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Artist Statement: Know your Audience

by Brian Sherwin on 2/12/2011 11:14:44 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

 

 

I am of the opinion that an artist can benefit from having several versions of his or her artist statement. The artist statement submitted to a college art program, grant program, or curator may be very different than the artist statement presented-- verbally or in written form-- to a potential buyer during a studio visit. Thus, I think it is important for an artist to have several versions of his or her artist statement that can be utilized for specific situations. Key point-- know your audience.


Artist statements are ever-changing-- and I will go as far as to say that an artist can take different directions with his or her artist statement depending on who he or she is striving to lure interest from. I realize that my opinion flies in the face of traditionalists who suggest that an artist should use the same artist statement in all situations.. However, it stands within reason to have different versions of your artist statement that are catered to a specific audience. With that in mind-- I want to discuss the type of artist statement that is best drawn upon when conversing-- verbally or in written form-- with the average potential art buyer.


A business motivated version of your artist statement needs the same focus of clarification presented in your ‘standard’ artist statement-- it will just take a different direction. Being able to clarify your artistic direction should be an important aspect of your overall strategy for selling art. That clarification-- displayed within the context of writing a meaningful artist statement-- is a key step toward being capable of discussing your artwork thoroughly with potential buyers. After all, if you can sum up your approach to art with a few well structured paragraphs there will be no doubt that you can handle questions that a potential buyer may ask concerning your art.


With the above in mind-- an artist statement that is geared toward the business-side of art may take a simplified direction compared to the ‘artspeak’ that is commonly used in ‘standard’ artist statements. Simplicity is often a strongpoint of business matters-- you want to get in, make the sale, and make an impact that spurs future transactions. Thus, it is important to keep your business motivated artist statement simple when expressing it to a potential buyer in written form or verbally. You don‘t want to burden the average art buyer with information that is unnecessary toward the goal of persuasion, so to speak.


As mentioned, be wary of artspeak that is common among your art related peers. The words and terms we use among other artists and art professionals may be lost on potential buyers. After all, an art buyer obviously loves art-- but that does not mean that he or she is an insider traveling within that specific subculture, if you will. He or she may not be knowledgeable of art history and specific art terms. Information that your art related peers find clever and insightful may leave a potential buyer confused-- which only serves as a distraction from making a sale.


To put it bluntly-- customers don’t like to feel stupid. Think of the car dealer who rambles on about the mechanics of a vehicle-- the average buyer has no clue what the car dealer is talking about. Thus, the customer is left nodding his or her head out of courtesy while edging away toward the dealer who is more ‘down to earth’ in his or her selling approach. I’m not comparing selling art to selling cars-- but I do think that artists can learn something from the car dealer who strays from only offering hard-line information about a specific product. Most customers-- no matter the business-- only want basic information. That is a key aspect of the consumer culture that we all live in. Thus, your average art buyer is not interested in artspeak or obscure references-- he or she wants the basics.


Artspeak can leave a potential buyer with nothing to say-- unable to reply-- which hampers the confidence of both parties. The words and terms that you use among your art related peers can actually limit the conversation between you and a potential buyer. Furthermore, throwing obscure references at a potential buyer is often not a tactful direction to take toward making a sale. The buyer is not visiting your studio to receive an art history lesson-- he or she is visiting because there is an interest in purchasing art. Again, you don’t want a potential buyer to feel ignorant or to chip away at his or her confidence by over-intellectualizing the conversation. Keep it simple. Make the sale.


In closing, the success of an artist statement, based on my experience, often depends on what the artist leaves out. That goes for artist statements that are geared toward the art community as a whole (Specifically the world of art grants, art exhibit proposals, and art critics) as well as artist statements that are geared more toward art marketing in general. A solid artist statement-- especially if one has a version that is simplified with average art buyers in mind-- can be a powerful tool to draw upon when strengthening the foundation of your art marketing strategy. Know your audience and you may see results.

 

Take care, Stay true,

 

Brian Sherwin



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 19 Comments

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Hello Brian...

Another good article. You sure know how to write them. :)

Anyway, I agree that there should be several differnet versions for several different reasons.

Lately, I have been putting an artists statement on the back of my paintings. OF course that also depends upon where the painting is going. Some art shows want a clear backing...nothing on the back. I put the artist statement on the back of some work I recently gave to one of the galleries that represent my work. As long as it is tastefully done, I see no reason for that not to be o.k. But, I do not know if all allow it or not.

But, for the outdoor art shows, I have begun to put one on the back of each painting...I have some catching up to do because I have a lot of paintings that go into the outdoor art shows.

AND, it is good to have one hanging up at the outdoor art shows too.

Thanks again Brian.

:)Sandy

Maria
via canvoo.com
I agree that "artspeak" often scares people off. However... I feel that I need those artspeak words if I'm to explain my art, since my thoughts behind my works aren't obvious through just looking at the motif. I don't know how to simplify. It's also hard for me to write an artist statement about my art in general, since I feel that my art is taking a lot of different directions (although intersecting directions).

