If you're an artist, you probably consider yourself a visual person. If you're an artist who can articulate the emotional, philosophical and aesthetic elements that drive your work into actual words, you are a unicorn. Most artists have trouble communicating their work to others, whether it's as an artist statement or in interviews or on their websites. While we all wish that people would just "get us" it's useful for artists to be able to talk about their work and themselves in a clear, articulate way. You don't have to be a wordsmith or a motivational speaker to know how to talk about your work. Writer Ashley Tibbits asked the experts to weigh in on communication for artists, 101. What are your tips on talking about your art? Share in the comments below!
In the competitive visual art world, unfortunately it's not always enough to just be talented. As is the case in many creative fields, success often means having to brand, package, and sell oneself, which doesn't come as second nature to everyone.
Many artists lament having to write about their own work, due to the risk of being misunderstood, seeming pretentious or inaccessible to a given audience, or simply not having the vocabulary to do so. That said, who better to look to for advice than those on the receiving-end of artist statements and bios: the curators, gallerists, and press artists often need to target to gain a platform for their work. We've consulted with all of the aforementioned to glean some crucial tips on writing about yourself and your work.
1. Talk It Out
"Find a great editor. This can be a friend, acquaintance, or even someone you pay on a per-project basis. But make it someone who will take the time not only to edit your statement, but to walk you through it to show you why they made certain changes and to ask you what exactly you're trying to convey. By working through it with them, you'll begin to learn how to self-edit and how to word things correctly and succinctly (if that's what you're going for). Often, just talking through what you're trying to get across can help you to actually find the words you need - especially with an expert wordsmith by your side." - Kate Wertheimer, editor of TimeOut LA and SF.
2. Stay True to Yourself
"I think the old adage of "find your voice" applies to being a visual artist. When I'm reading about art/artists, nothing bumps me more than when the writing feels too stiff or academic. As a former curator, I'm more interested in who the person is, biographical details, personality tics, mistakes and triumphs in life. I would avoid comparing yourself to a successful visual artist unless it's really necessary. Don't be afraid of being conversational or confrontational. Curators, dealers, grad school applicant graders et al are all flooded with people just like you - always keep in mind what makes you different." - Johnny Coleman, writer/former curator.
3. Aim for Unity
"I think the 'artist's statement' as a genre is very complicated. On the one hand, it is a sales tool. On the other hand, it is directed at the art-critical and curatorial communities, and so it verges on the academic. And on the third hand, it is something that museum-goers and other civilians want to read to help them appreciate, understand, and feel connected to the work. These three things don't always work together, however much overlap there might be. I watched John Waters interview Jeff Koons, and Koons never strayed for a minute from his talking points. He has perfected a version of these statements that, like his art, manages to speak to all three audiences; not all three like what they hear, but he has managed a unified statement." -Tom Lutz, writer/editor/creator of Los Angeles Review of Books
4. Get to the Point
"As a long time gallerist and art consultant, it's always great to read a concise and well-written artist statement, especially when first introduced to someone's work. From my perspective there are a few keys to a good statement, but number one, I really want to know in one or two sentences what the artist is trying to explore in their work. More depth can be given in follow-up paragraphs, but be direct and concise." - Beau Basse, owner LeBasse Projects
5. Make a Connection
"As a former art critic and a writer who is regularly bombarded by pitches of all kinds, I'm looking for a personal connection to make someone or something memorable. Without losing a sense of professionalism (ie: correct spelling and grammar) highlight what's personal to you and your work and that will resonate with someone, even if they don't necessarily relate to it. So often artist statements feel over-inflated or come off as posturing, which is totally off-putting. I'd advise really getting in touch with the true core of what it means to you, and stating that as simply, clearly, and intelligently as you can." - Ashley Tibbits, writer/editor RackedLA
Artwork by Tyler Spangler.
Header Image: Live Breathe Ocean