Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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06/01/2004: "Artist Statement Woes"

I spent several hours tonight trying to write my artist statement. I read a couple of good articles from such as: Your Artist Statement: Explaining the Unexplainable and Keep Your Artist Statement Short and Clear . I also read suggestions from two books I have, How to Make Money as an Artist and The Artist's Guide to New Markets. Still, I can't seem to get it right.

I want to write a statement that is

A. Witty
B. Inspirational
C. Enlightening

But all I can eek out is a statement that's

A. Condescending
B. Egotistical

I'd post it for feedback except it's just too terrible for that. I've done these before, lots of times...I don't know...maybe I'm just running out of things to say. The other thing is that in the past I've made statements that were full of art speak and I'm committed to not doing that this time. Plain English only. But then I run into sounding like I'm talking down to the audience. There has to be a happy medium possible.

For example, I was going to write something about the fact that elements of magical realism have crept into my paintings this year...I'm just not sure if that's true. And then I thought, well, how do you define magical realism anyway, and tried to explain that, but again with the talking down. I mean, is magical realism something that's common knowledge or is it something only artists and writers are really keyed into? Plus, I know what it is, but I'm not 100% that my work would fit the definition. I wouldn't want to say that and have people be thinking "why the hell does she think that?".

Maybe I'm over thinking this? Do you all have as much trouble writing about your own work, or are you comfortable with it.

Replies: 6 Comments

on Tuesday, June 1st,">John said

I hate writing about my own work (and I'm not very good at writing/speaking about others work). I hate writing resumes. I hate writing artist's statements.

That said. I know all fo the above has to be done. I just rewrote my resume (my, I want a job one, not my look at how cool an artist I am one) . If you're going for witty, inspirational, and enlightening, you could go with:

"I am"

It's a statement (and you're an artist, ergo, it's an artist's statement), it implies you think (therefore you are).

Is the audience for your statement going to be mostly people who understand art-speak? If so, then use it. I know, I hate jargon myself, but why reinvent the wheel if you don't have to? If your audience won't understand art-speak, why not try and write it in art-speak, and then whip out the thesaurus and translate it back into regular-speak.

on Tuesday, June 1st, Howard said

AHHHH!, runs to hide in a corner whimpering.

This is what I hate the most.
Sometimes I find the artspeak easier to deal with than trying to write it out in plain language. All those impressive words to hide behind. Then I read it over and I feel like I don't have a clue what it is I'm talking about.

on Tuesday, June 1st, Elise said

So, I guess I'm not alone when it comes to Fear and Loathing of the Artist Statement?

When I started this website I wanted it to be very professional and everything was written in the third person like:

"Tomlinson creates colorful, stylized oil paintings of women with exaggerated forms. She explores narrative imagery with intentionally ambiguous themes".

At some point I realized that my website wasn't really a true reflection of who I am, and being dishonest about that seemed like it would also be dishonest as far as the art was concerned. So I tried to change the tone and I want to do the same thing with my artist statement. I don't want my art to seem uptight.

Anyway, I just had this "A HA!" moment where I realized that nearly all of my best friends are writers...they are also very familiar with my work. So maybe I'll tell them what I'm looking for and see if they can come up with a statement that's fun but also is a nice complement to the work.

I'll take attempts from anyone really. In fact, maybe we could make a game out of it...I'll write your statement if you'll write mine??!

on Tuesday, June 1st,">Jackie said

E: I guess maybe I shouldn't comment - because I actually enjoy writing, and don't mind writing the ol' Artist's Statement. It's not always necessary to write about the work - try to focus on the reasons you are creating this body of work - what is your inspiration or over-arching idea. Why do you make art? Why painting? Why nudes? Why nude women? Why nude women with Alaskan flora and scenery? You don't need to 'explain' the work - that is where the condescendion ususally creeps into artist's statements I've read. And finally: don't try and follow a book's instructions on how to write a statement. It's your statement, it's personal. It can be as brief as one paragraph, or as lengthy as one page. The shorter and simpler, the better. Do have your friends give their feedback or input. Especially if they can see the work in person, and they know you. P.S. I'm pretty good at editing, so if you are trusting enough, you can e-mail me your statement, and I'll edit it for you.

on Tuesday, June 1st,">Elise said

WONDERFUL! Thanks Jackie, I'm going to take you up on that. I'm not ready to have it edited just yet. I like your suggestion on how to write it and not to worry about doing it the *right* way.

I guess sometimes we make things more difficult for ourselves than we need them to be.

Thanks again...I'll email it to you a little later.

on Friday, July 2nd, Judith said

The funny thing here is that I typed in a search for a former student of mine, "How to write artist statement" and found many good articles to link him too. (I'm too tired to write him a whole article myself, besides, why should I when so many others have already?)

Anyway... I hated my first artist's statment, maybe even my first ten. And I was a journalism major, so what does that tell you? Just keep writing, truly do avoid artspeak, please. It really is condecsending - unless that is your goal, of course.

Start by writing it out the way you would tell your friend how you feel about your work, I've found myself talking to someone and using the best words to exlpain myself.

That being said, don't read my artist's statement, I probably hate it.