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Administrative Aspects of Being an Artist: Writing an Artist’s Statement

 

 

Voices and Visions: A Narrative Series

Today I am challenging myself to finish writing my artist statement for my poetry illustration series, Voices, and Visions. After months of on and off work on this series, I am committing to working on the series at least 1x a week.  Some of the activities that I engage in to get the ball rolling with this series are: to write critiques about work in progress, post paintings and sketches to Instagram on a weekly basis create tonal studies, and to create photo collages in Photoshop for subjects that require complicated themes.

This body of work, Voices, and Visions, is really stretching me, and it is unlike any other series I have worked on in the past. There have been several instances of artist’s block and resistance in general to finish the work. What is holding me back? Are life circumstances to blame for my lack of follow through with this series? Or are family crises taking up the bulk of my time and energy? Do I fear to make a mistake so much that it paralyzes me from picking up the pencil or brush? Or have I spent too much time watching British TV mystery series, such as Vera Stanhope or Inspector Morse?  I’m not really sure; maybe all of these things have played a part in my inertia.

Writer’s Block: Getting started with an Artist Statement

In addition to avoiding completing this series, I have also avoided working on my artist statement for this series, which has not been helpful either. Unfortunately, I have not been reading or editing the artist statement which inspired me to create this series as I do the work. However, I realize that if I want to have a cohesive body of work with a strong message, I need to be sure that the work in progress is tracking with my original artist’s statement.  Regrettably, I have made this mistake before, and as you might imagine the results of that experiment were not good. A few years back, well, more than a few, I applied for graduate school at a number of colleges for a master’s degree in art. Needless to say, I didn’t get any acceptance letters, and the artwork I created did not reflect the artist statement I had started writing because I did not adjust the statement to reflect the artwork as I was painting or vice versa.  So with that in mind, I am trying to learn from past mistakes and catch this lack of synchronicity between my artist’s statement and the work in progress.  I hope that writing about how to write an artist’s statement will get me out of this rut.

Why Should You Write an Artist’s Statement?

According to the Agora Gallery article, “How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, an artist’s statement plays a crucial role in communicating your intentions about your artwork to others (“How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, Agora Gallery, http://www.agoragallery.com, pg. 2)   Sounds good right? But what if you don’t like to write? The author, and art business coach, Alyson Stanfield makes a good point in illustrating why an artist may not want to write an artist statement when she wrote: “My artwork speaks for itself.” (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, pg. 51.)  But can it really? Can other people follow your art-making processes and really understand what you intend if you don’t give them a map to follow? To illustrate, imagine that you sent out a resume and cover letter that are very general for a specific job posting, rather than tailoring your skills to that job description.

Are you likely to get the job, or even an interview? I think the answer is, probably not, because an employer needs to see why they should consider you as a candidate specifically. In a similar manner, I think that writing an artist’s statement can also help an artist to stand out from the multiple numbers of artist entries and websites, and make their work more personal and meaningful to viewers. Most important,  writing an artist statement can make a connection between you and your audience, when you are not there in person to speak for yourself. (Agora Gallery, pg. 2)   But as an artist, I do empathize with those who don’t like to write and would rather express themselves visually. Despite years of writing research papers as a college student, I still don’t like to write.  Hopefully, the highlights I am sharing from this article will help you to overcome any excuses or fears about writing an artist’s statement,  so that people will stand up and take notice of your art. This is particularly important if you want to make the transition from being a hobby artist to a professional artist who exhibits art in galleries or other public spaces.

Who is Your Audience?

In addition, an artist statement is necessary for consideration in art competitions, art galleries, museums, etc. (Ibid, pg. 2).  Occasionally, an artist’s statement may be displayed as an accompaniment to their artwork at a gallery show, art fair or on an artist’s website. (Ibid, pg. 2). One important thing to remember is to consider who your audience is as you write your artist statement. (Ibid, pg. 2)  Some of the people you are communicating with could be “gallery visitors, students, or potential buyers”. (Ibid, pg. 2). To write an effective statement, an artist needs to use terms and words that are understandable to a range of people, from those who have an art background to others who may have little to no knowledge about art. (Ibid, pg.2)

How Would You Describe Your Art?

Another thing that you should include in your artist statement is an explanation of how you make your art.  (Ibid, pg.2) For example, include information such as your favorite colors to paint with or your medium of choice, such as photography, sculpture, watercolor, etc. (Ibid, pg.2)   What style of art do you practice? (Ibid, pg.2)    Is your art abstract or realistic, or somewhere in between? (Ibid, pg.2) For instance, do you like to include texture in your brushwork by loading your brush with thick paint, or do you like to hide your brushwork and build up tone with thin glazes of paint? (Ibid, pg.2)

What Do You Paint, Draw, Sculpt or Photograph?

