how to write a great artist's statement

Entering an art competition? This detailed guide will help you really understand how to write a winning artist’s statement.

Part 1 of 2

If you are submitting your artwork to an art contest — like the Salt Spring National Art Prize — you will probably be asked to include an artist’s statement: a short, written piece about the artwork you are submitting. It helps the selection committee, jury, and viewers understand what your artwork is about.

A great artist’s statement also helps your chances of being selected for an art exhibition. While not judged directly, a jury will review the artist’s statement when they view the art, which helps in gathering further understanding of your work.

An artist’s statement should be written for each artwork. Before writing your statement, check with the art competition you are entering to confirm the requirements. There will usually be requirements about the length. There may also be specific guidelines different from the general approach described here.

Step 1: Reflect on the purpose of the artist’s statement

The artist’s statement, like your artwork, is meant to communicate. The more clearly it can communicate your ideas, in as few words as possible, the more effective it will be.

Your artist’s statement is about your artwork, not about you or your career. Include biographical information only if it is critical to the viewer understanding your artwork.

Ideally, every single piece of information you include in your artist’s statement will have good a reason for being there. No fluff, no filler!

Here’s the artist’s statement writing mantra:

Cleary communicate my important ideas about this artwork.

Step 2: Consider the secondary goal

An artist’s statement has one other important goal you should consider when writing it: to persuade the reader why your artwork is important.

This persuasion should happen naturally as a by-product of the ideas you present in your artist’s statement. Avoid any display of hubris in your statement. Show why your work is important, don’t tell that it is important. So, our second mantra:

Is this sentence in my artist’s statement helping to show why my work is important?

Step 3: Brainstorm major parts

We recommend that when you start a new piece, you also create a notebook to write down all the ideas you have about your work as you work on it. It will be much easier to write your artist’s statement with all those ideas already written down. If you’ve done this, you’re off to a headstart. But even if you haven’t, this section will help you to start to generate ideas.

It’s time to get started. Have your artwork nearby to jog your memory.

The headings below are common elements of an artist’s statement. They include question prompts to help you to generate ideas. You don’t have to include information on each section, nor answer all these questions, in your artist’s statement. Use what is relevant to you and your artwork.

Write the headings down that you feel are relevant, use the questions to prompt ideas, and jot your ideas down.

In this brainstorming stage, don’t worry too much if you think what you’re writing down is good or not. You just want to generate ideas that can be eliminated or refined later.

Often, you may need a few brainstorming sessions to generate ideas. Take a day or two in between each one. Coming up with starting ideas is a journey. Let yourself meander!

The common elements of a great artist’s statement are below.

The general background or context of the artwork

  • What was the personal inspiration, source or origin of the piece?
  • What artistic or historical events or trends influenced your artwork?
  • What social, cultural, political or other issues influenced this art?
  • What is your philosophy of art, and how does it influence your art practice and this piece?
  • Is this work derivative from another work (of your own or another artist)? Be sure to name the other artist.
  • Is this work an homage? Be sure to name the artist and source artwork.

The artwork’s place

  • How does this piece fit within your art practice? Is it part of a series?
  • How does this artwork reflect your evolution as an artist?
  • How does your work fit within the broader context of contemporary art?

The artist’s goals and vision

  • What goals did you have for this piece?
  • What was your vision for this artwork?

Themes and meaning in the work

  • What themes does your piece explore?
  • Why do these themes matter to you and in the world?
  • How is meaning created in your work?
  • What is the viewer’s experience?

Materials and technique used

  • What medium is the art?
  • What materials were used?
  • What techniques did you use to create the piece?
  • What is interesting and/or unique about the materials or technique?
  • How do the materials and/or techniques used contribute to meaning and impact on the audience?

Step 4. Write a rough draft

Take your ideas and write a rough first draft of your artist’s statement. Aim to have the first draft about 20% longer than the maximum number of words allowed. We’re going to be editing it down and it’s easier to start with too many than too few words.

Be sure to write your statement in the first person perspective — “I feel…”, “My art….” rather than the third person perspective.

Step 5. Avoid these common mistakes

Before finishing your rough draft, make sure you aren’t falling into any of these common mistakes.

  • Don’t use complicated language if you can avoid it. Use the simplest words that can properly explain your idea. Sometimes a jargon word is required. That’s fine — but be aware that the person reading the artist’s statement may not have the same arts background as you, so the word may be unfamiliar. This could hurt their understanding.
  • Don’t make the artist’s statement about you. It’s not a biography.
  • Don’t write an arts manifesto or philosophy statement. Include information about your philosophy if you can show why the philosophy is important to the work.
  • Don’t write about your art career unless you can clearly articulate why it must be included to understand your work.
  • Don’t write to impress. Readers should be impressed with your ideas, not your fancy writing.

Step 6: Refine

Make sure you’ve had a day or two rest from writing your artist’s statement, so you feel fresh when tackling this stage.

You want to begin to refine your statement. Your goals during the refining process are:

  • Be more specific and precise with words used. Look up synonyms for words to see if you can find more specific, meaningful words to replace vague words.
  • Explain your ideas more deeply. Ask yourself, is there more I can say about that? What questions might someone reading this have about what I am trying to say?
  • Pack more meaning and detail into fewer words. Rewrite sentences so that they say the same thing — or more! — in fewer words.
  • Make sure you finish with an appropriate word count.

At this stage, reading the statement aloud to yourself or trusted artist friend may help.

You may want to refine in a couple of sittings.

Step 7: Make sure it meets requirements

Before finalizing, review the requirements for the artist’s statement again and make sure you meet them. Don’t get rejected because you have a few too many words or didn’t meet some other requirement.
If you are submitting to SSNAP 2023/24, here are the submission requirements related to the artist’s statement:

  • An artist statement must be submitted for each artwork entered
  • The artist’s statement must be a maximum of 100 words
  • To ensure anonymity during judging, the artist’s statement must not include the artist’s name, nor include information that may identify the artist, including resume or education information or previous exhibition
  • Acknowledge if the artwork is an homage, a repurposed work, or uses source materials from another artist

You can find complete submission requirements on our Submissions Info page.

In part 2 of this article, we will present various examples of good and bad artist’s statements.

Credit: Image by upklyak on Freepik