XPACE recently hosted a workshop on writing an Artist Statement.
Here's a brief summary of some do's and don'ts to writing one.
1. There are two kinds of artist statements.
(i) One that explains your overarching practice; and
(ii) One that explains a specific work.
2. Statements should be about 300-500 words.
(i) What “is” the work?
(ii) What do we see or experience?
(iii) What is at stake?
3. This is not a mystery novel. Start with a one-sentence description that encompasses all of the above to some extent – especially what it is – then unpack each of the listed items as is needed.
4. Do not make general statements. Do not make assertions about art works in this field generally being “like this” or how “the majority of people” think or act a certain way; rather, explain your interests in certain areas of investigation in implicit relation to (un)said state of the arts.
5. Avoid phrases like “viewers will experience….” You do not know what they will experience, and most readers will think it arrogant (if only unconsciously) if you try to pull this off. If you desire this approach – to describe what the piece does to people – say what you (personally) see or have made in the work, or what viewers have actually said or done (“in the past, I’ve seen participants…”), rather than asserting what they will do or say in the future.
6. Do not put all your interests and tie-ins and interwoven ideas here. This is a concise description of the work – what it looks like, what we experience, and what is at stake – that can be read into by others, and everything else should be built into the piece itself. Feel free to be ambiguous with a small amount of language, to allude to larger / more concepts towards the end, but you must explicitly state one through-line only in this statement.
7. No undefined terms. Do not use words like “performative,” “poststructural,” “deconstruct,” or “postmodern,” “other,” “gaze” or “feminist,” without defining them. If you can’t describe what you mean by these kinds of jargon words in a short sentence (which is preferred to actually using them), then you yourself do not understand clearly enough what they mean in/to your practice/this piece, and so neither will we, the readers. Even poetic, simple terms – especially hyphenated ones – should be avoided unless you explicitly describe what you mean by them.
8. Describe. Remember: an artist statement should enhance my experience of your work by describing it, not justifying it, obscuring it, or simply listing the ideas you were thinking about or papers you were reading whilst you were making it. The biggest mistake artists make here is to think that because they were reading or thinking about a specific concept when they made the piece, then the piece is about that. Listen to critique, watch others with the work, and relate what it is actually doing and how. The statement is about looking and watching your work then describing what you see, not producing a project then justifying its existence.
9. Excite your reader: This should be fun and interesting. If it’s not, you lose me. Think journalism: first summarize the whole thing, but simultaneously make me want to read on (and experience the work for myself); the rest should unpack it, give me a sense of some understanding but also make me want to see or research more on you and the piece.