What imagery do you use to make your art? (Ibid, pg.3)Explain the content which you use in your artwork.  (Ibid, pg.3) Does it relate to your process, or to the medium that you use to make art? (Ibid, pg.3)  Do you use specific themes to illustrate a story, feeling, or memory, such as figures, landscapes, or symbols? (Ibid, pg.3)   What influences inspire your art? (Ibid, pg.3)   Is it political issues, memories of your childhood or your local surroundings, or formal elements of art, such as line, shape, color, value, etc?

Why Do You Make Art?

Finally, you want to include a section in your artist statement which gives an explanation of why you make artwork. (Ibid, pg.3) Tell viewers what drives or motivates you to create. (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, 2008, pg, 44)   Be specific, don’t just say, because I have to do it. (ibid) Certain examples might include, I make art to process difficult childhood experiences, or I create artwork to bring attention to political issues I am passionate about.  This article is just a brief overview to get you started with an artist statement and is by no means comprehensive. However, if you would like a more detailed resource to walk you through writing an artist’s statement, I recommend that you visit the link for the article: How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts: https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2016/07/23/how-to-write-artist-statement/. Another excellent resource I would recommend that you read to help you write an artist statement is Alyson Standfield’s book, I’d Rather be in the Studio, which is available on amazon.com or as a pdf download from her website: https://artbizcoach.com/. Chapter 4 describes a system about how to write an artist statement, with some helpful prompts to get you thinking about why you make art.

infographic, hand, writing, pen, artist statement.
This is an infographic from the article, “How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Experts,” Agora Gallery, https://www.agoragaller-gallery.com.

 

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

This week’s topic focuses on a behavior that many can probably relate to, and I include myself in that number. The behavior of which I speak is procrastination. I confess that I seem to have only two settings with regard to task completion, and they are hyper speed and snail speed. At times I am hyper focused and hyper busy on whatever the project at hand may be, such as completing an art project, or writing an artist’s statement, etc.. However, at other times, I start and stop and ultimately avoid the task, if it seems too difficult or unpleasant. At present, I am battling with the dreaded enemy of time, procrastination. I procrastinate on the mundane, such as de-cluttering my studio and organizing hard copy art business files and paper work, to the more critical, like updating my web site, and balancing my checkbook, or finishing a complete body of work that features some sketches and Photoshop collages that illustrate favorite poetry quotes.  As to that later, I have started and stopped the drawings and paintings and Photoshop collages for the poetry illustration project numerous times since I came up with the idea in the summer of 2015.

Lately, I have been trying to finish one work from this series in particular, and it is an acrylic painting, entitled, Waiting: Creative Block. It has been a very challenging art piece to work on in terms of choosing the right composition and color scheme. I am being really stretched beyond my comfort zone with this series, as I have never attempted to illustrate something as ambitious as abstract thoughts and feelings such as creative block, creativity, childhood wonder, overcoming life obstacles, etc.! And though I know the stretching is good for my artistic muscles and that I will be happy with myself for completing the work, I tend to avoid the hard part. And the moment comes when you decide whether to press on despite the difficulty and finish the “run” or you give up.

Other things that I have procrastinated about completing are cataloging and watermarking my art work, getting art work framed and matted for an upcoming art show, writing this blog post, printing out my bookkeeping files for this year’s profit and loss sheet, (what fun!), to name a few. I need to find a balance between procrastination and workaholic tendencies when I don’t take time to rest and regroup. When I am unbalanced, I have very little physical energy or creative energy to finish the art work I start and all the other administrative tasks that I need to do to help support my business and market my art work.  I need to create margin in my schedule so that I can get these things done and set some deadlines for each task so that I am motivated to complete these projects!

One more thing I also need to do now is to not schedule any further art shows, and just take some time to regroup so that there will be time to get these things done, such as finishing the poetry series and updating my web site. To date, I have scheduled 9 art shows this year, and one possible art fair is currently in the works. This leaves me with little time to get these other tasks done, since I often have to get my art ready for distribution by pricing it, framing it, and marketing it on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to making print postcards in Photoshop to give out to potential clients, fans, family, and friends. On the other hand, I have gotten to make more sales, more exposure for my art, and have met more people, which is always a good thing!

I wondered what others had to say about procrastination and how to stop doing it, so I listened to a podcast by author and art biz coach, Alyson Stanfield. In a podcast called, Getting Difficult Things Done, Alyson Stanfield and a guest, Cynthia Morris, also a coach, as well as an artist, discussed some strategies to tackle procrastination. Source: Alyson Stanfield, wwww.artbizcoach.com.  One of their main points was to envision how you will feel after you complete a challenging task, rather than settling for feeling good or just having fun.  Another idea that was mentioned in the podcast was the importance of setting deadlines and thinking about how to reward you after completing a difficult task. Alyson shared that one of her dreaded tasks as an art business coach is working on bookkeeping. She tried to start a ritual of doing her books on Monday but found that that was not the way she wanted to start her week. She was helped by some advice that her husband gave her, which was to re-frame her situation by thinking of this task as counting her money. Bookkeeping is definitely not one of my favorite tasks either. On the other hand, I am realizing that by doing my books, I can understand what is working and what isn’t in my business, rather than being in denial about how much spending I am really doing, in relationship to my sales.

