by guest blogger Sofia Perez
When it comes to writing, artists often voice the same complaint. “I express myself visually. Can’t my art speak for itself?” Like it or not, the answer is no.
If you’re an independent artist, you’re also an entrepreneur, and if you want your art business to succeed, you have to write your story in a compelling way, whether you’re drafting text for an exhibition catalogue, emailing a curator, or applying for a grant.
Each venue and audience for your writing must dictate the content. In an artist statement, for example, you have to cover the basics—what media and tools you use, how you work, the style of your pieces, and the themes you explore. But it’s important to remember that effective writing is as much about what you leave out as what you include. Here are three big pitfalls to avoid.
1. Extraneous Information
When you write about your work, you should write about your work. No, this isn’t meant to be a Zen riddle; it’s a simple truth that’s often disregarded. The folks who read your grant application aren’t interested in the state of your marriage or what you had for dinner last night. They want to know about your work, so that’s what you should focus on.
Of course that doesn’t mean personal details are always irrelevant. Take the case of one of our grant recipients, artist Dannielle Tegeder. Her exhibition entitled Infrastructure at New Jersey’s Montclair Art Museum is all about the hidden architecture of buildings as a metaphor for the invisible structures that hold our communities together.
In her press materials, she mentions that her father and uncle were steamfitters, and that as a kid she was often surrounded by their mechanical drawings of industrial buildings. In this example, the personal details of Dannielle’s childhood are absolutely germane to the work she is describing, and should be mentioned because they tell a human story that helps the audience connect to her piece.
A simple rule of thumb: If the information relates directly to the work you are describing, include it. If not, save it for your therapist or friends.
2. Generic Statements
The goal of your writing should be to inform and engage your readers, not drown them in boilerplate about the inspiring power of nature, or the value of art in the industrial world. You want to motivate people to take an action—such as attending your exhibition, purchasing one of your pieces, or awarding you a grant. No one has ever been motivated to act by a generic statement.
Look at the websites of successful charities. What you’ll find are specific stories that illustrate the larger messages of their missions. The local food bank could certainly go into great detail about studies that demonstrate the connection between a well-balanced diet and a child’s performance in school, but the organization would be much more likely to boost donations if it shared the story of Jane Smith, a seven-year-old who struggled in class because she went to school hungry until her mother found out about the food bank’s many resources.
3. Flowery Language
Ernest Hemingway once said, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” While his famously unadorned style of writing is not everyone’s cup of tea, Hemingway’s message is right on the money when it comes to your business writing.
Take this excerpt from a fictional artist statement: “My paintings live in the spaces where the shards of our ephemeral existence converge, weaving together the tortured strands of human struggles into a tapestry of color and light.” (You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’ve read actual artist statements that were considerably more baroque than this made-up example.) Beyond letting you know that he/she is a painter, what does the sentence tell you about the artist’s work? Absolutely nothing, other than the fact that you wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with this person for any extended period of time.
It’s perfectly fine to express complex ideas (and even intensely emotional ones, if they are pertinent), but that doesn’t absolve you from writing clearly. Instead of the wording above, the artist could’ve written: “My paintings capture those pivotal moments in people’s lives when they are pushed to the limits and still manage to find grace in their struggles.”
Ultimately, all three of these writing traps boil down to the same basic thing. To be effective, your writing needs to be clear, concise, and tell a specific story. If you’re able to do those three things, your words will have real power.
To learn more about business writing and other crucial management skills, apply now for a 2017 Business Accelerator fellowship with The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists.
Sofia Perez is the editorial director of The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists. A veteran journalist, writer, and editor, she’s written in a variety of genres for many different clients and outlets, including print and web publications, broadcast news, educational programming, fiction, small businesses, and nonprofits.
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