by Carolyn Edlund
Recently I spoke with a woman who told me how frustrated she was trying to write about herself as an artist. She said: “I’m not sure what to say. I know all about my art, but what do others need to know? I’m a visual artist, not a writer.” The result was that she ended up feeling paralyzed and doing nothing. Can you relate to this?
It’s a common problem. Being so close to our own work, we don’t have the ability to step back and be objective. So we’re unable to see the forest for the trees.
That doesn’t change the fact that a well-prepared statement is an essential part of an artist’s presentation. I asked Adam Eisenstat, a professional writer who has been helping artists promote themselves for years, about the importance of an artist statement.
“It’s probably the most basic, concise, and versatile means for you to promote yourself as an artist,” he said. “A good artist statement—which quickly and forcefully explains your art, and highlights what is distinctive about it—will make people more interested in you and your work.
“Some would-be experts claim that an artist statement is superfluous at best, and can only hurt you—if it’s poorly written. Whether an artist statement is unnecessary is debatable, but the latter point is definitely not: a bad or mediocre artist statement is often responsible for thwarting an artist’s success.”
How does an artist statement help you as an artist? Whether it’s used on your art website, for a gallery, grant, fellowship, residency application or otherwise, at some point you will need to produce a strong statement to support your portfolio and help you reach your goals.
This requisite task, then, carries with it a dilemma, which speaks to the inherent difficulties of self-promotion and effectively communicating what you do.
“Artists may be fundamentally unsuited to write their own promotional materials,” says Eisenstat. “They’re simply too close to the work and know everything about it. Excess knowledge, and with it the inability to distill the work’s essence and fit it into a concise marketing vehicle, may be the biggest downside to the whole ‘lack of objectivity’ issue.
“Most if not all of what goes into producing your art may be important to you—including those aspects that aren’t explicit in the work, like the personal context of each piece; and the multiple layers of sources/sub-texts/etc. that are essential to your art. But much of this isn’t really important to others, including those to whom you’re promoting your work. Also, there may be aspects of your work—certain associations or qualities—that may not have occurred to you, but definitely resonate in others.”
So, what is the main function of an artist statement; and how can it be written to share what is most compelling about your work and create that all-important resonance in others?
Eisenstat explains: “An artist statement, like all promotion, is a frame through which the artwork is seen. It is a guideline, a means of orienting the viewer. It should be unobtrusive, never superfluous (that is, unburdened by too much information). It best serves the artist when it gives the viewer space for her own experience, and allows the work to ‘speak for itself’ (that romantic ideal; though art cannot speak, it is always interpreted by others).”
Just about every artist will come to a point when s/he needs a well-written statement. If you don’t feel equipped to produce one that will fulfill its purpose and help you reach your goals, you may want to consider outsourcing the task to an objective, professional writer.
This option offers a number of advantages. Chief among them is that you won’t have to write it yourself, hoping that you’ve struck the right balance. Professional writing means that you’ll probably end up with a much better artist statement, one that communicates what your work is about, exactly the way you want it done—without the angst and uncertainty.
I have asked Adam Eisenstat to make his artist statement writing services available to my readers. His many clients have raved about their results. To find out more about this new service and schedule a complimentary phone consultation, click below.
Illustration by artist Joyce Wynes