How To Write an Artist Statement: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

By Chris Mitchell, Life, Career and Professional Development Coach for Artists and Creatives

Are you an artist who resists writing or agonizes over writing an artist statement? If so, you are not alone. “I need help to write (or revise) my artist statement” is something that I regularly hear from artists and creatives who are at various stages in their careers.

Writing an artist statement for the first time can feel like a daunting task.  Some artists don’t know how to get started and lack the confidence in their writing capabilities to develop an authentic vocabulary to talk and write articulately about their work. For emerging artists, it can be particularly intimidating, because often they have yet to write an artist statement, or they just wrote one or two as a student, but now face writing one in a professional context.

Mid-career artists can get overwhelmed trying to re-work or choose from previous iterations of artist statements they used in the past. For other artists their work has taken a new or more focused direction and they feel the need to throw out everything they’ve written before and start from scratch. Even well-established artists may be looking to position their work in a new way or express new thoughts or ideas about their work that can represent a big change; it can feel risky to put all of those new ideas out there in writing.

So how can artists approach writing their artist statement with more clarity and confidence? First, it is important to understand the difference between an artist bio and an artist statement. Artist bios and statements are sometimes confused or conflated and should be for most professional purposes distinct.  Keep in mind that you will often be asked for both!

What is an artist bio? An artist bio is a fact-based summary description of who you are as an artist, your experience, qualifications and accomplishments. An artist statement, on the other hand, is a piece of very personal writing that in general describes your artistic practice, a body of your work or a specific artwork. It’s about your art, why and how you make it, your inspirations, influences and intent. The purpose of an artist statement is really to create a bond of understanding between you, your art, and your audience. A strong artist statement adds another layer to your work, enriching the dimensions of your self-expression as an artist. When I’m coaching artists through writing an artist statement they often remark how they gain an increased self-awareness and clarity and can speak more confidently about their work as a result of going through the coaching process.


● Write in the first person (use “I” and refer to “my” practice, approach or work rather than referring to yourself in the third person).

● Use the present tense ("I am," not "I was," "I do," not "I did.")

● Do use language that is direct, understandable and authentic to you and your work.

● Be prepared to submit short and longer more detailed versions of your general artist statement. It’s common to be asked for versions in the range 75-100 words for marketing or publicity or 150-250 words for project submissions or exhibition purposes.

Use this step-by-step guide to help you write a strong artist's statement that reads easily, is informative, authentic to you as an artist, and adds to your audience’s understanding and appreciation of your work. Note that you can use this guide whether you are writing an artist statement about your practice overall, a body of work or a specific artwork or project.

Step #1 - Identify and articulate what is authentic and core to your creative practice, artistic vision and approach to art making. Take 15-20 minutes and think about your practice. Jot down words and short phrases or bullet points to capture your thoughts in answer to these questions:

● What drives you to make the art you make?
● What are you intrigued by, passionate about or obsessed with when it comes to making your art??
● What genres, subjects or themes do you prefer? Why?
● What materials do you use? Why?
● How do you approach your work? Describe your creative process and techniques.
● What’s the philosophical or emotional base that you work from?
● What stimulates ideas for you?
● What is consistent or changing in your practice or work?

Step #2 - Create or evolve your specific authentic vocabulary. Similar to building a body of artwork and a professional practice, it takes time, intention and practice to build a vocabulary that fully and accurately describes your artistic practice and artwork. Strong artist statements use language and words that are a fit for you, that you feel comfortable with, and that your audience can easily understand.

Drawing from your answers to the questions in step #1, make a list of words and phrases that describe your practice and work adding any new words or phrases that come to mind as you go. You don't have to choose which ones to use just yet. Just get them all out on a page. If you are revising a previous artist statement, circle or make note of what still resonates and fits for you and add those words and phrases to your vocabulary list. Revisit this step regularly so that you are growing and evolving your vocabulary around your practice as your practice develops and so that you have the words at hand (literally) when you need to sit down to write about your work.

Step #3 - Focus on your key messaging. Prioritize what is most meaningful or core to your practice or the work you are writing about.

“What are the top three things that you want your audience to:

● Understand or appreciate?
● Connect with?
● Feel?

Step #4 - Craft your artist statement. Referring to your key messaging and your word and phrase list, write five to seven sentences about your practice and work.

● Begin with a simple description about your artistic practice or the specific work you are writing about.
● Tell how and why you select your subjects, themes, materials and techniques.
● Tell more about what you are exploring, attempting, challenging (in your practice in general or in the specific work(s) you are writing about).

Step #5 - Polish your artist statement. You're unlikely to produce a polished artist's statement the first time you try, so be prepared to rework it several times. Give yourself some time and space between versions. At the very least, take at least one break to do something else like go for a walk or sleep on it. Trust me your brain will keep working in the background and you will likely gain some clarity or have a brilliant aha moment connection to make your statement stronger when you come back to it with fresh eyes.

Once you are satisfied with what you’ve written, choose a trusted friend or professional to read your statement. Make it clear that you are happy with your statement on the whole, but you'd like feedback on clarity, tone, and such technical matters as spelling and punctuation. In other words, you alone are the authority for what is true about your work. (Remember that your artist statement is a personal piece of writing. It's not about other people’s opinions and ideas about your work!) Once you've incorporated such suggestions that make sense to you, make a final version of your artist's statement.

No matter where you are in developing your career as an artist, your artist statement is an ongoing requirement if you wish to exhibit your work, apply for funding or artist residencies, secure gallery representation, commissions or any other professional opportunities. And to be real, you will never be finished writing your artist statement. As your practice evolves you will need to continually update it. You will be asked to have short and long versions. You will be asked to provide artist statements that are overarching of your artistic practice as a whole as well as artist statements specific to a body of work and even specific to an individual work of art. There is really no avoiding it!

The process of writing about your art increases your awareness and can be very self-validating. Writing about your work indicates that you take it seriously which encourages others to do the same. With a strong artist statement that you feel proud of, you will be more confident writing and speaking about your art with peers, funders, curators, media, and clients.

Chris Mitchell is a professional coach who provides collaborative, results oriented support to artists and creatives at pivotal points when they need help to take their practice or career to the next level or a new direction and helps them build sustainable and fulfilling lives as creative professionals. Her professional experience has evolved over three decades of leadership positions in creative and arts-based businesses and non-profit arts organizations. She holds a BFA and is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) through the International Coaches Federation. Chris is based in Toronto, Canada and works with clients across Canada, the U.S. and globally. Learn more and contact Follow @chrismitchell_coachescreatives


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