artist's statements

Describing Your Work to Others

Although I believe I am a fairly articulate person, I always seem to stumble when someone asks me what my work is "about", or what kind of artist I am. I inevitably end up using far too many words to answer those questions. In the January/February 2014 issue of Intelligent Life magazine  (which is published by the Economist) author Christina Patterson describes how Nobel-prizewinning poet Seamus Heaney used words to create maximum impact. There was a sentence in that article that is the perfect description of what I attempt to do with my work:

"He takes the familiar and makes it strange."

That sums it up perfectly, particularly in regard to the project that I am currently working on. Here's an example of my most recent work-in-progress that I feel effectively does that:DSC_2557 V3Now I just have to drill that sentence into my head: "I take the familiar and make it strange." and use it whenever I'm asked what kind of work I do. If only I could do that to the degree that Seamus Heaney could!

Inventory Database for Artists

I've been a pretty organized person over the years when it comes to my art career. But when it comes to keeping track of everything, I finally realized how great it would be if I could keep most records in one place. I've got folders on my computer that contain Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, FileMaker databases, etc., and I'm constantly having to dig through those files in order to cross reference the information in them. In addition, I've been using Excel for my inventory database, but have been frustrated by its limitations. The following images give a visual of what I'm talking about: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.52.51 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.54.41 AM Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 8.55.50 AM

You can imagine how many files are contained within these folders. Kind of crazy.

I was aware of inventory software for artists such as Flick! and eArtist, but after looking into them further, decided that they weren't for me.

Then I discovered GYST software. GYST stands for "Get Your Sh*t Together".

Created by artist and educator Karen Atkinson, GYST does far more than even the most fanatically organized person could ever need, which is one reason why I love it. Here's a screenshot of an individual artwork record in GYST. Note that you can add detailed information into any of the blue tabs found in the middle of the window: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.40.47 PMAnd if you want to look at your entire database of artwork, it will show up as a list like this: Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 7.33.35 PMYou can pick and choose which features you want to use in GYST. Not only will it allow you to keep your inventory up to date, it will also help you keep track of any proposals you may have out, artist's statements, your resume, contacts, research notes, billing, etc., and it's all found in one place on your computer. Heaven!

Check out the GYST blog, as it's a great resource for professional practices information.

I should add that my only beef with any of the above-named inventory databases is that they are not particularly intuitive or user-friendly, so there is a definite learning curve involved at first. If someone could come up with one that is relatively easy to use from the get-go, I would not hesitate to use it.

Artist's Statements- Do's and Don'ts

Over the course of time, I've developed a set of "do's" and "don'ts" regarding artist's statements. I'm sure that everyone reading this post  will have their own opinions on the subject. Let me hear from you if you have a particular issue I haven't touched upon and I will add them in another post! "Do's"

  1. Make it only as long as it needs to be to say what you want to say. No longer.
  2. Write something that adds to the reader’s understanding of your work that can’t necessarily be learned from looking at the work itself.
  3. If you tell a story, make clear how it relates to the work, or to your philosophy as an artist.
  4. Make a point. Let there be a clear reason why you wrote this.
  5. Make the first sentence or two so interesting that I want to read the rest.
  6. Sound like you know what you are talking about. Use words that convey confidence.
  7. Use language that clarifies rather than obscures what you are talking about.
  8. Make sure the writing is free of technical errors (grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, etc.)


  1. Don’t make it unnecessarily long. Why go on and on if what you want to say can be said in one or two paragraphs?
  2. Don’t sound like everyone else out there. You are a unique individual with unique experiences and insights. Share them with your audience.
  3. Don’t just write about how much you have loved art since you were a kid.
  4. Don’t use language that is so opaque and convoluted and jargon-filled that only 1% of your audience can understand it.
  5. Don’t use words or phrases that weaken your reader’s confidence in you. Avoid phrases like “I hope….”, “I try to….”,  “I intended to ….”, etc.
  6. Don’t allow technical errors! Bad grammar, spelling or sentence structure can kill your credibility.


Artist's Statements- What Makes a Good One?

Having covered the reasons for why artists write artist's statements in the "Artist's Statements- Why Write One?" post, here are the three primary factors that I think makes for an effective one. (Please note that I don't think that there is a particular formula you can follow for this, as part of what makes for an interesting artist's statement is the personal writing style of it's author.) 1. Write a piece that complements the work, rather than explains it. This approach provides additional information to the reader that cannot be found in the work itself. The writing therefore can give your audience a greater understanding of your goals and motivations for creating the work, and help them gain further insight into it.

2. Use appropriate, direct language that clarifies rather than obscures what you are saying. In other words, don't use "artspeak" jargon!!! Here is an article that beautifully explains how annoying and pretentious you can sound if you do. Although the article cites galleries as the offenders, they are often use the text that artists provide to them.

3. Write in your own voice. Don't try to sound like someone else. If you love to write creatively, then use that skill. If you are more of a keep-it-simple-and-direct kind of writer, then write that way. Being yourself in your writing will ring true for the reader.

I honestly feel that if you use those three points to guide you, your chances of writing a statement that can serve the purposes outlined in my "Artist's Statements- Why Write One?" post are going to be greatly increased.

There is way more information to be found on what makes for an effective artist's statement. I particularly like the advice found in this article by Joanne Hurley and Kate Ware.

More on artist's statements in a later post.

Artist's Statements - Why Write Them?

I don't know many artists who actually like writing artist's statements. But artists end up  reading a lot of them in the course of looking at websites, going to shows, etc. And most artists have to write one at one point or another, like it or not. But why do we need to write one? There are three clear benefits that I can identify. First, I've come to realize over time that an artist's statement is as much for my own benefit as it is for my audience's. Writing a statement often clarifies my thinking about my work in a way that creating the artwork itself does not, so I now see it as part of my creative process.

I have also experienced that an effective statement helps gallerists and dealers choose and sell my work. If they have a written document that supplements both what they see in my photographs and have learned from me in conversation and stimulates their interest, then it gives them more reason to choose my work and try to generate sales or buzz for it.

Finally, a statement can also help critics to write knowledgeably and thoughtfully about my work, and is a necessity when it comes to getting publicity for a show.

The result of these insights is that, while writing a statement is still like pulling teeth for me, I now embrace the exercise as an opportunity rather than as a burden.

Byron Wolfe has two statements on the Bio/CV/Statement page of his website. that speak to the above issues. The first statement addresses his general interests and shows the reader the foundations upon which all his work is grounded.

ByronsMissionStatementSmallThe second he calls a "Mission Statement", which is a visual rendering of "the territory (he finds) most satisfying." For him, it functions as "part manifesto, part guide".

What a great way to discover that which is already inside you, but might have been hidden!


In addition, Joanna Hurley and Kate Ware have written a very comprehensive article on the ins and outs of artist's statements that really digs into the topic and is, in my opinion, spot on.

I'll write more about artist's statements in future posts.