good english

A Good Proposal

image for A Good Proposal (c)2012 Jane Boyer

Writing a proposal is a particular form of writing – concise and precise is the key.  Whether you are writing a proposal for your own project or for someone else there are certain guidelines to follow for success.  Proposal writing requires summation, stating key points, giving planning details to realise the project and description of concepts, needs and people or work involved.  In short, it’s a presentation in writing.  Proposals are rigidly structured documents and you will be required to follow the structure exactly, there is no room for ‘fancy’ in proposal writing.  However, good writing is paramount.

Proposals take time.  They should be well researched and seriously considered in order to convey the important aspects of your project.  The language used in proposal writing is different too.  Often it requires a neutral voice, not the first person.  For example:  ‘The project will be funded by….’ rather than, ‘I will fund the project by….’   Your ego and self-identity which is visible by using the first person ‘I’ should not factor in the proposal except where your background is stated and that should be factual in nature.  It simply is annoying to read, ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ throughout a proposal, so keep it neutral.

The form of a proposal changes with the purpose, many elements are the same but may carry different significance depending on what the proposal is for.  For example, an exhibition proposal is focused on the exhibition premise, artists, artworks and the exhibition presentation; a budget is considered as supporting material often.  However, a grant proposal requires detailed attention to the budget for a project and is one of the main elements in the proposal; artists and artworks may be considered as supplementary.  So pay attention to the requirement and the focus of each kind of proposal.

The main points of any proposal:


 Aims & Objectives

 Project Plan

 Who is involved & what do they bring to the project

You may be given a proposal application form to fill out.  Follow the directions and the word count exactly – do not exceed a word count limit.  This is often a challenge and one of the reasons to give yourself plenty of time.  Fill out the form as fully as possible; this should be in its entirety.  If there is a section you cannot fill out, communicate with someone from the destination organisation to get help with the section and briefly write in the application why you have no information to give for the section.  This reason should be acceptable with the organisation before you state it.  DO NOT LEAVE IT BLANK.  Often a section requires an attachment, for example a list of images, write ‘See Attached’.  Be sure your attached information is professionally presented on your letterhead with your name and full contact details, the project name and a page title to identify it, such as IMAGE LIST.  You want to be sure any loose papers can be easily identified and reassembled with the proposal application.

If you are not given a proposal form, you will need to create your own proposal presentation.  Each page in the presentation should be identified with you and the project title so nothing gets lost; chances are you will be sending loose unbound pages in a folder.  Use your full letterhead for the cover letter and then use a more subtle letterhead version for the following pages.  If you have a snazzy letterhead design you don’t want to give your assessor a headache by page three.  Think about how you would receive the pages if you were the assessor and lay them out accordingly.


Generally speaking, these are the main points of any proposal:

-          Summary

This should be one to three short paragraphs giving an overview of the project and its goals.  It should contain background information or questions which have inspired or informed the project, what you intend to do and present as part of the project, what form the project will take and what you hope to achieve as a result.  It is the first thing an assessor will read and often the assessment will stop there.  So be through but concise, poignant and informative; encapsulate the whole history of the project from conception to desired future outcome, naming the most important aspects of the project and its goals – do it within 300 words.

-          Aims & Objectives

These should be three or four bullet point sentences stating the goals you wish to achieve through the project.  Keep them succinct and direct.  They should be straightforward and achievable with no flowery fussiness.  This is common sense talk for the project.

-          Project Plan

  • What is your plan?
  • How are you going to achieve it?
  • How are you going to assess the results?
  • What is your timetable for the project?
  • What do you need to realise the project?

This is the nitty-gritty of your proposal and the answers to these questions will need to be clearly stated and achievable.

-          Who is involved and what do they bring to the project?

This may be the group of artists you are working with, speakers on a symposium panel, venue partners, supporters or sponsors for the project or anyone else who has a stake in your project.  Think of this as an introduction, you should briefly give background, credentials and perhaps one major achievement if it is pertinent to their participation in your project.  You may also need to give contact information for these people so be sure you have their permission to be named in the proposal.