In a similar vein, I also looked up goal setting and anti-procrastination strategies on a Google search, and I found an article called, Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com. Warell shared that many of us procrastinate on things both large and small, whether it is getting our personal files organized or updating our resume. She discussed the ways in which we avoid doing things that need to get done with excuses such as, “I don’t have the skills for that,” or “It’s too difficult.” I have definitely made those excuses and avoided tackling difficult tasks, like working on my poetry series. But this week, I made the decision to set aside time for creativity and put in some time coming up with solutions to the compositional problems plaguing my Waiting: Creative Block painting. And I could see that this progress from a much-cluttered composition to something more pleasing is going to take time, but that it is well worth the effort. I know it is stretching me as an artist to do more challenging art work that requires different solutions from my older more simple pieces.

In closing, I would like to share some strategies Warrell suggested to avoid the procrastination trap. Here they are in order: 1.) Set a deadline, and write down your goal (s), 2.) Simplify your goal (s) into smaller pieces, 3.) Envision your ideal life, 4.) Get an accountability partner, 5.) Reward your progress, and 6.) Take the first step toward your goal. Source: Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com.

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A Day in the Life of an Artist

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was visiting McDonald’s and I noticed an advertisement about artists where the tag line was, “Play like an Artist.” The advertisement featured a picture of a young child with art supplies in its mouth and surrounded by various artwork pieces, wearing, of course, the inevitable beret hat that defines a stereotypical vision of an artist. This advertisement highlights the prevailing beliefs in American culture that one, art is for kids and two that artists just play all day…

And what are some other common artist stereotypes? I did some research online to find out. On one blog called Endpaper, The Paperblanks Blog, the author listed a variety of so-called traits that all artists share in common. For example, all artists are out of touch with reality, perfectionist, a Casanova, moody or flakey.  Source: http://blog.paperblanks.com/2016/04/the-top-20-artist-stereotypes-you-cant-avoid/. Where did these stereotypes come from? My guess is that many of the celebrated artists that we have heard of from books or movies fit this stereotype, like Van Goh, who was mentally ill, or Picasso who was a lady’s man, or Monet who lived an impoverished lifestyle,  (before he was discovered by American art collectors).  And these stereotypes are continually reinforced by popular culture such as the well-known TV sitcom, Friends. For example, in one episode of Friends, the character, Ross, talks to his girlfriend Rachel about baby names and she suggests the name, Rain.  Ross responds with the following comment: “Hi my name is Rain. I have my own kiln and my dress is made of wheat!” Source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/who-art-thou. So if you are an artist, then you must be eccentric seems to be the message.

While there is some truth that art is an important part of child development and education and that there is some element of play in the life of an artist, it is not all fun.  For instance, according to, author, Grace Hwang Lynch, the art classes teaches children a variety of skills such as “fine motor skills, language development, decision making and visual learning.” Source:http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-importance-of-art-in-child-development/.   Also, regarding the element of play in art, there are times when art can be considered fun, like that light bulb moment when I get an inspiration for a new art series and feel excited about getting in the studio and making my vision come to life with paper and pencil or oil paint and canvas. However, it is not called art work for nothing. For example, in the case of a hobbyist artist who is trying to imitate a certain style of painting or get into an art show, or a professional artist who is trying to make a living out of their art, or someone who straddles both worlds as a semi-professional artist, who still works a day job to support them, there are many tasks involved in getting your art work ready to be viewed by the outside world in art shows, art festivals, etc. For example, in addition to juggling everyday demands, the artist must contend with a variety of other things such as: bad days in the studio when the artwork is not going well, difficult art clients, rejections for art shows or grants, working the day job, marketing yourself, perfecting your craft, etc., etc.  And if you want to become a professional artist, there are many, many hats to wear.

According to Art Business Coach, Alyson Stanfield, who is the author of, I’d rather be in the Studio! (2008), if you are trying to sell your artwork “You are no longer only an artist. You’re a businessperson as well.” For example, in my experience as a semi professional artist, I have found that there are many other administrative tasks that do not come under the category of “fun”, like accounting, marketing on social media, setting up online commerce sites such as Etsy or Shopify, writing custom art contracts, keeping time sheets, etc.  And with so many demands on my time, making time to actually do the art can be a real challenge.  I personally have struggled to make time to make art every day, and am currently participating in a 100 faces in 100 days challenge, where I am drawing one celebrity portrait a day, for 15 minutes a day and then posting the results on Instagram. I’m hoping this practice will enable me to be a better portrait artist and that it will help me to build the skills of discipline and time management.

By the way, the BBC has created a documentary tv series entitled, What Do Artists Do All Day?, which features several well known artists , such as Norman Ackroyd, and Michael Craig-Martin, which went live in 2014. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/49j3ZhwyXyPq703lDJzrNfc/what-do-artists-do-all-day. I haven’t seen this series yet, but I am wondering if the series will simply reinforce commonly held stereotypes of artists or hopefully, offer some more balanced insight into all the work that goes into making art.