You may have heard the adage “quality over quantity” when it comes to writing well-crafted content. This time-honored phrase exists for good reason. We all have a lot to say, but at a time when we are bombarded by text and media on a nearly infinite basis, writing clearly and concisely can enable our artistic voices to stand out from the myriad of words out there in the ether.
Most artists will need to develop and hone their artist’s statement throughout their careers. Although all working artists write these statements, the competition for opportunities is fierce. Good writing can be the difference between getting a grant, residency, or exhibition over another qualified artist.
The key to a successful artist’s statement is quality word choice and brevity. In many cases, your statement is the introduction to your overall work, a specific work of art, or a project.
Writing about what you make, why you make it, and the significance it holds is not an easy task. It can be challenging to express yourself in 100 to 300 words, the ideal length of an artist’s statement. However, writing an effective and even masterful artist’s statement is something that any artist can do with a little brainstorming, practice, and occasional help from peers and professionals.
Once you have a working formula and develop a literary wherewithal for writing about your work, you can adapt your artist’s statement to fit the oft-strict word counts in grant applications and proposals. As long as you have the main components of your statement expressed in a simple yet impactful manner, then tailoring it should only be a matter of breaking down the longer version into an even more focused composition of essential content.
There are several tips, tricks, and tried-and-true methods for synthesizing your artist’s statement. What must be present in any artist’s statement is a clear communication of the “what” (the physical and formal aspects), “how” (the creative process), and “why” (inspiration and meaning behind the work) you do what you do as an artist.
A good strategy is to write in a way that allows readers to develop a sense of what your work looks like and why you feel compelled to make it. Think of it like explaining what inspires you to go to the studio and how you would physically and emotionally describe your art to someone without an artistic background.
Writing that reflects your speaking voice will enable you to come across as accessible and help you recognize if and when you sound long-winded. This means avoiding vague metaphors, repetitive words, and academic terminology. Being clear and precise is one of the simplest ways to cut down on the length of your writing without losing focus.
Below are some more specific ideas and exercises that might help you develop your voice in a timely manner.
Try the “Tweet me a story” method
Twitter stifles writers because of the strict character limit. However, if you can build a narrative through a single Tweet, then congratulations, you are an expert communicator! This is the crux of this exercise utilized by journalism professor Leigh Wright.
Wright prompts her students to get to the gist of their stories by breaking down a list of facts (from current events) into a lead of thirty-four words or less.
Try it by listing the main elements of your artwork and artistic process and creating a lead summary that would fit within a Tweet’s 280-character limit. Share it with others and ask them to give feedback on whether it contains a central overview of who you are as an artist.
Write about a specific project or artwork
This is often helpful for when you are applying for a specific grant or writing a proposal. Using one body of work from your entire oeuvre as a foundation for describing your artistic practice can help you synthesize your “what,” “why,” and “how” statements without sounding grandiose and making clichéd statements about your art and its role in the world. Giving concrete examples from what you have already made helps readers actualize your overall vision.
Remember to be specific about the media you used, especially if you utilize a variety of materials in your work.
Practice, practice, practice!
As a general rule of thumb, always brainstorm before you write. Make an outline with the key points that highlight the “what,” “how,” and “why” of your practice. Then incorporate them into concise sentences.
Think about whether your statement will be readable by art field professionals and the general public alike. And last, but not least, reach out to friends, family, educators, and professional editors to get their valuable input (or write it for you!).
Shortening your artist’s statement is not an exact science—and it does not mean simply trimming the fat from the middle. Make sure the key elements are still retained and that it reflects your true artistic voice before you copy, paste, and push submit!
About the author
Adam Zucker is an educator and curator. His interests include ways of integrating contemporary art throughout the education curricula. At Flatpage, he helps artists write impactful and effective artist's statements and proposals.