Other points which may factor into your proposal:

-          Your background details and experience

-          Special instructions for installation, transport or anything else requiring special explanation

-          Balanced budget

-          Background or inspiration for the project

See the ‘Further Reading’ section below to find examples for writing exhibition proposals, grant proposals and sponsorship proposals.

Good luck!

Exhibition Proposals with a Punch by Cindi Huss gives insightful information on how to write an exhibition proposal and is an excellent guide.

Grant Space offers a huge amount of information on writing grant proposals and related issues from just this one page! The information on grants available through Grant Space will be most useful to readers in the USA.

Vivek Singh offers good advice on how to win sponsorship money in his blog All About Presentations. He covers the basics of what should be in a sponsorship proposal and offers a free Sponsorship Proposal Template download. This is from a business perspective but the concepts are the same for the arts.

The Art of Interviewing

Image for The Art of Interviewing

I’ve been involved with a lot of interviews lately, both reading and writing them.  I must admit some of the interview styles I’ve encountered recently have been less than enlightening.  Writing a good interview involves active listening, insight and empathy with your subject – and lots of background research.  Here are some tips on conducting and writing a good interview:

Know your subject – do as much research into your interviewee’s background, practice and other relevant information as you can.  Read existing reviews, essays, articles and other interviews written about them and also read the texts they have written.  You want to have a good grounding and general understanding of who they are, what they do, how they view their world and how their world views them.  The more you know the better your questions will be.

Ask the questions which pop up as you research – this may be obvious, but don’t let those little sparks get lost as you read.  In the course of doing research you are bound to come across ambiguities, contradictions and things left unsaid – ‘grey areas’.  If a question pops up as you’re researching, write it down, even if it isn’t a fully formed thought in your mind, you can adjust it later.  This ‘grey area’ information can be the seed for an interesting interview.  After all, you don’t want to just ask the same questions someone else has already asked; you want your questions to be insightful and thought provoking for both your subject and your readers.

Wear your critical hat – conducting an interesting interview is akin to writing an exhibition review; you should bring the same critical thinking to bear.  Carefully consider your subject’s work and allow your own insights into their work to form your questions.  Challenge your subject – respectfully; she will prefer that to sugary sweet compliments or attacking belligerence.  Sincere compliments and straight forward questions will be appreciated. Your subject has worked hard to build their career; they’ll be up for the challenge of thoughtful questions on their practice and they will respect you for the background research you’ve done into their career.

Be interested in your subject – this may not always be possible, especially if you have been given an assignment to interview someone you don’t know, but making the effort to find an interesting aspect in your subject’s career will work in your favour.  It is painfully obvious when an interviewer is not interested in their subject; the interviewee is bored, the interviewer is bored, the conversation is lacklustre and the written interview is dismal.  Don’t do it to yourself, find something of interest and build the interview around it.

Prepare your questions in advance – interviews are best when the discussion is lively, however that takes a great deal of trust on both sides and is often indicative of a strong existing relationship.  If you are a good conversationalist you may be able to conduct this kind of interview with ease, but if conversation doesn’t come easily to you it’s best to prepare your questions in advance.  Even if you are good at conversation, I would suggest preparing questions in advance.  You want to stay on course and to the point of your topic.

Listen – you are giving your subject a chance to speak in depth about their work.  You’re asking for their opinions and points of view, listen to them.  What they tell you may encourage further questions or different questions, be flexible and go with that improvisation.  It may be the golden nugget for your interview.  Even if you are conducting a written interview via email, adjust your questions according to the responses you receive when needed.  An interview is a conversation and you want to facilitate that as much as possible.

And finally some basic information on tools, place and style: 

~ Use good reliable recording equipment so you can focus on the conversation, taking notes can be a distraction, and be sure your subject has agreed in advance to a recorded interview.  It is especially important to inform your subject of being recorded if you are conducting a phone interview – this often is a legal requirement.

