The Artist’s Statement: A Workshop with Janet Bloch

We all know the cultural myth of the artist as an isolated genius, toiling away in an attic somewhere…and we all know that it’s highly romanticized and only sometimes a little bit true. Solitude and time to create and work alone are sometimes necessary and preciously guarded—it’s time carefully carved out from demands of family, friends, and day jobs, or the everyday work of life. However, we have to avoid letting that solitude become isolation. This is a project at the center of Woman Made Gallery’s mission: bringing artists together, providing a space and an opportunity to show and talk about their work and their experiences creating that work. Another crucial opportunity Woman Made works to provide is the chance to learn about how other artists navigate “the art world,” what tips and tricks and sound advice they’ve accumulated through years of work and good fortune. Learning how to best promote yourself and your art is just as challenging (sometimes more so!) than creating that art.

Janet Bloch’s workbook, Strategic Marketing Tools for Visual Artists is full of such tips and advice. It thoroughly addresses everything from setting goals to writing a compelling artist’s statement, putting together enticing submission packets, and building good relationships with all kinds of people, galleries, and other staples of the “art world.” We were fortunate to have Janet in the gallery on June 5th to lead a fantastic workshop on writing artists’ statements, a challenging but very necessary part of getting one’s work out in the world.

The workshop began as a sort of meet and greet, with snacks and conversation, and then all of the artists and Janet gathered in a circle to discuss what they were hoping to get out of the workshop and what their experiences with writing artists statements had been. As the artists each spoke a bit about the work they do and how they’ve built or had trouble building artist statements, it was fascinating to see just how universal the need was for a better understanding of an artist’s statement.

A common misconception that came up in the workshop about the artist’s statement is that writing about one’s intentions somehow dilutes the visual power of the artwork. Many artists think that because they communicate visually through their work they shouldn’t have to also communicate with words. Janet’s workshop was great at addressing that—she suggests that an artist’s statement is your opportunity to communicate in a direct way what you investigate, observe, or want to express with your art by informing the audience about your specific motives and processes. This makes an artist’s statement both more informative and more personal and relevant to your work.

Janet and the artists spent the rest of the workshop discussing specific Do’s and Don’ts of writing an artist’s statement, and she had a very helpful worksheet to guide the artists through the process of creating and honing the perfect statement:

1. Do write an artist’s statement in the first person.

2. Do keep your “core” statement fairly brief. (150-200 words)

3. Don’t be generic in your assertions—if what you write can be said about most artists or artwork, take it out.

4. Do keep sentence structure concise. Beware of rambling, confusing sentences.

5. Don’t combine two separate ideas in one sentence. Use one sentence for each idea.

6. Don’t keep repeating yourself.

7. Do use active sentence structure (i.e. “I focus on ephemeral moments” not “I enjoy focusing on ephemeral moments.”)

8. Don’t be wishy-washy or dilute the meaning of your ideas—own your ideas!

9. Don’t set forth subjective statements as facts (i.e. “I see the physical world is alive with potential sacredness” not “The world is alive with potential sacredness.”

10. Don’t tell your audience what they see and feel or what the results of your work achieve. Tell them your intent and let the viewer decide if you were successful.

11. Don’t use obscure terms or references without explaining them. Connect the dots for the viewer.

12. Don’t cite an influence without explaining your artwork’s relationship to that inspiration.

13. Don’t be flowery, poetic, or cutesy. It make sound pretty, but unless it has real content and a purpose for being there it doesn’t belong in your artist’s statement.

14. Do read your statement out loud to yourself or others.

15. Do understand that writing an artist’s statement is a process.

You can purchase Janet’s book online here or come in to Woman Made Galley any time to pick up a copy!

-Elise Nagy, WMG Intern

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