The great challenge in crafting an artist statement is naming who you are, what you value, and what your primary interests are, even to yourself. So many creatives are slippery, multitudinous characters with a gazillion genuine interests and curiosities. How do you sort that into a concise and tidy parcel of words that represents your truth in all its nuance, yet translates well to others?
I’ve had to throw together multiple artist statements and bios over the years, for school, websites, shows, blogs, and shops. I’m still refining a deeper, more expressive statement for this website. Artist statements aren’t static things. They evolve over time and morph to suit different venues and contexts. We have to make peace with them, because we never get to stop working on them.
I’m going to share a journaling exercise I’ve found particularly helpful over the past year, in refining my statements, and even planning new projects. I call it the bullet-point artist statement.
Write out the following headings:
If working on paper, make a separate page for each category. You’ll start with a brainstorm and narrow down later. List as many bullet points as needed for each category.
You can tackle these in any order you like. I like to start with the big-picture and gradually narrow down to practical details. It may be easier for you to connect the other way around, or skip about. I designed this exercise for my super-scattered self. Others may not need to cover all of these categories. You might try a selection.
Non-artists can play along too. You may find some of the same questions helpful for path finding in other fields. Maybe your medium is science, history, or food.
Now let me explain what I mean by each heading.
The Big Picture
Philosophy: These are the key points and phrases of your personal philosophy. How do you view and interpret the world? What thought forms do you want to send into the hive mind? This category still carries across creative work and life, but gets more personal and specific than your ideals. These points might include any religious, spiritual, or philosophical views you subscribe to, or movements and schools you align with.
Archetypes: What if any archetypes are you most fascinated by and synced into? Once again, this threads across art and life.
The Medium Picture
Necessities: Creativity plays many roles and performs many functions. What, of what art does, does it have to do for you? What makes a work unnecessary or unfinished by its absence? Think verbs: entertain, connect, tell story, educate, invent, etc.
Objectives: What would you most like to do for others through your creativity? We’re still on verbs, but getting more refined and personal. Think of action and service phrases, like understand history, imagine possibility, ease grief, capture memories, and so on.
Favorites: List your favorite qualities of artwork. Think about what reels you in. What’s the icing on the cake? This list should be nouns, like mystery, fantasy, drama, simplicity, ease, vibrance, originality, etc.
The Little Picture
Mood: What if any moods do you visit and project over and over in your work? Think of atmospheric and emotional nouns: nostalgia, sweetness, melancholy, fear, suspense, confusion, liminality, romance, absurdity, whimsy, tranquility, etc.
Strategies: How do approach your objectives and describe your subject matter? What strategies do you employ to communicate through your creative projects? These will be nouns and phrases like ornament, symbol, brevity, repetition, pop culture, code, contrast, structure, overwhelming scale, nonsense, etc.
Aesthetics: How would you describe your personal aesthetic? Have fun with this one. Get creative, specific, and weird. Think of the tags you track and use on social media for ideas. Look to what you wear and how you decorate your space. Consider how disparate elements of your tastes blend together.
Media: I’ve saved the easiest for last. What materials do you use to create? Be specific. Drawing ink, oil paint, salvaged car parts, phone photography, interpretive dance, tambourine, etc.
Once you’ve brainstormed through each category, review your key points, and narrow down your list. Select the top 3-5 bullet points under each category heading.
Take your time, journaling in multiple sessions over the course of several days if needed. This activity sounds simple, but it can be tricky and time consuming to think carefully about the deep stuff. Even trickier to narrow down your top priorities.
By the end, you should have a good sense of yourself emerging. Do any common threads run through each category? How can you blend each of these core elements into a cohesive body of work?
Print out a copy of you focussed bullet point art statement, and tack it up somewhere visible in your workspace. Check in with it from time to time. Does the work on your desk align with it? Have any of your ideals or values shifted?
Realistically, not all of our projects can align with our greatest ideals and highest vision, especially when taking on commissions or client work. You can use a shortened version of this exercise to outline and plan specific projects, using only the categories that apply. A bullet-point project statement might overlap significantly with your artist statement, or diverge completely.
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