~ Choose a quiet relaxed setting for your interview if you can; sitting comfortably will help ease tension.  Stay relaxed even if your stomach is riding a beast roller coaster; your nervousness will make your subject nervous.  Maintain open body language and make eye contact, this will help both of you to relax and converse.

~ When conducting a written interview, make sure your questions are expressed clearly in good understandable English – this is not the place to show off your big word vocabulary.  But having said that, match your tone and intelligence to that of your subject.  You want to meet toe to toe and talk about issues that matter to the person you’re interviewing, the interview and to you.


Further reading:

Shreyasi Majumdar writes a good basic article on conducting a journalistic interview, and Emily Lytle talks about nerves and the importance of being prepared when interviewing artists – falling off the chair and playing dead is not recommended!  Mitch Joel presents an interview style which is relaxed and ‘heart to heart’.  By the way, his blog is an interesting one for following the world of digital marketing and media connection.



How to Write an Exhibition Review, Part 2

Right.  You’ve been to the exhibition, you’ve considered the artwork and presentation, you’ve taken copious notes, now you’re ready to put it all together.  If you are working with magazine style specifications follow those instructions exactly; your editor will count on you to deliver articles that meet the style specs.  If you don’t have those guidelines, head the article with this information laid out on your professional letterhead:
Your Name: Exhibition Title
Venue Name
Venue Address
Exhibition Dates

An exhibition review is roughly 800 words, some magazines require fewer words and some allow more.  It has a basic structure of introduction, discussion, and closing information.  Introduce the exhibition by communicating the show premise as stated by the curator.  Present the curator and her relationship to the premise, the exhibition and/or the venue bringing in background career information which is relevant to the situation.  Introduce the artists chosen by the curator stating the artists’ relationship to the premise and/or reasons why the curator chose them.  If it is a large show with a lot of artists, introduce them as the group, school or historical period they’re with then talk about individuals in the body of your review.  The introduction is also the place to introduce your review theme.  If you see a different angle on the premise or a sub-text which is suggested by the show but not discussed, or simply your agreement or disagreement with the premise; whatever your take on the show, state it here.  This will lead you into the body of your review and discussion of the works.  All this should happen in the first paragraph or two.

When discussing the work, a good place to start is with what you find most striking.  Be sure to ‘situate’ the artwork by clearly describing the work, what the artists intentions were for the piece, and place it historically by date and artistic movement.  While describing artwork is vital to a review, don’t make the fatal mistake of stopping at the description – add your own insights, comments and opinions; these should build on the review theme presented in your introduction.  Your insights are the reason people will read your review.  You’re making a case for or against the exhibition and to do so properly, it is important to give examples and reasons.  It’s not necessary to talk about every piece of art in the show, just discuss the ones pertinent to your theme.  A good fleshy theme will present several examples and sound reasoning which moves the reader through the exhibition.

End the review by giving some background on the venue if your audience is unlikely to be familiar with it, including the relationship to the curator, artists or exhibition, if noteworthy.  Give touring information if the show travels or info on other events or products scheduled with the exhibition.  You could also mention any major awards pending or just received by the artists, curator or venue.

It’s likely you will be sending images with your review.  Be sure they are sized and formatted correctly for you magazine or on-line destination.  You should also type up corresponding caption information to accompany your review; make sure this information is titled in such a way that obviously relates to the information in the image file names. It’s no good naming your first caption #1a when there is no #1a in the file name of the image. Be sure to duplicate the exhibition information at the top of the page so the caption list can be easily identified with your review.

Caption information should include:
Artist Name
Title of Work
Date of Work
Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Name
Photographer’s Credit

It’s likely all this information will be contained in the file name of the image.

So that’s it!  Good luck and happy reviewing.

Further Reading:

In a short comparison of styles, Megan Abrahams writes a well-balanced piece on L.A. RAW: Abject Expressionism.  Patricia Cronin reviews the same exhibition presenting an insightful and well developed thematic viewpoint of the premise.  Her review pulls out the ‘abject’ palpably while furnishing important historical information and relationships.



