Artist Statements: the good, the bad, and the horrible

There are varied opinions as to the importance of artist statements, but I happen to find them–if they are well written–to be very helpful, interesting, and add greatly to my understanding of the work and the artist. That being said, a bad artist statement can really throw me off. However, it doesn’t bother me at all when an artist chooses not to write one.

Bad artist statements are either badly written or they don’t add anything to my understanding of the artwork. For example, a statement that I read recently went like this. The red is the artist’s words and the black is my critique.

Having experienced painting and drawing for many years, the ultimate reflection within ones work is drawing. Don’t cite how long you have been making art. Nobody really cares. And this sentence would make more sense if you said “within my work”. Make your statement specifically about your art. The line is an integral part within the structure of making art. The idea of the line is of the upmost importance. No kidding. Don’t underestimate your audience. If people care enough to read an artist statement, most likely they know the importance of line in art. Also it’s utmost, not upmost. My work begins with that line and continues to learn the fabrics of the drawing to the painting. Don’t use metaphors that make no sense. Although my work is constructed with an abstract frame it is fundamental to achieve all possibilities to push further my philosophy of the two acts. Huh? The stronger the line the richer it becomes, therefore new ideas and sensations are formed. So only strong lines are rich? Where are these new ideas and sensations forming? How can one paint without the exploration of drawing? First of all, lots of artists have created masterpieces without relying on drawing. Second, don’t ask questions in your artist statement, especially dumb ones. Looking at the painters of Venice to Arshile gorky, the art of the past makes you understand and inspire your art and the importance of the line and paint, today and tommorrow. Never cite other artists in your statement, especially a broad generalization like this. Second, don’t assume that everybody else has the same opinion as you do. The art of the past doesn’t inspire all artists. For example, Marinetti, a founder of Italian Futurism, urged artists to start afresh and ignore all tradition.

I’m sorry to critique that so harshly, but I get a lot of e-mails from emerging artists, wanting to become part of The Emergence Project. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these artists have horrible artist statements. I haven’t accepted any of those artists. On the other hand, I have read statements that were so good, I accepted the artist’s work even though I had trepidations. I quickly discovered that was a mistake and moved on. I do have a couple artists at The Emergence Project that have little or no words to say, and that’s just fine. My advice to artists is–if you are bad at writing, or don’t know what to say–don’t worry about the statement. The other option is to have someone help you write one.

In fact, if you e-mail me at I would be happy to proofread your statement and make some suggestions.

If you are a good writer, but don’t know where to start, I would suggest reading lots and lots of artist statements to get a feel for it. There are some great ones at The Emergence Project. Also, explore what your art means to you. Do some automatic writing about your work. Then go back and, just like you work into an artwork, work into your statement. Have several people proofread it. Before you do anything with it, live with it for awhile. Write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your mirror. Also, write a statement before you need one. Don’t write one just because you are entering your work into a show, etc.

What brought this whole post about was reading the beautiful catalogue for the art faculty exhibition for the University of Wisconsin-Madison professors, which was at the Chazen Museum of Art. The statements from the artists were amazing, as was the artwork. (It was refreshing to see such great work by living Wisconsin artists!) I could go on, but this post is too long already. Look for a post about the art faculty exhibiton soon. I have to leave you with one statement from that catalogue, however. This is how it’s done!

John Hitchcock

My current artwork consists of hybrid mythological creatures (buffalo, wolf, boar, deer, moose) based on childhood memories and stories of growing up in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. I explore notions of good and evil, cycles of death and life. My depictions of beasts, animals, and machines act as metaphors for human behavior and cycles of violence. My artwork is a response to intrusive behavior by humans toward nature and other humans.

The moral of the story is–be concise! Nobody wants to go view a show, and spend a ton of time reading the statements. People just want a quick look into your mind so that they can better understand your art.

By the way, if you want to see a super amazing site, visit John Hitchcock’s!

11 thoughts on “Artist Statements: the good, the bad, and the horrible

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Excellent post, food for thought, and very useful. Thank you.

    I hope the move is going well and you’re not too stressed.


  2. Good call on that first artist statement…it made him (I`m assuming it was a him) sound like a pompus ass. I work in interior design and absolutly love using fashion and art as influences. Great blog and I look forward ot poking aroung more!!

  3. If the work doesn’t speak for itself, I usually don’t care what the artist has to say…

  4. Great post and ideas to think about. I had to write an artist statement in college, but I need to re-visit it because my thoughts have changed.

  5. question is childhnood correct, because misspellings will also detract from your statement.

  6. You are absolutely right. That was my fault! That is why I stress that people have others proofread because a lot of times you miss your own mistakes! Corrected now :)

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