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6 Tips for Writing an Artist’s Statement

A Guest Post by Chris Folsom.

Recent talks with a local shop have prompted one of my least favorite tasks… writing an artist’s statement. It is an incredibly difficult task to describe your own work without sounding arrogant or self-absorbed. Worse yet, if your images span a variety of subjects and styles (as mine often to), trying to sum up the collection in a paragraph or two may seem impossible.

Here are some tips I go by when writing an artist statement for a shop or gallery that will be displaying my work:

1. Start with the basics

Jot down some basic information about the photos included in this collection. Are they color? Do they have a common theme? Were they all taken in a similar location? Having a short list of details will help later when you are trying to tie everything together.

2. Try not to get too technical

Nobody reading the statement will care if you shot with a Canon 5D or if Photoshop is your post-processing software of choice. If there are some truly unique elements involved in the work (printed on a special material or you shot through a hand-crafted lens, for example), feel free to include that information. Otherwise, leave out the details about your gear.

3. What would you like someone else to say of this work?

This is possibly the best way to get to the heart of why you took these photos. If you would love for someone to say “these photos bring sunshine to my home”, then you already have a pretty good starting point for your statement. Lead off with something like “I have done my job as an artist if these photos bring happiness and warmth to your home”.

4. Share your background and history

All too often, artist’s statements are all about the art and don’t go into any detail about the artist. How long have you been doing this kind of art? Why did you start? Why do you enjoy it?

5. Try not to pat yourself on the back too much

It is fine to say you are proud of this body of work, but try not to go overboard with the self praise. I have seen statements that say things like “an expert of her craft, this photographer captures beauty in a way that nobody else has”. I understand the value of confidence and selling yourself, but these kinds of descriptions will be a turnoff to a lot of people.

6. Does it have to be a traditional artist’s statement?

A friend once suggested that I do a haiku for my statement, which I thought was a genius idea. Different venues will have their own requirements, but take the opportunity to do something out of the norm if you can.

And if you would like an example of an Artist’s Statement, this is the one I went with for that local shop:

If these photos have a mission, it is this: capture rarely viewed scenes and environments and present them in an interesting way.

It may be a lonesome tree on an isolated hill or the dark interior of an abandoned building. Whatever the locale, on the best of days these images will stir up unexpected feelings and thoughts in the viewer.

Studio Tempura is based out of Baltimore, MD and has been creating photographs for over a decade.

Chris Folsom is a photographer based in Baltimore, MD. You can view more of his photos at Flickr or follow his photographic endeavors on Twitter.

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  • http://www.grtaylor2.com Greg Taylor

    Posts like this are the reason I like this site so much. I struggle with things such as Artist Statements, Bios and Formal Call for Submissions.

    For me it’s the awkwardness of talking about myself in the third person. I recently put out a call for submissions for a non-profit music photography project (http://grtaylor2.com/music-matters-project/) and it was a difficult task.

    I have a show planned in August themed 40/40 and I will use your suggested formula to write my artist/exhibition statement. Thanks for the great information.

  • http://www.kpraslowicz.com K. Praslowicz

    In regards to #2, my most favorite overly technical statement I ever read not only included the focal length of the lenses used, but also their 35mm focal length equivalents. Seemed a bit over the top. I can’t Imagine how any of that info would be used by a casual viewer who wasn’t into photography themselves.

  • citmariñas

    Great post.

    I have yet to buy my first DSLR, and reading posts such as this makes me more excited. I hope someday, I will be able to photographed great pictures and emotions to make my own gallery. Someday.

  • http://garubal.multiply.com oliverignacio

    this is my least favorite task, too.. but serious hobbyist and pros should not avoid this task

  • http://edu-perez.com Eduardo Pérez

    @Praslowicz: I have even seen people commenting on the brand / model of the memory card they used, just as if it was film…

  • kate.si

    I always hated the idea of these. Whenever something like this is required I just put down “I make stuff” and move on. Load of rubbish really. If you have a great artist statement but all your work sucks (as I’m sure everyone’s seen before at least once) you look like a prat. Also that’s probably a hint that you should’ve gone into writing.