Myth: ‘The art speaks for itself’

Myth: 'The art speaks for itself'

If you believe your art speaks for itself, do you know what it’s saying?  You might be shocked to learn it isn’t saying the things you mean it to say.  Worse yet, what if it doesn’t say anything at all when you mean it to speak volumes?  This communication is too important to leave to fate.  You may not like talking about your work but hiding behind the myth of ‘the work speaks for itself’ does you no credit and leaves your art mute.

The flip side to this is the art viewer who refuses to read the artist’s supporting texts, preferring to engage ‘aesthetically’ with the work.  This is a nice idea but limited.  I’m sure there are many people huffing at me for saying that, but consider this – art as an aesthetic experience alone runs the risk of being little more than decoration.  Certainly, an aesthetic experience can be rapturous, but it is a rare work of art that elicits this response, whereas, an aesthetic experience with meaning involved presents a means of communication; a far broader prospect.

When art is presented with no supporting texts or these texts are ignored, communication has just broken down.  The experience of art is curbed to a one-way monologue; at worst the artwork has been made mute and at best, turned into a mirror reflecting all the experience, projections and opinions of the viewer.  This can be a powerful thing when done intentionally and with a directed aim, but communication intended to be a visual dialogue often falls flat when text is left out of the mix.

“We had the experience but missed the meaning. And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.”

T.S. Eliot

This refusal to engage with supporting text or to provide it means an artist must content herself with misreadings of the work, something many of us have come to accept as a normal condition for the viewing of our work.  I’m not suggesting an artist should dictate the meaning and experience of their work; that would be equally dreadful.  However, I am making this point; there is an important communication which happens when worlds collide – that of the viewer and that of the artist. This happens via written text.

A clearly written statement or essay can expand the scope of the visual experience.  It offers the viewer a chance to stretch and challenge their ideas and it curbs the acceptance of misreadings and misunderstandings.  Culture at large benefits from this expanded experience too because this dialogue can change the way we perceive our world, leading us to question the norms we live with.  Colliding worlds are experiential poetry and often a poignant exchange.  It’s an exchange too powerful and important to be missed by believing the myth ‘the art speaks for itself’.

Further Reading:

It’s no mystery that often viewers choose not to engage with art texts because they are expecting unintelligible drivel.  The Lost Art of Writing about Art, by Eric Gibons discusses the outcome of bad curatorial writing at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.  This article explains why good writing was important and how it got lost thanks to Mr Duchamp.  (He likes Gombrich too).

This interview with George Alexander, Austrailian art writer and educator, discusses the change in art writing from art historical connoisseurship to cultural critique and the effects of that change on our perception of art – chapeau! M Duchamp.  An interesting and lively general discussion on why text is important for art.

Leah Wilson’s blog post, Artists: Write it! Speak it! presents another point of view on the importance of writing and talking about your art.

Are You Literate?

As I was preparing to write this post on reading for your practice, an artist friend contacted me via twitter asking for reading suggestions to help her prepare for a presentation.  It was pure coincidence, but apt.  Developing a habit of reading related to your practice is essential for your development as an artist and is the bedrock of critical writing.  Like most of us, you probably have horrific memories of art history 101.  Don’t let that stop you now from developing this vital habit.  Being literate in your field will strengthen your position, your creativity and your understanding.  It’s worth the time to move from making what you like to making work with meaning and relevance.

Don’t have time?  Do you really need to watch another episode of …….. you fill in the blank.  You can probably read a whole chapter in the time it takes to watch that single episode; use the half hour before you turn out the lights at night to read a few pages, you’ll sleep better too.  Read a few pages while you have your breakfast in the morning and a few more when you take tea at four (don’t take tea at four, I highly recommend it as a good way to unwind).  We all have extremely busy schedules and many demands on our time, but you can find the time if you commit to reading; use any ‘down time’ as ‘reading time’.

