Doing my part…

…to make thornyc‘s life a little more bearable:

Tonight I’m going to be part of an event at Artists’ Space: a workshop on writing statements. I thought I’d post the handout I drafted for it.

Some quick notes on artists’ statements

1.Tell the truth. Describe your work, and your life as it is, not as you think someone wants to hear it to be. Don’t anticipate your reader’s biases.
2.Write often. Get into the habit of writing about what you do on a regular basis. It will give you much more material to pick from when the time comes for you to make a formal statement.
3.Rewrite often. It’s much easier to edit and rewrite an existing piece than it is to generate something new on deadline. Revising allows you to sharpen ideas and cut out redundancies. Allow yourself to make messy first drafts and then go back into them.
4.Use specific examples. Watch out for generalities about your work. If you want to make a point about how an idea functions for you, show how it functions in a specific piece. Don’t feel like what you have to say has to be equally true of everything you make. Practice describing pieces as if your audience was sightless.
5.Use history sparingly Don’t assume that everyone will know what you mean when you refer to the work of other artists or artistic movements: their ideas my well be antithetical to yours and your point may be lost.
6.Big words do not make your work look better, or make it any more meaningful.
7.Phrases to watch out for:
a.“As a…” often used to sneak in biographical information and as justification for the work, i.e.: “As a veteran my work is concerned with the ideologies of bodily distress…”, “as a volcano survivor I want my pieces to have a certain vibrancy…” Find another way to tell people who you are and why you do what you do.
b.“The viewer is invited…” or any of its variations. Often folks use this to try to force people into a specific experience of the work. It begs the questions How and Why is the viewer invited.
c.“Interest, interesting, interests…” Try writing about your enthusiasms rather than your interests.
d.“The body…” Resist the temptation to make an idea sound more theoretical by sticking the word “the” in front of it. Always ask yourself “which body, or whose body.”

Finally, imagine that you are writing in sand, not carving in stone. Your artist’s statement is not a contract made for all eternity: it is a snapshot of your thinking about your practice at a specific moment.

Nayland Blake
1.25.05

0 Comments +

  1. Helpful! Even to me … who won’t be writing an artist’s statement … still, the principles would be helpful for those instances in my writing where I want to be more concrete and direct. Thanks!

  2. Helpful! Even to me … who won’t be writing an artist’s statement … still, the principles would be helpful for those instances in my writing where I want to be more concrete and direct. Thanks!

  3. Most of these are good techniques for writing in general.

    I’m always terrified when I have to write up a “teaching philosophy” for any colleges I apply to. I think I might try what you suggest in the first few points, of just keeping notes and drafts around. It would make me feel much less like I hit a brick wall whenever I had to write up a statement fast.

    Thanks for posting this.

  4. Most of these are good techniques for writing in general.

    I’m always terrified when I have to write up a “teaching philosophy” for any colleges I apply to. I think I might try what you suggest in the first few points, of just keeping notes and drafts around. It would make me feel much less like I hit a brick wall whenever I had to write up a statement fast.

    Thanks for posting this.

  5. Thanks so much for this, and to for the concerned nod…

    I just put a statement I wrote last night through your paces, and I’m happy to say I managed to clear #s 3-7. The truth is, I am very concerned about readers’ biases…getting better though. I turned in a blurb for an upcoming catalog that’s certain to make my mother shriek when she reads it.

  6. Thanks so much for this, and to for the concerned nod…

    I just put a statement I wrote last night through your paces, and I’m happy to say I managed to clear #s 3-7. The truth is, I am very concerned about readers’ biases…getting better though. I turned in a blurb for an upcoming catalog that’s certain to make my mother shriek when she reads it.

  7. Making mom shriek is ok. Mostly i find that when people write statements as part of applications they try to figure out what the receipient wants and try to tailor the description of the work to fit. It always seems strained to me.

    And knowing you, I’m sure that your stetemnt is much better than you’re willing to admit!

  8. Making mom shriek is ok. Mostly i find that when people write statements as part of applications they try to figure out what the receipient wants and try to tailor the description of the work to fit. It always seems strained to me.

    And knowing you, I’m sure that your stetemnt is much better than you’re willing to admit!

  9. Well, I had agreed to do the event long before Thor voiced his gripe. And I have a deep personal interest in trying to make artists statements better: I have to read a lot of them. I’m on an artist avisory board that reviews applications for shows, I often sit on granting panels and the MFA program I run receives at least a hundred applications annually, which all adds up to many, many artists’ statements passing in front of my eyes.
    If I can make them a little better I won’t suffer from the urge to scream and jab hot forks in my sockets so much.

