Writing & Language

A Book on Wood Carving

In the March 16th issue of the Economist, I read a review of a new book by woodcarver David Esterly. The title of the book, The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making, immediately caught my eye and the review made me want to read it. Here's the part of the review that spoke to me most: (The book) "...is a meditation- on "beauty, skill nature, feeling, tradition, sincerity", all now art-world anachronisms, he fears. But above all, it is a song to his medium, the wood itself, its grain, the way it answers to the blade, the conversation to be had with it. "Making" is the word in Mr. Esterly's title, and it is the nub of his book. He is in love with the physicality of his art, the flowing together of hand and brain, of chisel and creativity. The idea that the artist should both master and be mastered by the medium clearly fascinates him.

Lovely! Will have to read it ASAP.

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.

"Daylight" Books & Magazine

Anyone interested in photography that explores the elusive boundaries between conceptual fine art work and documentary should check out Daylight, which is a "non-profit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books." Daylight's writers include Kirsten Rian, whose ongoing "Alphabet of Light" articles count among the most eloquent, thoughtful writing on photography that is being done today.

A talented writer/painter/musician/photographer, Rian makes connection between the

Kirsten Rian

photographer, the photograph and our internal and external world in ways that are extraordinary. I always end up feeling like I have learned something new after reading one of her pieces. A gift to the world....

Thoughts on Writing

Another excerpt from the interview with David McCullough from Yankee Magazine's Nov/Dec 2012 issue: "I think where history is going to suffer is that nobody writes letters anymore. And nobody keeps diaries anymore. Certainly nobody in public life keeps a diary anymore. They don't dare; they can be subpoenaed and used in court against them. So I don't know how future historians are going to write about is...I wouldn't be all that surprised if future historians don't have much about us to go on."

I've thought about that issue so often- how the written record of our lives and activities is so different than it was even in the 1970's and '80's. Will the e-mails and text messages of today be preserved into the future? Will our children's children have a written record of their parent's courtship? Their friendships? Something invaluable will be lost without those written records.....

And what about the visual record? With virtually all family snapshots taken digitally now, how will these treasures be archived, if at all? What will the visual record show about our family and social histories 200 years from now? Will there be much of one? Will these images even be accessible? How many of them will exist as prints? It makes me want to time travel into the future to see what the answers will be.

Working on a Project

I just read an article in Yankee magazine in which historian David McCullough (author of Truman and John Adams, among others) states that "...writing is a bit like enrolling in college: I know I'm going to be there for four years, and just think of what I'm going to learn." EXACTLY! That's what it's like for me to start work on a new project. It's a major kick to think of all the things that I will discover along the way.

Thoughts About Language

I loved this excerpt from an article titled “The Long-Dead Native Language Wopânâak is Revived” from the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Yankee magazine, and thought it was the perfect way to start the New Year: "The first gift we give our children is language. That whispered welcome between a mother and her baby when the child is first laid upon her breast begins a lifelong dialogue through which subsequent gifts are given. Our beliefs, our dreams, our heritage- we pass these things on through the spoken word. Biology gives us our body, but language delivers our soul."

Words create worlds.

Amen to that.

Herzensschatzi Komm (Sweetheart Come)

This link will take you to a site that has found a permanent place in my creative self. It tells the story of a German mother of two named Emma Hauck who spent many years in a mental institution in the early 20th century. While institutionalized she wrote the phrase "Herzenschatzi komm" to her husband thousands and thousands of times. Directly translated, this phrase would read "treasure of my heart, come", but the meaning is more accurately rendered as "sweetheart come".

These letters, while incredibly sad given the story behind them, are testaments to the power of repetitive mark-making. I am fascinated by what they look like - at once simple and complex. Here's one example on the left.


The Process of Creating #1

This is the perfect description of what is important to me about making art. While author John Irving creates with words, he could just as well be speaking about studio artists: ““You have to know as a writer the difference between how you consider yourself publicly and the way you must continue to only consider yourself a lowly practitioner,” [Irving] says. “Every new page you start, you are a beginner. And I am writing every day to challenge myself, to make myself better and stronger.”

His mouth hikes up, and his voice takes on an amused, challenging tone. “You never see a great wrestler who doesn’t drill, who stops fanatically practicing his best shot. My old coach used to say that if you were in it for the trophies, you were in it for the wrong reasons.” He pauses for a long time, hinging together two thoughts as if with one of his trademark semicolons. “If you presume to love something, you must love the process of it much more than you love the finished product.”

This is his way of saying …that his life as a writer has been about the drills, the practice, the lovely drudgery of putting one word in front of another and building characters and worlds that may speak of their time but will also, with the help of faithful readers, be lasting.”

From an article on author John Irving in Time magazine, May 14, 2012