  • Karen Stuebing

    “A friend once suggested that I do a haiku for my statement, which I thought was a genius idea.”

    Taking photographs
    Is what I most like to do
    Hope you like them too

    Seriously, great tips. Also love your photography. And your statement is concise and interesting.

    Should you put down where you’ve been published or galleries your work is in or is that too much information too? Maybe a link to your website?

  • http://www.photopatzer.com PhotoPatzer

    Karen Stuebing – That is a fantastic idea!

    Helpful tip DPS! i like how it follows the KISSH rule! (Keep It Simple Stupid & Humble)

  • http://www.hotshoecards.com Henry Hotshoe

    Great information and excellent advice. As a publisher, we find many photographers are uncomfortable with this process. They view it as self promotion and marketing hype. Most artist are not comfortable with the concept of marketing.

    An artist’s statement completes the story and adds interest for your audience. A well written statement can be great way to differentiate yourself. It helps people to remember you and your body of work because you have shared insight with them.

    An artist statement is most relevant for anyone who’s work is being published or for anyone trying to build their own “brand.” Marketing should be a byproduct of the statement – not the focus.

  • Heather

    Awesome. I found this while struggling through writing an artist statement. I’m a ceramic artist, but it all still applies wonderfully. I think I’m going to try my hand at the haiku. =) Thanks!

  • http://mikewoodphotography.tumblr.com Mike Wood

    I am working on an artist statement for an upcoming international show and this has been helpful in refining the current statement I use which is too verbose and sorely needs working on. :)

    Thanks! :)

  • http://photographerinbaltimore.com/ Mack Oneal

    I’ve under no circumstances been out of the country, either have my kids or husband, so this is quite the journey, and I will definitely be sharing our knowledge. Although I am gone, though, I have the web site to instantly publish pictures every day.

  • Fiona

    This article has been a brilliant help. I have been procrastinating over my artist statement for my degree show for a long time now and this has really helped to get me started and in the right direction – so thank you!

  • Johana Nunez

    Thank You so Much! I was taking a Course of Photography and I didn’t have idea for how to make a statement. This is was so helpful!

  • http://www.nathanfrankephotography.com Nathan

    If you’re coming up with a statement after the fact, then it will be harder to do–compiling separate pieces into one whole after the fact is not easy. Ask a computer programmer. If you have one theme in mind, it’s easier to create the pieces to fit the theme than to create a theme to fit the pieces.

    An artist’s statement should be easy to write. Why do you create these images? If you can’t come up with a reason for making them, how can you expect everyone else to come up with a reason for looking at them, much less liking them and treating them as art instead of snapshots? Why are you drawn to that subject? The viewing public will invariably care more for the subject than the execution, so why should they pay attention to a subject that they might not have noticed in the first place?

    Answer these two questions, and then you’re done.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiteri/ Angela S.

    Thank you for this!

  • tim

    Thank you for the helpful hints…I thought I was the only one struggling with the ‘artist statement’…

Some older comments

  • tim

    February 13, 2013 01:32 pm

    Thank you for the helpful hints...I thought I was the only one struggling with the 'artist statement'...

  • Angela S.

    March 3, 2012 06:44 am

    Thank you for this!

  • Nathan

    September 17, 2011 01:31 am

    If you're coming up with a statement after the fact, then it will be harder to do--compiling separate pieces into one whole after the fact is not easy. Ask a computer programmer. If you have one theme in mind, it's easier to create the pieces to fit the theme than to create a theme to fit the pieces.

    An artist's statement should be easy to write. Why do you create these images? If you can't come up with a reason for making them, how can you expect everyone else to come up with a reason for looking at them, much less liking them and treating them as art instead of snapshots? Why are you drawn to that subject? The viewing public will invariably care more for the subject than the execution, so why should they pay attention to a subject that they might not have noticed in the first place?