Don’t know where to start?  Who is your favourite artist?  Start with a book written about their work.  This will likely be a critical analysis and as such it will reference other connections to art history, artists, social or political issues, philosophy, theories and ideologies.  There will be a whole range of topics discussed within the analysis of your favourite artist’s work; use this material as a starting point to delve further into those contextual issues surrounding that artist.

Ask questions while you read and pay heed to them.  Why was Diebenkorn’s work an intelligent response to Matisse?  What does Marxism have to do with art production?  Who is this Lacan person?  If a question surfaces while you read, take the diversion and find out the answer to the question.  This will not only broaden your scope of knowledge in your field, it will be fascinating; leading you to things you never imagined.  Which ultimately is the point, reading about someone you admire will hold your interest and if you allow your natural inquisitiveness to take you, you will find all sorts of interesting things along the way.

Build your library:  All professionals have reference books for their practice; an artist is no different.  You should have some general books on art history which you have found for yourself and will enjoy reading – forget the art history book you had in university, unless it was E.H. Gombrich who I have great respect for and recommend highly.  Gombrich’s The Story of Art is written with clarity and insight; it is a wonderful all-purpose art history book.

One of my favourite art history books is art since 1900, by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin Buchloh, the October gang (wondering what October is, google it and find out, you’ll be pleased).  The essays are rich and the topics discussed are set in their relevant context, so political, sociological, psychological and other issues which pertain to the time are taken into consideration.  This gives a bigger picture view.  There are fantastic further reading suggestions at the end of every essay and there is a glossary of terms which explain many of those art-speak words.  A unique feature of the book is the roundtable discussions amongst the authors, one at mid-century and a final analysis called, ‘The predicament of contemporary art’.  I spent about a year just studying this one discussion and learned so much about current practice.

You should have some anthologies of artist and critical writings.  Two I use regularly are Art in Theory 1900 – 2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, and Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz.  These are wonderful collections of important essays and articles by the major figures in art, both artists and critics alike.  It is particularly interesting to read essays by artists which give further insight into their art practice and views.  These reference books give you another advantage – bibliographies.  In the back of these books will be listed all the books and magazine articles which have been referenced; they are a fabulous source for further reading material.

Yeah, but I hate art-speak.  So do I, don’t let it stop you.  Those terms come from philosophy, so they do actually have a basis in meaning.  Just look them up so you know what is being said and move on with reading.  In other words, don’t let them intimidate you.  You never know, you may start reading philosophy!

Art Mags:  There was a point in my career where I just felt so inadequate, reading art magazines was painful so I stopped; it was a mistake.  Art magazines are the best way to stay current.  You should follow or subscribe to a range of regional and national/international journals.  You will have your finger on the pulse of the art community – just where it should be.  Some of my favourites are: October, Art Monthly, e-flux and Artforum.  You may also want to subscribe to magazines in your media which will discuss the particular issues related to what you do.

You don’t have to be a fast reader; it’s okay to plod along, it’s even okay to just dip in, but do it regularly.  You don’t have to understand everything you read, the more your read the more you will understand.  You don’t even have to be fully engaged, if you hit a dull patch just read through it, you’ll soon come to something interesting again.

You indulge your creativity, do the same for your intellect; it won’t be time wasted, I promise.

Further Reading:

This is a list of 14 ways to develop a general reading habit.  You can apply these ideas to reading art history by starting with your favourite artists.

Harvard Library suggests 6 reading habits to develop for first year students.  This is valuable information because as your habit of reading art history develops, you should use these scholarly ways to analyse what you read.

Facing the Dragon Audience

Talking about their work is one of those things artists either love or hate.  But make that speech public and nearly everyone cringes with fear and dread, preferring if given a choice, to jump down the throat of a dragon.  However, if you have made the commitment to professionalism, speaking in public about your work is something you will have to do – there’s no dodging it. In this article, I’ll give you some insights into the speaker/audience dynamic, some tips to calm your nerves and some advice to prepare yourself to face The Dragon Audience.