  10. Well, I had agreed to do the event long before Thor voiced his gripe. And I have a deep personal interest in trying to make artists statements better: I have to read a lot of them. I’m on an artist avisory board that reviews applications for shows, I often sit on granting panels and the MFA program I run receives at least a hundred applications annually, which all adds up to many, many artists’ statements passing in front of my eyes.
    If I can make them a little better I won’t suffer from the urge to scream and jab hot forks in my sockets so much.

  11. Hee hee! This is right on the money.

    You should make your students write LJs.

    Sorry to miss you at GMSMA tonight, but glad to hear you’ll be performing a valuable community service.

  12. Hee hee! This is right on the money.

    You should make your students write LJs.

    Sorry to miss you at GMSMA tonight, but glad to hear you’ll be performing a valuable community service.

  13. Awesome! I love it when special people translate the impressive into the pragmatic.

    But…regarding #6: I agree, but I think it becomes a problem when folks use words to impress and therefore incorrectly. And it depends on audience too. Sometimes the subtle difference between works (oppression and hegemony; rights and entitlements) become critical.

    But meh, what do I know? I’m the concatenation of a dénouement just waiting to occur. . .

  14. Awesome! I love it when special people translate the impressive into the pragmatic.

    But…regarding #6: I agree, but I think it becomes a problem when folks use words to impress and therefore incorrectly. And it depends on audience too. Sometimes the subtle difference between works (oppression and hegemony; rights and entitlements) become critical.

    But meh, what do I know? I’m the concatenation of a dénouement just waiting to occur. . .

  15. If I could trust folks to use such words judiciously and precisely, I would have left #6 out, unfortunately many people toss around specialized terms (“Deconstruction” is an example particularly rampant these days) with little or no understanding of them. Better they should just keep it simple.

  16. If I could trust folks to use such words judiciously and precisely, I would have left #6 out, unfortunately many people toss around specialized terms (“Deconstruction” is an example particularly rampant these days) with little or no understanding of them. Better they should just keep it simple.

  17. Making mom shriek is ok. Mostly i find that when people write statements as part of applications they try to figure out what the receipient wants and try to tailor the description of the work to fit. It always seems strained to me.

    And knowing you, I’m sure that your stetemnt is much better than you’re willing to admit!

  18. Well, I had agreed to do the event long before Thor voiced his gripe. And I have a deep personal interest in trying to make artists statements better: I have to read a lot of them. I’m on an artist avisory board that reviews applications for shows, I often sit on granting panels and the MFA program I run receives at least a hundred applications annually, which all adds up to many, many artists’ statements passing in front of my eyes.
    If I can make them a little better I won’t suffer from the urge to scream and jab hot forks in my sockets so much.

  19. Well actually I locked it because the people who are attending tonight’s event paid $10.00 to do so and I figure that as such I should wait until tomorrow before I post it openly online.

  20. If I could trust folks to use such words judiciously and precisely, I would have left #6 out, unfortunately many people toss around specialized terms (“Deconstruction” is an example particularly rampant these days) with little or no understanding of them. Better they should just keep it simple.

  21. would that more followed these guidelines.
    I am often thrown when the art speaks clearly and the writing says not very much about anything at all.
    Makes my head hurt and my eyes burn.

  22. would that more followed these guidelines.
    I am often thrown when the art speaks clearly and the writing says not very much about anything at all.
    Makes my head hurt and my eyes burn.

  23. This is very nice.
    Had I had this when I got out of art school It would have helped me a lot!

    now that Im back in art school, it will help me a lot!!

    btw love the pipe pics of you!

  24. This is very nice.
    Had I had this when I got out of art school It would have helped me a lot!

    now that Im back in art school, it will help me a lot!!

    btw love the pipe pics of you!

  25. no silly. i wanted you mailing address so i can send you my copy of your great new book- which i love – so you can sign for me. postage paid of course- unless you want a real life encounter with supertan at bard.
    and i want to send you a birthdee card…
    robert510@yahoo.com

    i have your mailing address somewhere but lost it…send it to me at my yahoo address

  26. no silly. i wanted you mailing address so i can send you my copy of your great new book- which i love – so you can sign for me. postage paid of course- unless you want a real life encounter with supertan at bard.
    and i want to send you a birthdee card…
    robert510@yahoo.com

    i have your mailing address somewhere but lost it…send it to me at my yahoo address

  27. thank you

    Great advice! I am attempting to scratch that itch and make some art. Now if only I can get inertia out of my head and get to the business of creating!

    WOOFS BTW
    Angel

  28. thank you

    Great advice! I am attempting to scratch that itch and make some art. Now if only I can get inertia out of my head and get to the business of creating!

    WOOFS BTW
    Angel

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