I'm not sure how I should handle putting an artist statement up on my web page - since I want to use my web portfolio both as a portfolio for galleries, just as well a portfolio where I can direct "anyone" who might be interested in seeing what I do, or potential buyers of my work. I'm not sure the latter category really cares about an artist statement in my case, since most of my buyers hasn't asked what my art is about, they seem content with just liking what they see in it.

Michael Cardosa
via canvoo.com
Hi Brian,

In sales it's called sell the sizzle, not the steak! Sir, it's a beautiful day out, imagine yourself zipping down the highway in the little beauty, the wind in your hair, the women you pass checking you out as you speed down the road, imagine the look on your girlfriend's face when you pick her up... of course, that particular sizzle may not cut it when you chatting with a bald guy with wife sitting right next to him in the showroom. So, like the good car salesman, you need to pick the right sizzle for the right time and place. In art, I find it hard to believe that most collectors are buying because of the brush strokes you used to convey ... something. They probably aren't too interested on how you got just the right mix of paints to show the sky in such light. What they are looking at is how that piece of art makes them feel. Do they feel like they are part of the landscape. Do they recognize it or can they identify with the figure you've made almost come to life... That's the sizzle. Make the collector recognize the experience when looking at your art. You may have done the work, but if they own the experience they may just wind up owning the painting too!

Oops, got a little long winded there, great posting.

Thanks again Brian,

Michael

Sharon Weaver
via canvoo.com
Every year or so I revise my artists statement. Keeping it static would be like keeping my art static but I never thought to have different statements, one for clients, one for galleries, etc. This will work if sending it direct but what about my website. I can only have one online. That one needs to apply to everyone who sees it. Right?

Donna Robillard
via canvoo.com
I like the idea of having different artist statements for different groups of people. Actually, I do good to have one - something I need to work on then. I really enjoyed reading this article. Lots of helpful advice.

Spencer Meagher
via canvoo.com
I agree Brian. The artist must craft his statement for the targeted individual. Thanks for your thoughts on that.

Brian Sherwin
via canvoo.com
I'm answering a few of you with within the context of this comment:

Maria, for your website conflict I'd suggest sticking with the artist statement that attracts gallery owners and others you wish to attract who may find artspeak impressive. As for reaching out to everyone else with words-- perhaps offer thoughts on a blog... for example, an article discussing your artist statement so that perhaps you can break it down for individuals who may feel intimidated by the artspeak you use.

That said, I think it is definitely a good idea to know how to discuss your art in different ways depending on who the buyer is if you are selling to them directly-- especially in person. I suppose my article is challenging artists to master the art of conversing about their art-- both verbally and in written form.

Sharon-- same suggestion as above. If you can only have one statement on your website stick with the one you want to present to the specific audience you hope to attract most. However, it might be good, if you have a blog, to write about the statement in a post-- break it down to the basics.

Everyone-- do keep in mind that I'm one of those old hats who thinks that artists, in general, should do more writing about their art. Think back on some of the most influential artists of the last 200 years... most of them offered some form of writing-- or left writing behind-- notes, letters, and so on, that we know of today and has no doubt shaped our opinions of their work-- either directly or from knowledge we take in without realizing it. For example, most people who have read Van Gogh's letters walk away with a stronger connection to his artwork.

My main point-- write, write, write.

Also, I'm not suggesting that artists should generalize about who they are facing in person during a studio visit. I know laymen who have more knowledge about art history than most of the gallery owners I've been in contact with. I know people who never studied art on the academic level who could give a college art professor a run for his or her money.

That said, there is nothing wrong with profiling a potential art buyer, so to speak. Profiling in the sense that if the individual is not known to 'travel' in art circles you can assume that maybe they are not going to be accustomed to artspeak that others find impressive. Thus, be prepared to keep things simple.

The way you talk about art to a gallery owner or gallery-hopping art collector may come off pompous to an individual who likes art but is not exactly involved in the scene, so to speak. You don't want to risk coming off arrogant-- and it is not uncommon for people to lose interest in art if they have a low opinion of an artist... or at the least it may lower your chance of ever selling to that buyer again.

Case in point-- I attended college in a small city located in a rural area of Illinois. During those years I was very involved with the local art scene. I can recall a fellow art student who stuck to the artspeak mode of conversing no matter who he was talking to during exhibit openings-- his artwork sold well at first due to the merit of the art itself. However, as time went on-- and buyers spoke to him about his art-- he experienced a sharp decline in sales.

The decline in sales occurred because his way of talking about his art made many regular buyers feel as if he was belittling them. They felt like he was pointing out their ignorance-- and it turned them off from wanting to make future purchases. Obviously that was not his intention. He was aware of this because he finally asked some former buyers-- and shared what he had learned with everyone else.


Carol Schmauder
via canvoo.com
Very good article Brian with great follow up comments. Thank you for sharing these points.

