Cockpit Arts: How to write an artists’ statement

by Abigail Branagan

As a creative practitioner one of the most useful marketing and communication tools you can have is an artists’ statement.  This is for a number of reasons.  Although people will interact and interpret your work in their own way, they will still want to find out why the piece was made and about you – the artists/maker. This is particularly true of potential customers!

Artists’ statements are often a standard requirement when applying for grants, residencies, selected fairs, events, exhibitions, etc. When you submit an application it may be assessed by people who are unfamiliar with your work therefore your statement provides useful context and also helps support any visual documentation you provide.

When you’re selling your work through a shop or gallery your statement provides useful information to sales staff who are dealing with customer enquires. The information from your statement can also be useful background for journalists, curators or writers who are interested in covering your work.

Lastly it also provides you with a valuable opportunity to reflect on your work. By writing about your practice, you have the opportunity to experience and evaluate your work from different perspective.

So where do I begin?

As writing an artists’ statement is quite a personal and, often, reflective exercise don’t feel you have to start writing your final statement right away. Ease yourself into the task gently by doing a few practice runs. This way you feel that you can write whatever you like, without being under pressure! 

Here are my top tips to help you along the way: 

  • Think about the audience for your statement
    Are you writing for people who are familiar with your work or those who have never seen it? Are you writing for the general public, a selection panel, or a potential buyer? Is the statement for a website, a catalogue, exhibition, etc? You may need to alter the tone or length depending on who you statement is targeting. 
  • Read what other artists and makers have written.
     Looking at other artists’ statements is a great way of deciding what you do and don’t like and helping you to determine your style of writing.
  • What information should be included in an artists’ statement?
    It’s your statement – so you get to decide what to include. For your statement to prove a useful tool, however, you should consider including material that addresses the following areas: 
         a. Purpose: What do you make and why do you make it?
         b. Materials/medium: What materials do you use and how do they reflect the above ‘purpose’?
         c. Inspiration: What inspires or drives your practice, what are your current areas of interest?
  •  Do you use first or third person?
    There is no rule about whether to write your statement in the first or the third person however, third person is more commonly used. It can often be easier to write in the third person as it can help you to create ‘distance’ between you and your work.
  • Avoid jargon
    Try to keep your language clear and simple, and vary your sentence length to add interest.
  • Try to keep your language positive, not tentative.
    Avoid using words and phrases like “I am trying to …”, “I hope to” as this could read as if you feel your work has not been successful. 
  • Your statement is not a complete biography
    Avoid too many chronologies of events, unless they are really relevant or if you have been asked to provide the information. 
  • Write first, edit later
    While you are organising your ideas, don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar, punctuation or layout. Writing and editing are two very different processes, and best undertaken separately.
  • Less is often more
    After your first draft go back to your statement and edit out any waffle and repetition.
  • Use a spell-checker
    However  don’t forget to read through for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes that might have been missed.  
  • Ask someone else to read it through: ideally, you need two people to read it for you – one who knows your work, and one who doesn’t. The person who knows your work will be able to tell you if you have written a statement that does it justice, and the person (who doesn’t) will be a good test of how clearly your statement communicates to new audiences.

Once you have written one generic statement that you are happy with use this as a basis to create several other statements that vary in length and purpose so that you have them to hand for all your marketing needs.

We regularly run workshops on marketing and sales If you want to find out more check our Making It workshop and seminar programme.

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About the author:

Abigail Branagan is the Business Development Manager at Cockpit Arts and provides specialist training and one-to-one coaching in the areas of marketing, selling, and manufacturing. She has first-hand experience of the market for craft having been Marketing Director for a critically acclaimed retail space in central London. Abigail has also worked for support organisations such as Hidden Art and the Crafts Council where she project managed Collect 2006. She regularly writes about design and craft for industry magazines and resources.

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