An artist statement is a short glimpse into you and your work - your thinking, values, artistic inspirations, and curiosities.
An artist statement differs from a biography, which tends to contain more factual, accomplishment-based information. An artist statement helps others understand what matters to you as an artist. (The very process of writing an artist statement can help you identify that for yourself!) An artist statement can be as much to communicate to others as it is to be clear with yourself. Just like you would with a performance, you need to consider who your audience is. Use your words to meet your audience in a way that will help them understand you as an artist. You might run into things that are a challenge to articulate. You might feel as though there is simply too much to say. You also might surprise yourself with what you learn about your work - there's usually more to it than first meets the eye.
Artist Statements are helpful for:
- Writing proposals and applications (grant, residency, study, etc.)
- Including in a physical program, or in person when someone is introducing you (if you teach, or when you are interviewed about your work)
- Offering context (media releases; blogs; websites; social media platforms, and etc.)
- Clarifying your own point of view, perspective, and direction
Here are some questions that might help you get started:
- Why do you do the work you do?
- What propels you?
- What do you value?
- What informs your work?
- From where do you draw curiosity?
- By whom or by what have you been significantly influenced or inspired?
- What is meaningful to you when you work? What do you believe in?
- What has been your trajectory so far (if relevant)? How does what you are doing now relate to what you have done before? How is it a departure?
- Where are you now and where do you see yourself going?
- If the question “What is your vision?” irritates you, ask yourself instead, “What do I value?”
Answers to these questions may change and evolve over time; your statement should be updated to reflect this.
If you’re a Maker (director, deviser, collaborator, choreographer, composer, writer, comedian, etc.)...
Look at what you have done so far (in terms of process, theme, content, aesthetic, staging, collaborators, perpective, etc.) and consider whether any similarities exist or themes emerge. Make notes. Do you recognize specific tendencies or recurring interests in your work? Run some of your thoughts by someone you trust who has followed your path closely. Ask them if you’ve missed anything (sometimes 'obvious' things are only obvious once someone else points them out)!
If you’re a Performer...
Consider a few works you’ve performed in that you feel particularly connected to. For each work, write down why you think this was. Are there particular overlapping qualities or values that exist within those works that you identify with? Write them down. What excites you as a performer?
If you’re an Emerging theatre/dance artist...
If you’re early on in your trajectory, consider a few works you’ve seen/experienced and felt connected to. For each work, write down or list what it was that allowed you to feel this way. Are there particular qualities, characteristics or values that exist within those works that you identify with? Consider why that may be. How do they overlap with your beliefs? (As an emerging artist, you can talk about what speaks to you and inspires you, but always try to explain why you think this is.)
Why are you telling me this? is the name of a book published by the Banff press in 1997. It is a collection of essays written by a group of well-respected Canadian journalists who were tasked with writing a personal essay about something that truly mattered to them. The book’s subtitle was 'Eleven Acts of Intimate Journalism'. Given the assignment, the quality of the writing reflected the obvious connection the writers had with their subject matter. Reading the essays, it's hard not to really feel them deeply.
Why are we telling you this? Because as an artist, you have the freedom (and the ability) to make your artist statement personal and uniquely yours. Make it your own when it comes to approach, structure, and content - the more personal it is, and connected to what matters to you, the more successful it will be as a means of communication.
As in: speak it out loud! Read it back to yourself. If you feel okay with it, put it away for a couple days. Then take it back out and re-read it out loud. Edit where you feel there are sticky bits. Read it to someone else who knows you and your work. If you feel good after you read it, and they give you a thumbs-up, then hit save. Otherwise, repeat these steps until it feels like you.
REMEMBER that this is a time to:
- Write in a voice that feels true to you
- Share ‘why’ you are an artist
- Talk about what you value
- Say what your work IS
- Write in first person
And NOT a place to:
- Use technical language, sayings, quotations, poetry, or lists
- Sell yourself by commenting on how you think you may be perceived
- Talk about how 'much' you’ve done
- Say what your work IS NOT
- Write in third person
Video above is a conversation between the Nia Centre for the Arts and Nigerian Canadian artist, independent curator, and photo editor Liz Ikiriko to talk about developing authentic artist statements and artist bios.
GYST (Getting Your Sh*t Together) has a great, fulsome article on creating an Artist Statement. They also have a full list of artist statement guidelines which can be used as a checklist or as a jumping-off point.