How To Avoid Art Jargon And Write An Effective Artist Statement


Every now and then I read a badly written artist statement or, for that matter, gallery press release. The texts are vague and don’t say anything meaningful about the artist or his/ her work. They also contain a lot of art speak (highly pretentious art jargon). While doing some research online (I wanted to find a really good art speak example) I found this great little gem in an article by writer and curator Daniel Blight, written for the Guardian.

How’s this: "Combining radical notions of performativity and the body as liminal space, my practice interrogates the theoretical limitations of altermodernism. My work, which traverses disparate realms of object-making such as painting and performance, investigates the space between metabolism and metaphysics and the aporia inherent to such a discourse.”

When you figure out what that means please give me a call. In fact, what I am missing in this statement are ‘juxtaposed’ and ‘important’, two other much abused words in the art speak vocabulary.

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Here is another example of where an artist statement can go wrong. Every artist has been influenced by artists and movements that came before him or her. That is healthy: no good comes out of working in a vacuum (whether in creating art or in any other profession). But you have to be able to explain the connection, otherwise the mention of the other artist, say, Gerhard Richter, becomes a bit meaningless.

RELATED: Leveraging Your Achievements: Marketing For Visual Artists.

What would you say if you were in the process of buying a car and the dealer said: “Look. It’s a Toyota but the carmaker was inspired by the smooth lines of Porsche when he designed it. It’s an important car and that’s why it’s 10% more expensive than a regular Toyota. Trust me”. If you claim that your work is inspired by Richter, be prepared to explain why.

How to write a great artist statement

Don’t try to pull your uniqueness from external sources because you won’t find it there. Your unique, artistic vision and the material expression of that vision exist inside you and in your art. This is what I refer to as your artistic identity (or, your artistic brand, if you will). It does not need to be made up or invented. It’s all right there.

Try to figure out what your artistic identity is and articulate it in your artist statement. This is a process, and not an easy thing to do, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t manage to figure it out in one day.

Once you have discovered what your artistic identity is, you’ll find it easier to write about and there will be no more need for art speak. Don’t write around your art with confusing metaphors. Know your art, understand why it is unique and be specific when you write about it. This way you can write an artist statement that will help you sell your art.

If you need help with writing or editing your artist statement check out our online course.