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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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The Art of Finishing

The Art of Finishing

      This week I am returning to a favorite topic of mine which is the importance of completing a painting or work of art. I have several unfinished paintings and sketches pilling up in my studio lately. They are the remnants of ideas not fully thought out, false starts, or brick walls I didn’t know how to climb. In trying to figure out what caused this to happen, I have a few theories…Maybe life got really busy, I got stuck and didn’t know how to fix a problem with composition or color, lost interest in it, etc. I call these paintings and sketches, UFOS, unfinished objects. They clutter my studio, and remind me reproachfully that I have unfinished business. What to do, what to do?

       About two weeks ago, I tried to break this trend in my work flow habits, and I returned to a sketch that I have been working on and off for about a year. Facebook reminded me of this event this week with a post about the sketch, And Still I Rise.  The sketch is called, And Still I Rise, and it is based on a Maya Angelou poem entitled, And Still I Rise. This poem describes the struggle that African Americans have endured as a legacy of slavery, prejudice, and Jim Crow Laws of the South, and the power that they ultimately exercise when they rise above it. I’m sorry to say that my own ancestors played a part in the history of slavery and plantations.

        I’ve been looking at my various attempts to finish this sketch and make it into a painting, and the below photos demonstrate my struggles to complete the painting. Some of these struggles include: breaking out of old habits of just putting things in the middle of the page, or not really thinking about art as a story to be told, or not knowing what medium and color choices to use in telling a complicated story like this one. Ultimately, I decided to limit the color palette to burnt sienna, black, and white, with tonal values, so that the focus is ultimately on the symbolic content of the painting’s story line, such as:  the slave ships, slave manacles, (all to symbolize slavery), the phoenix bird (re-birth), and the sun (which rises every day). Two other central figures in this piece include a Caucasian woman, to symbolize the legacy of slavery and white prejudice, and the other, an African American woman, in this case, Maya Angelou, who serves as a representative of the African American population. She has risen above her circumstances and refuses to be beaten. Here are a few lines from the poem, which demonstrate Angelou’s indomitable spirit:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” (Source: Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org).

                 So why is this important? I feel that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and saw some growth happen, despite the frustration. Sticking with this sketch and making it into a tonal watercolor painting, forced me to re-think my art process and habits, and it has been helping me to define my unique voice as an artist, by making work that is content based and tells a story. It’s also been a good lesson in problem solving and determination. And I felt great when it was finally finished! Here are some progress photos, starting with the three value graphite sketch, oil painting, pastel, and finally the mixed media watercolor painting. The biggest inspiration I had in bringing this painting to a conclusion was Pablo Picasso’s, Rose Period. These paintings are limited in color and feature narratives about various characters, such as circus performers. Without the inspiration I received from this work, I doubt I could have brought it to a conclusion. All of which reminds me of an earlier post I wrote about the importance of copying master art works, in this case, they can provide new ways of thinking about value and color. I definitely want to keep studying the masters as I continue in my journey to define my voice as an artist. What about you? Do you have any tips for completing unfinished art?