Have you ever visited an art gallery and wondered how the artist developed an idea or what the artwork might mean? Whether in small, privately owned galleries or in major public museums, most present-day art exhibitions include statements by artists about their work. According to Self-Representing Artists, such statements act as a “short document written by the artist which provides a window into the artist’s world” and offer clues to artistic intent and meaning.
The three prevalent types of artist’s statements are biographical, art-focused and artistic intent. Biographical artist’s statements include relevant information about the artist’s life or influences upon the artist’s career. Art-focused artist’s statements discuss individual works of art or bodies of artwork produced by the artist. Artists' statements with artistic intent guide viewers towards understanding why the artist produced certain works or the meaning behind the art.
An artist’s statement serves multiple functions. For the artist, the statement helps to clarify goals and objectives for creating artworks. Taking the time to identify specific goals and to explain the individual steps in the reaching the goals assist the artist with communicating the value of the art that is produced. For the gallery, an artist’s statement acts as a marketing tool that can be used to advertise the artist and the artwork to potential clients.
The benefits of an artist’s statement can be far reaching. A well-written artist’s statement can act as an introduction that opens many professional doors that might otherwise remain closed. For example, students often must submit an artist’s statement when applying for admission to university art programs. Similarly, professional artists are frequently required to tender an artist's statement when applying for jobs, exhibitions, grants or awards. A carefully crafted statement can mean the difference in being accepted or rejected.
An economy of words affords the best format for an artist’s statement. Brevity and concise use of words contributes to a successful artist’s statement. Because of time constraints and the volume of submissions received, most committees for admission to art schools or jurors for art exhibits usually prefer succinct artist’s statements that quickly get to the point. Many galleries prefer short and simple artist’s statements that can be exhibited adjacent to the artist’s work.
The best artist’s statements avoid pretentious vocabulary and instead plainly express ideas in straightforward ways. An artist’s statement should convey the fundamental basis of an artist’s work while guiding the viewer towards understanding the works of art without explicitly telling them what to think.
Pamela Stephens is an art educator at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. Her award-winning art history books and animated videos for children and teacher resource materials are published by Crystal Productions. She writes a monthly online column and occasional articles for "SchoolArts" magazine.