First some guiding rules:

-          Speak in plain English not jargon or art-speak.  You want to communicate with your audience and engage them with your speech; you are after all trying to get them to be interested in your work.  Speaking in jargon or art-speak is an immediate exclusion – a thing to avoid at all costs.  As in writing, conveying information starts with clear understandable English.

-          Never underestimate the intelligence of you audience.  This is a sure-fire way to offend your audience, losing their respect for you and losing your chance to gain interested followers.  Always speak respectfully to your audience no matter who they are or what their background is and speak in terms they will relate to.

-          Never overestimate your own intelligence.  This may be obvious on the heels of the previous rule but this one deals with your own sense of who you are.  Being arrogant, snooty or huffy are real turn-offs and you won’t get far taking that path.  People want to like you; you have to give them the reasons to trust this instinct.

I’m going to repeat that: people want to like you.  This is a key point to remember when preparing to face an audience.  Not only do they want to like you, but you have the added advantage of their being interested in what you’re doing – they wouldn’t be there otherwise.  This means you are starting with two big pluses on your side.  Now the trick is to use that to gain their trust in you and boost their interest in what you do.

A sure-fire way to gain audience trust is to tailor your message to your audience; make the effort to meet them where they are.  For example, if you know you are facing an audience who is uneasy with art, explain to them in simple terms, not artistic terms, what art is, the importance you see in it or why you love it and how they could too.  I know, you’re thinking, ‘but that’s not easy’.  No it isn’t and that’s where the effort comes in.  Addressing an audience’s apprehensions by giving them an easy to understand example will go a long way in your favour to engage their interest.

I once had to face a wealthy but rural group of people interested primarily in non-abstract art.  My work was abstract and conceptual, not an easy thing to consider.  I knew the audience would be apprehensive and I could see it when people started to arrive, they avoided looking at the work on the walls.  I knew this apprehension was fear at not understanding abstraction and not knowing where to start to understand it.  I had to show them how to understand, not my work, but abstraction; I had to give them a way to connect.  I asked them to keep an open mind when looking at the work, understanding that it was not easy work to comprehend and then I gave them this simple illustration of how I see abstraction:

‘It’s easy to make an image of anything, a tree for example, by drawing, painting or photographing the tree.  But if you want to express the experience of sitting under the tree, listening to the leaves rustle in the wind, watching the light dance through the leaves, feeling the breeze on your skin as you sit under the tree; this is where abstraction comes in.  Abstraction expresses an experience.’

That’s all I had to say.  The audience understood immediately what I meant and they now had a way to relate to abstraction.  When I finished speaking, they turned immediately to look at the work.  I had engaged them.  I never said a word about my artwork, my theories or methods; it was all about communicating the function of abstraction.  It was what this particular audience needed and it was the only way I was going to reach them.

(Note: English version follows the French in the video)

During the course of the evening several individuals came to me to ask particular questions about my work, often these questions were searching and difficult which meant they were considering my work carefully.  At times I was unable to answer their questions; I had to admit I didn’t know.  And this is my next bit of advice to you; it’s okay to say you don’t know.  An audience or individual can accept the truth of that easier than a line of nonsense to cover your insecurity.  As artists, unfortunately, people expect us to be arrogant, obnoxious and full of bull.  If you stay honest, open and unafraid of your insecurities people will respect you for it.  They will also respect you if you don’t take offense if they don’t understand.  You never know, they may mull it over and find they do understand, gaining you an interested follower instead of a pissed off observer.

Here are some tips to help calm your nerves:

-          Hold something solid while you talk.  It’s far easier to stay focused if you’re not distracted by the movements of your own hands or the quiver of nervous paper notes.  If you can’t hold anything hold your hands behind you back.

-          Look at the smiling faces in front of you, realize they are smiling at you and take courage from this.  Likewise, if people are concentrating with furrowed brows, they are engaged with you.  Learn to recognize the difference between concentration and a scowl, there is a difference.

-          If you are too frightened to look at the people in front of you, which is okay, skim your glance just over their heads.  It will look like you’re making eye contact but you won’t be.

