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Thinker statue[NR] Hello, Kennita.
I’m a gallery-goer, not an artist. I’ve never had to write an artist’s statement, thank heaven, but I’ve read many, and too often they boil down to: “I’ve suffered for my art; now it’s your turn”. Does any artist ever write a statement by choice? Is it as integral to the work as a signature on a painting? An act of closure? I doubt it. I suspect it’s generally an external imposition, which brings a dull sense of obligation: “Oh, Lord… Here are 200 word-shaped holes I have to fill…” What else could explain how dreadful most artists' statements are? 
As an ‘art consumer’, I want very little from an artist’s statement:• A one-line bio. • A few words on material or technique, if they are unusual enough to warrant. • A few words on the subject of the work, if the work is not representationally self-evident and its title not explicit or deliberately teasing. 
What I don’t want is: “This was inspired by a childhood holiday in Cornwall, when my best friend’s cousin stole my teddy bear, which came from a shop in Nuneaton.” Nor do I want metaphysical maundering or overblown prose; words such as “journey” and “passionate” ring alarm bells. Now I’m starting to froth - but you get the idea.

[KT] Hi Nick! I love getting the perspective of a non-artist, gallery-goer, art-consumer! 
I agree with a lot of what you have to say. And I suspect you’re right in that the artist most likely sees writing an artist statement as a chore. Probably even a dreaded one in the early stages of a career!  I do believe, however, that the artist statement is immensely valuable to the artist, whether it’s realized at the time or not. Going through the writing process helps to solidify thoughts, directions, and meaning. Here’s my advice. Apply the KISSS rule: Keep it Short, Simple, and Specific.• Short being no more than two paragraphs in most circumstances.• Simple in language.• Specific to the point. 
With KISSS in mind… Do include a bit about your medium, the materials you use (and why if it’s important to the piece). 
Also, it’s important for an artist to remember that an artist statement is about the art, not the artist - that’s what the bio is for. 
And oh - yes! Those alarm bells. • Don’t use words that imply or scream insecurity “I think…”, “I’m trying to…”, “I wanted to…”.• Resist the urge to start off with “I’ve been making art since I was 5 years old…” 
Should we put together a list of alarm bells? Words and phrases to avoid?  ..............

[NR] Kennita, it’s fascinating that you see the artist’s statement as helping to solidify thoughts after the work is completed. It’s a critique, then, rather than an original blueprint for the work?
“Trying” and “wanted” - yes, certain words sound the alarm. I’m also sensitive to the quantity of words, not just the quality. A good artwork arguably needs no words at all, because it already says everything that needs to be said. 
You know Jules Feiffer's brilliant cartoons, in which his dancer tries to put into words the meaning which her inept dance routine fails to convey? That’s it: the more an artist tries to explain, the less I trust her art.
Here's my suggestion to artists. You’ve been given 200 words, say, for your statement. Don’t torture yourself: use just half of them. And be kind to us, your viewers and buyers: we haven’t come to admire the foam-board text Blu-Tacked beside your work. Let your art speak for itself.   ..............

[KT] I see the artist statement as neither a critique nor a blueprint, Nick. I think of a critique as an analysis, evaluation; a blueprint as a plan. The artist may start with a plan, but as the art evolves, it usually changes. That change is what often brings life to a piece. 
As far as needing no words at all, yes, if it sends a strong message or evokes a strong - visceral  - emotion, like Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” or Chagall’s “The Birthday”, words would only be superfluous. Titles alone can also tell a story. 
But, on the other hand, sometimes a further ‘explanation’ IS helpful. If a work draws from cultural influences that would not be obvious to someone not familiar with that culture. For instance, the viewer might not be aware of Andean symbolism or historical references - or British humor!
I think we’ve pretty much summed up what to include, what not to, and the importance of brevity. I know I’ll be thinking of your comments the next time I read (or write) an artist statement!

What is your view on artist's statements - do you think they add value or are they a pretentious irrelevance? Add your comments


Terri S., 7th Jan 2021
Very interesting conversation and I see value on both sides of this fence. I've had to write a number of artist statements along with a bio and often they had to be a certain number of words. I dislike that criteria as much as I dislike work only being created in the last two years with work being older than that seemingly no longer having any value. I keep shortening both my statement and bio, regardless of any required numbered of words. If my work can't speak for itself and requires words for further explanation and it takes 200 words to do that, then either the piece is too difficult to comprehend or the words are just taking up space for the sake of it. I lean towards the latter.

Rebecca Mezoff, 11th Dec 2020
What a great collection of thoughts on artist statements. I'm laughing at Nick's "words like journey ring alarm bells" because I've definitely used that particular word in statements! Definitely short and concise is usually best. People can search out other work and explore more on the artist's website. I do agree with a few people here who feel that writing the artist statement is helpful for the artist. I agree with Anne-Elise that if I've taken the trouble to put together a few words about a piece whether or not they are displayed next to it, it certainly helps when someone asks directly about the work to have that bit to start with--a warm-up as you will. Or something to give as a statement to someone reviewing a show... As for longer artist statements--those page-long ones that they used to ask for in gallery notebooks? They're painful and kind of awful. I love one of Sarah Swett's I saw in a catalog once. It was something like (and I'm absolutely paraphrasing from my faulty memory), "Sarah's tapestries travel around the world while she stays contentedly at home eating cinnamon toast." It does say something about Sarah and her work, though I'd want to visit her website to find out more.

Barbara, 1st Dec 2020
As much as I hate writing them after the tapestry is finished, it does help me to put inchoate feelings into words, and often to discover new connections and meaning. As the old saying goes, I don't know what I am thinking until I write it down. For a person who thinks in images this can often be difficult but it does give the viewer an entry point to the art.

Jackie Bennet, 1st Dec 2020
Thanks for an interesting discussion. I was recently in a conversation with some artists and curators about why artists are expected to put their ideas into words, when they have chosen a visual means of communication. Moreover they might not be able to put what they want to say into words or might not even have the ability to communicate verbally. Then again, the 'art consumer' might be primarily a verbal person and need some words as a starting point to access the art. So there's probably as many needs as there are people. I agree that some statements are tortuous to read, for some of the reasons Nick and Kennita have given. There's definitely an art to writing them and that takes practise. So cut the artists a little slack for something they might not be good at doing. And don't read them if you don't want to. Whoever curates an exhibition usually has a say in the format and length of statements/ labels so bear in mind that the artist who has been asked to provide 150 - 200 words might be struggling to fulfil an external demand.

1st Dec 2020
A helpful discussion. I don't think I have anything to contribute. I always think one needs to be as succinct as possible, and I spend quite a lot of time cutting words out.

Anne-Elise Angas, 30th Nov 2020
I have found an artists statement incredibly useful. It enables me to explain and discuss my work clearly to anyone interested. I used to find myself mumbling over descriptions of my work, trying to explain what my intentions were. The artists statement simplifies things, making them clearer. Also, when I'm writing my artists statement, i am evaluating what I did and if I've been successful in my intentions. I am definitely pro artists statements - even though I hate creating them

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