they see it.

If you are doing it right, your artist statement is not telling, or explaining, it’s revealing your relationship to the piece they’re viewing.

Maybe Reason No.3 isn’t what it seems to be…

Reason No.4:  Won’t Write My Artist Statement Because…

No.4 – I don’t want my work judged by an artist statement when my true medium is visual. I want my work to stand on its own. 

This is Reason No. 1 (visual language vs the language of words), but with a couple of twists: judgment alongside the stand-on-its-own rationale.

Let’s start with the latter: I want my work to stand on its own. 

This one has always puzzled me because your work, from inception, does not have any way to stand on its own. You, the artist, are implied by its very existence.

The work is you and you are the work. That’s one of the powerful aspects of creative work: the creator and the creation are essentially inseparable. This is also one of the mysteries that draws people to you and your work.

What I really hear, here—and this is echoed by the “judged” aspect—is a fear of artistic intimacy vis a vi your viewer. You want your artwork to do all the heavy lifting—by itself.

And this when the best thing that can happen to your artwork is to have an extension of its magic in word language so the viewer experiences more bonding with what you do, not less.

Maybe Reason No.4 isn’t what it seems to be…

What’s Next:

Maybe all four of these Reasons  aren’t what they seem to be.

Next week, let’s peek under the artist psyche hood and see what’s simmering behind all these rational arguments against writing an artist statement.

There just might be someone under there whom you recognize…

———————————————————————————————————

Whenever you’re ready to update your artist statement, or even write your first one, join my waitlist for: Writing The Artist Statement eBook & Ambitious Bundle.

It’s not enough to know what an artist statement is. You need to know how to write one!

This new 3rd edition eBook with it’s Ambitious Bundle takes you from head scratching to a polished, compelling artist statement. Check it out!

From writing the only book on Artist Statements to producing the only art-career conference for visual artists – smARTist – I’m deeply committed to pioneering programs that meet you on the corner of…

ArtLife &
Creative Challenge

Artist Statement

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Your Creative Mindset

Podcast: Curiosity Cocktails

Ariane Goodwin, Ph.D.

CONTACT

ariane@arianegoodwin.com