-          Don’t imagine people are naked in front of you.  Really, could you talk calmly in front of an audience of naked people?  I certainly couldn’t!

Further Reading:

Toastmasters International: 10 Tips for Public Speaking

A Research Guide for Students: Presentation Tips for Public Speaking


Statement Writing Basics

There’s no question that writing an artist statement is difficult, enervating and is the ultimate fail-proof method to forget everything you’ve ever known about creating art; sit down to write that statement and you immediately go blank.  It’s happened to all of us.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the basics of writing an artist statement and give you a structure to build on.  Artist statements can be quite simple or very intricate documents but they all have a structure and it is this structure which will give you flexibility in writing statements.  I’ll also touch on some common questions like should it be in the first or third person (I’ll explain that too, if you’ve forgotten your English grammar).

First, there are three rules to always follow:

-          Use plain English, not art-speak.  Even in the most complex of statements, the use of readable clear English will reflect better on you and it will immediately convey professionalism.  You want people to understand your work, achieving this starts with good English.

-          Discuss your work, not what you think art is.  An artist statement is not a document to convert non-believers; it is a document to give insight into your practice and creativity.

-          An artist statement is not marketing text.  It should not contain exaggerations, jingle-like phrases, or in any way inflate your reputation.  You’re not trying to sell yourself or widgets with this text.  You are trying to highlight something unique about what you do.

But where to start?  The best start for an artist statement is with your media; an opening sentence which states immediately what you do and what materials you use will clear the decks for further understanding your work.  It can be annoying to read a beautifully written statement only to wonder what material is being discussed.  Often it is through the discussion of media that you can find your way to the theory of what and why, you do what you do.

This opening sentence on media should not be a dry list of materials you use, but rather an intriguing opening which says what you work with and gives a clue to further working theory or method.  For example, ‘Jane Boyer is an abstract painter who uses very little paint in her paintings, preferring the contrast of powder and liquid in the creation of surfaces; powdered graphite being one of her favourite media.’  From here, a discussion of influences on your work can easily be made simply by answering the questions, ‘why do I work with this material and what does it allow me to accomplish in my artwork?’  You can also make a connection with past artistic practices if they are relevant to your current practice.  For example, if you were a sculpture and now you’re a painter, the use of sand in your paintings could be significant.

All this information; media, working methods, influences, any significant link to past artistic practices which is contained in the first section of your statement gives a clear picture of your background, your research interests and your working methods.  You then can concentrate on the theory behind your work to finish out your statement.

Having spoken of your background and interests, now is the time to discuss the philosophical quote which has inspired you and how you are interpreting it, or the overall goal you are trying to achieve with your work; are you reinterpreting a style or method, have you made a breakthrough discovery, are you responding to your environment?  The use of a quote from an artist who has influenced you, someone who has written about your work or even something you have written about your own work is good to use here.  It should give a sense of relevance to art production in general.  End your statement with a succinct sentence or two summation of what you are working to achieve.

Finally, the one question most artists ask, should you use the first or the third person?  If you’re not sure what that is, the first person uses ‘I’ as when you are speaking about yourself, the third person uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ like when you are speaking to someone of another person.

There is no hard and fast rule with this.  Many people feel the very nature of the term ‘artist statement’ suggests an artist speaking of his or her own work.  However, it has become very popular to use the third person because it then is very easy to use information in the artist statement in a review or an article written about the artist.  I suggest fitting the statement to the use.  If you’re using your statement for a proposal, the intimate first person could be appropriate.  If you’re including an artist statement with a press release it might be best to use the objective third person.

Just remember to state clearly what you do, how you do it and why and you will never worry about writing another artist statement…at least that’s what I tell myself each time I sit down to write mine.  It usually works once the blank-out has passed.


Further Reading:

Certified art coach Molly Gordon explains How to Write and Use an Artist Statement

Statement writing Advice from Alan Bamberg at

Artist Hannah Piper Burns from the Abundant Artist on writing an artist statement

Read Jane’s artist statement here