Rethinking the Artist’s Statement



Marketing Mondays: Rethinking the Artist’s Statement

Here’s what I hate about artists’ statements: On an 11 x 8½  sheet of paper, the artist writes “Artist Statement” at the top and sticks a couple of short paragraphs of often impenetrable prose toward the top of the page. When you’re confronted with it as a reader, what do you typically do?  Read the first few lines, skim to the bottom, and then put it down, right? Snore.

Copy (2) of img002This is how statements have “always been done” but I think there’s plenty wrong with the format

Speaking as the editor I was for 20 years, I think there’s a better way to do it. Take, for example, a front of-the-book article in a magazine, typically a one-pager. What gets you to read it?  Your eye goes to the title and subtitle, rests on a picture and skims the caption, and then may fall on a call out or pull quote, elements designed to synopsize the text. So before you actually read the text of the article, you have gotten a sense of the story.

Considering the way we read the printed page as just described, or surf the net with a series mouse clicks and flashing images, who in the world is going to give your statement the three or so minutes it takes to plow through a paragraph that may or may not even be plowable?

Though I’m not suggesting you include a pull quote, I think you can take a cue from the magazine page and use the real estate of that 11 by 8½ page a whole lot better:

Copy of img001

Think of your statement as a small editorial feature

Give Your Artist’s Statement a Title

Everyone knows it’s an artist’s statement. Why not give it a title instead? The title could be the name of series you’re working on, or a phrase or word to describe the work; it might even be a phrase a critic has used to describe it (make sure you attribute it in the text itself).

Include an Image

If one picture is worth a one thousand words—and never has that been truer than in our insta-culture—then for godsake include one. Pick the best image of your best work, or a studio installation shot, or a gallery installation shot, or even a detail of a work that embodies the elements you talk about in the statement. Pick something to show your reader what you do.

Caption it

It might be as simple as the basic info of title, date, medium, dimensions. If it’s a studio view, note the date of the photograph; if it’s a gallery installation, note the gallery and the city it’s in, exhibition title, and date. If it’s a detail, identify it as such.

The Statement Itself

. Is it written in artspeak? No one is going to understand it. (If you’reproblematizing expectations and deconstructing antiaesthetic historical precedents, with or without allusions to formalist thinking, take a look atCarol Diehl’s classic Impenetrable Prose from the Whitney Biennial. She’s commenting on critical writing, but too often artists try to emulate that ridiculous prose in an effort to sound more artlike. The message here: Don’t!)

. Is it too long? No matter how well it’s written, no one is going to read it. Write about your work the way you would verbally describe it to someone. Edit it, of course. Prose-ify it a bit if you wish. But keep it readable and keep it short: What you’re doing, why you’re doing it; and if, applicable, how you’re doing it. Boom, boom, boom.

Provide just enough information that the reader will want to engage with you to know more and to see more. (That’s what made Gypsy Rose Lee so famous.) You want to interest a dealer or curator sufficiently to click onto your website (or better: visit your studio), to inspire a critic to visit your show, to tantalize a collector to imagine what your work would like on her wall. Otherwise, they or any other reader will give your statement a once-over and put it down.

The Letterhead

At the top of the sheet provide a letterhead—the same one that’s on the first page of your resume, on your price list, and on your correspondence. Your name is on this letterhead, of course, along with your contact info: e address, land line, cell, website, and perhaps your studio address. Create a template from existing fonts in Word and use it for everything you print out. Yes, it’s businesslike; you are a business of one. The people you are dealing with—dealers, museums, consultants, for instance—are also businesses. If you prefer to make your letterhead a “letterfoot,” that’s fine. Just be consistent about it.

When I send a new statement to a gallery I’m working with, I just leave space at the spot, top or bottom, where they put their gallery letterhead/foot.

Related topics: The Elevator Pitch; Resume, CV, Bio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s