    Answer these two questions, and then you're done.

  • Johana Nunez

    July 21, 2011 09:44 am

    Thank You so Much! I was taking a Course of Photography and I didn't have idea for how to make a statement. This is was so helpful!

  • Fiona

    May 3, 2011 07:21 pm

    This article has been a brilliant help. I have been procrastinating over my artist statement for my degree show for a long time now and this has really helped to get me started and in the right direction - so thank you!

  • Mack Oneal

    February 28, 2011 07:36 pm

    I've under no circumstances been out of the country, either have my kids or husband, so this is quite the journey, and I will definitely be sharing our knowledge. Although I am gone, though, I have the web site to instantly publish pictures every day.

  • Mike Wood

    February 24, 2011 04:43 am

    I am working on an artist statement for an upcoming international show and this has been helpful in refining the current statement I use which is too verbose and sorely needs working on. :)

    Thanks! :)

  • Heather

    August 13, 2010 01:06 am

    Awesome. I found this while struggling through writing an artist statement. I'm a ceramic artist, but it all still applies wonderfully. I think I'm going to try my hand at the haiku. =) Thanks!

  • Henry Hotshoe

    March 13, 2010 10:31 pm

    Great information and excellent advice. As a publisher, we find many photographers are uncomfortable with this process. They view it as self promotion and marketing hype. Most artist are not comfortable with the concept of marketing.

    An artist's statement completes the story and adds interest for your audience. A well written statement can be great way to differentiate yourself. It helps people to remember you and your body of work because you have shared insight with them.

    An artist statement is most relevant for anyone who's work is being published or for anyone trying to build their own "brand." Marketing should be a byproduct of the statement - not the focus.

  • PhotoPatzer

    March 11, 2010 04:01 am

    Karen Stuebing - That is a fantastic idea!

    Helpful tip DPS! i like how it follows the KISSH rule! (Keep It Simple Stupid & Humble)

  • Karen Stuebing

    March 10, 2010 06:56 am

    "A friend once suggested that I do a haiku for my statement, which I thought was a genius idea."

    Taking photographs
    Is what I most like to do
    Hope you like them too

    Seriously, great tips. Also love your photography. And your statement is concise and interesting.

    Should you put down where you've been published or galleries your work is in or is that too much information too? Maybe a link to your website?

  • kate.si

    March 10, 2010 12:46 am

    I always hated the idea of these. Whenever something like this is required I just put down "I make stuff" and move on. Load of rubbish really. If you have a great artist statement but all your work sucks (as I'm sure everyone's seen before at least once) you look like a prat. Also that's probably a hint that you should've gone into writing.

  • Eduardo Pérez

    March 9, 2010 08:59 pm

    @Praslowicz: I have even seen people commenting on the brand / model of the memory card they used, just as if it was film...

  • oliverignacio

    March 9, 2010 01:16 pm

    this is my least favorite task, too.. but serious hobbyist and pros should not avoid this task

  • citmariñas

    March 9, 2010 11:50 am

    Great post.

    I have yet to buy my first DSLR, and reading posts such as this makes me more excited. I hope someday, I will be able to photographed great pictures and emotions to make my own gallery. Someday.

  • K. Praslowicz

    March 9, 2010 11:16 am

    In regards to #2, my most favorite overly technical statement I ever read not only included the focal length of the lenses used, but also their 35mm focal length equivalents. Seemed a bit over the top. I can't Imagine how any of that info would be used by a casual viewer who wasn't into photography themselves.

  • Greg Taylor

    March 9, 2010 06:26 am

    Posts like this are the reason I like this site so much. I struggle with things such as Artist Statements, Bios and Formal Call for Submissions.

    For me it's the awkwardness of talking about myself in the third person. I recently put out a call for submissions for a non-profit music photography project (http://grtaylor2.com/music-matters-project/) and it was a difficult task.

    I have a show planned in August themed 40/40 and I will use your suggested formula to write my artist/exhibition statement. Thanks for the great information.

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