Jo Allebach
via canvoo.com
I have kept up with changes in my artist statement but the idea of different ones for different audiences is a great idea. I do not thin I use "artspeak" but will have to find some examples not to do. Thanks for all the info.

susie mermaid
via canvoo.com
I am in such a quandary! I have no idea how to even write an artist statement nevermind gear it towards a gallery or a buyer. I simply never learned how to "artspeak."
Perhaps Illustration majors weren't "taught" that? I remember hating all that deepness that fine arts majors talked about. For so many it rang of pompousness. IMO, in may cases it was narcisistic to the point of exasperation.
I just paint what I paint because I am moved by it in some way. My paintings don't have deep meanings or symbolism. They just don't - at least none that I've put there deliberately. I love color and composition. I love the outdoors and atmosphere. The fact that I've painted the subject, conveys that it touched me in some way - the beauty of it, whether complex or simple. The viewer can draw his/her own conclusions.
I am dropping off a piece to a show today - among the list of things was an artist's statement. I just have no idea what to write that doesn't sound ridiculous to my ear, so they are getting the briefest of bios.
I just can't write/speak in artspeak.

Brian Sherwin
via canvoo.com
Susie, just avoid it then. If artspeak is not your thing-- don't force it. Keep it simple. Leave room for questions. Leave room to spark interest.

Allow me to roleplay-- You would be an example of a buyer who is not impressed with bold claims of changing the world or the work having some form of magical or spiritual power. Yes, I've actually read artist statements that suggest that people will 'change' simply by viewing the artists work. Leave the fantasy for novels.

A few other things concerning artist statements and bios-- don't mention your childhood unless it is relevant to your art today. No one cares if you picked up a crayon at age 3-- most of us did. No one cares if you won school art competitions in your early youth. If you focus on that it comes off as if you have had no accomplishments to speak of as an adult.

Furthermore, people generally don't care about why you decided to focus on art later in life-- unless it is relevant to the work. Also, if you are self-taught... great-- we all are. I see many artists turn their writing into a bash against artists who studied art formally. It often comes off tacky, insecure, and dare I say-- jealous. You will find that most art students have little to no direct involvement from their instructors other than criticism. So don't play the 'us vs. them' game.

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Well written up above Brian.
EXCEPT, well I have this opportunity... just to set the record straight...
The 'us vs.them' game is also played from the other side. I have seen it played quite well and often by artists who have studied art formally.
I have met and know those who have studied art formally who believe and have vocally stated that they are more entitled to "Making it in Art," or "Becoming more Successful," because they have paid the monetary price and also in years of attendance for their art education. They deserve I have been told.

NOW, I know not everyone feels that way. But, I just wanted to correct the record.

Thanks,
:)

Maria
via canvoo.com
Brian,

Thanks for the reply and advice!

Putting the statement on my blog as a post, that sounds like an interesting idea. The great thing about blogs is that they invite the reader to engage, to discuss, and ask questions. If I could get people to comment, or ask questions about my statements, that would be great.

Recently, to get feedback on my statement, I've been trying to "test" different statements about my art by reading it to some close friends/family. I definitely don't want to come off as "pompous", so by testing it first on people I know, I thought they could let me know right away if it sounds ridiculous. I also did it to compare my perception of my art and what I want to convey with it, with how they actually perceive it. Or, to have them tell me if they think I'm off, if the statement doesn't sound like the things I actually do, or if they think I'm not making sense.

A few times, I've also tried asking *them* what they see in my art, or how they would describe it if they only could use three or four words. Actually, my brother used the same words as I would have, and a friend of mine gave me a lovely description of my work that I could never have thought of myself.



Maria
via canvoo.com
My point being, in the last paragraph of my comment - that perhaps I should let someone close to me and who know me, and who is also a viewer of my art, help me with wording my statement. They might be better at it than me!

Brian Sherwin
via canvoo.com
Very true-- there are two sides of the game. I know when an artist who has no formal training in art lands representation at a high profile gallery there is always a few degree holders who have a fit about it.


Meltemi
via faso.com
The about me/artist statement is about the artist and their art and not a great deal more. The schooling, the shows, the exhibitions, the awards etc...what a waste of space. And just like the art itself the statement is also continuing work in progress, it is never to be set in concrete. Yes it needs to be tweaked to the context that it is conjunction with. The website, the gallery submission, the funding application and so on. There is only a single expert on you and your art. So it is down to the individual artist to write those words. Its not rocket science to read other artists' "about me statements" and then copy into 'Word' and edit is often a reasonable starting point. Always study other artists' websites for ideas about your own. Read what the critical guru's write, think about it and now update your about me page and the rest of your website too. All artists are self taught in as much as they figure out how to do it for themselves the best just get on and make it work.

Jo Allebach
via faso.com
excellent comments.

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
Meltemi said, "Its not rocket science to read other artists' "about me statements" and then copy into 'Word' and edit is often a reasonable starting point."

Be very, very, very careful with that! You'd be surprised how man artists do searches to find out if another artist has 'borrowed' directly from their words. Some will search sentence by sentence. Plagiarism is not a good starting point.

Meltemi
via faso.com
Ah Meltemi did not have all of his brain in gear or his screen reading glasses on...I agree plagiarism is the same as copyright infringement. The idea is just to use it as the starting point to get you thinking about what to put in your own artists' statement...there are many good ones out there in the blue yonder of the internet and many terrible ones...Think about what you have read and what you would say instead and how you would say it too. Its more about building your statement, or website, from the best of what you have found out on the blue yonder but without being a plagiarist.











 

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