Write On!

I’m not a natural-born artist; I am, however, a natural-born writer. I’ve been reading and writing since I was about four years old, and to me, writing comes as naturally as breathing.

For many artists, the reverse is true. Drawing and painting may come easily, but picking up a pencil to actually write out one’s thoughts? Sitting down in front of a keyboard to express oneself? For many people — including talented artists — those simple actions may be cause for panic, acts which are approached with feelings of dread and misgiving.

But, take heart! Thankfully we’re not chiseling words into stone. We have erasers, and even more, with today’s technology we can write, edit, revise, and delete words, sentences, and entire paragraphs with a click of a mouse button. What all this means is this: don’t worry if your first attempt falls short of your lofty expectations. 

Writing an artist statement doesn’t require advanced writing abilities. It requires clearness, directness, and simplicity. So, think first of what you want to say, and then say it. Choose what you consider the best words, write them down, and read them back. How do they sound? Make corrections and changes, if needed. Write. Read. Revise. Repeat until you’re happy with what you’ve written.

That sounds easy enough, and I know for a lot of artists, it’s not quite so easy. Trust me, I know, because that awkwardness and uncertainty is what I face every time I begin a new art project. When we move out of our comfort zones to use unfamiliar skills, it can bring a lot of very uncomfortable feelings.

So, here are a few tips that professional writers use to evaluate their work:

  • Is it written in an active voice? What this means is that you’ve chosen strong verbs rather than relying only on “s.o.b.” verbs. That’s state of being, by the way.
  • Have you gone overboard with flowery adverbs and adjectives? You don’t need to. Choose the most descriptive word and move on. Don’t over-do by adding more unnecessary descriptions. Avoid jargon and cliches.
  • Are your sentences short and easy to read? Sentence length should vary, but you’ll probably not have a lot of sentences in a simple artist’s statement, so keep them to a reasonable length. You’re not writing a novel or even a short-story.
  • How’s your grammar? This can be a sticky wicket for a lot of people. Grammar rules are sometimes tricky, but believe me, if your statement is riddled with mistakes, someone is going to notice, and yes, someone is going to care. The solution? Find someone who knows grammar and ask them to read your statement.
  • Even if your grammar is perfect, mistakes can still creep in. Oh, how well I know this. When we’re writing, our brains are reading what we think we’ve written, and that’s not always the same as what’s really there. We can, in fact, read and re-read something several times and not catch our mistakes because we’re so sure of what we were saying. This is another reason why having someone else read your statement is a good idea. If there’s no one else around, sit down and read the statement slowly. Reading it backward, one line at a time, is a trick some authors use. Anything that causes us to slow down and really pay attention to the words can be helpful.

By the way, there are “grammar-checker” apps — you might even have something similar included in your word-processing software — but most of them are lame, to say the least. Use them sparingly, and don’t rely on them as “the final answer” to any grammar question you have.

In recent days I’ve taken a somewhat light-hearted look at what an artist statement is, what it’s not, why you might want one, and how to write one if you do.

There’s a lot more that can be said about artist statements or mission statements. They have value for us as artists — even for those of us who aren’t actively marketing our work, hoping to land spots in galleries and exhibitions, or struggling to make a living through our art. A good artist statement can guide us and give us direction. Putting an artist statement together provides us an opportunity to think about art, and especially to think about what art means to us.

For those who want a more serious look at putting an artist statement together, I highly recommend this link: Artist Statement Guidelines.

You might shrug and think “I don’t really need that,” and maybe you don’t. But, then again, maybe a good artist statement is just what you need to put new life and energy into your art.

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