Episode 13 How to write an artist statement in English if English is your second language

Updated: Oct 29, 2019


Hey guys, welcome to The Arty Anglais Podcast a podcast where we talk about art culture and society to help you learn English naturally. You'll hear me talk about interesting topics, English expressions and English grammar in an interesting way so you can learn English in context.

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artist statement - a description of your work as an artist

off the top of my head - thinking of something without planning

coming up - planned for the next few weeks

low point - feeling unmotivated

digressing - going away temporarily from the main subject

portfolio - examples of your work

progression of my work - show how it has changed over time

experience under his belt - very experiences

many feathers in his cap - lots of success to be proud of

incorporate - include within your work

visually apparent - it's obvious

a recurring theme - a consistent symbol or theme occurs throughout your work

don't oversell it - don't talk about it too much about it

don't talk it up - discuss something in a way that makes it seems like something different

selling itself -

when it comes right down to it - what's the most important thing at the end of the day

the bigger picture - how your work fits into the world or the situation as a whole

food for thought - you have lots of ideas in your head ready to write something

off by heart - learning something without needing to read anything to prompt you

relates - make or show a connection between.


00:00:28 Hey everyone, welcome back to Episode 13 of the Arty Anglais Podcast. My name is Tara and I'm an Australian who is living in France in Montpellier and I teach English and art together. So, if this is your first time here, a big welcome to you and the Arty Anglais Podcast. I'm super super excited that you have found it. Just to explain a little bit about what goes on here, on the Arty Anglais podcast I talk about lots of different things related to art and culture. For example, I've made some episodes about urban sketching, street art, street artists, science and art, animations, tram art etc. I've spoken to some artists and in episode 9 I spoke to the author of a book - Eli Castelli who wrote the book There is No F in Art. Then in Episode 10 and 11, I started to share some arty places you could visit if you went to my home country Australia. I'm going to release the last episode of this series in a few weeks.

00:01:43 I've also recently started making a series called 'The Art of Conversation' which is released every Sunday. What it is - The Art of Conversation is basically me answering conversation questions from the website Conversation Starters world. So, in each episode, I talk for about 10 minutes (maybe sometimes more) and I try to point out some of the expressions that I have used. These episodes are relatively unplanned so you'll hear me speak about things that come to me 'off the top of my head' which means unplanned. For example, in the last episode, I talked about different ways that you could say you like something because I felt like in previous podcast episodes I kept saying I really like this and I really like that so I tried to focus on using different ways to say you like something. So anyway, go and listen to those shorter episodes also. There is no transcript for these episodes, however, I'm uploading each episode to YouTube and you can turn on the subtitles to help you if some things are not clear. So, I'll put the link to the channel in the show notes.

YouTube (Podcast Episodes)

00:03:01 Anyway, I hope you like these episodes. It's just something a little bit different where I really do focus on the art of answering conversation questions as a native speaker would. I started making this because I felt like my students often ask me 'what would you say in this situation, or what would you say in that situation and sometimes my answer would be not what you would expect or not what you would find in a textbook or a grammar exercise for example! That's what I also struggle with my French conversations. Very often I want to say something or give my opinion but I'm not sure how you might say so it sounds natural. So I guess I felt that if that's something I struggle with, I'm sure my students also struggle with the same thing too. So I hope you'll like episodes. Tell me what you think. Tell me if there is anything you would like me to answer and I can try and answer it in one of my Art of Conversation episodes.

00:04:10 Today we are following on from the last episode (episode 12) about being creative, and we'll talk about how to write an artist statement. So I'm going to talk about where you can start and what to include. I'll also tell you a little about what it means to write in the active voice compared to the passive voice and how to write in the first person when you write your artist statement. At the end of today's episode, I've included something for you to fill out if you want to practice talking about yourself as an artist. I'd love to hear about what some of you do as artists. You can fill it in, and I hope to be able to share some of these artist statements in future episodes at the start of each episode or the end of each episode. To access the transcripts of each episode you'll need to sign up to be a member of the Arty Anglais website, but it's free to do, don't worry. If you're already a member you'll be able to access the PDF from the transcript.

Download the PDF form to fill in here.

00:05:23 I have some interesting episodes planned and coming up. I have one about comics in particular why they are so popular in France and also I've been doing a lot of reading about the psychology of colour so I wanted to share some of that with you and talk about some expressions of colour as well.

00:05:46 So wherever you're listening from I hope you're going well and you're enjoying practising your English. Me, I'm feeling like I'm in a little bit of a low point (unmotivated and down) with my French learning and I should take my own advice with my French learning to stay motivated. But I have to remind myself it's like that sometimes. The motivation levels can go up and down. Some weeks I feel like I'm going great and making progress, then other weeks I feel like I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing! I don't know what I'm saying. So I'm here to remind you its ok, and to remind myself. When I'm feeling a bit like that I always try to either have a break from it or find something that I know I know well, just to remind myself how much progress I've made. So, for example, I might listen to something where I know that I will understand at least 50% of it.

(I may be a little crazy too - I just started learning Portuguese as well as French but I'll talk about that a little in a future episode!)

00:06:44 It's pretty cool when I look back and see just how much I have learnt and how much progress I've made. I remember at the start I could hardly even say where I came from! It makes me realise how cool it is to learn another language. It's like entering into this world you never knew existed. Anyway, I'm digressing a little bit (leave the main subject temporarily) let's go back to the subject for today which is artist statements!

00:07:20 Why am I talking about artist statements and how to write them?

Well, I want to start sharing what some of you do as artists on the podcast. Maybe you want to increase the profile of your work (your art portfolio) to English speaking countries. Perhaps you need to send your portfolio of work to a gallery, or maybe you've been invited by a gallery to show your work in an English speaking country, but you're not confident talking about your art in English. Or maybe you want to be able to write back to English speakers who leave comments on your Instagram posts. There are so many reasons why being able to talk about your art in English might be important to you and hopefully, today's episode might be of some help to you.

00:08:07 I'm by no means (which means not in any way; not at all; absolutely not) an expert in writing an artist statement. However, I have compiled a lot of ideas together to help you at least get started. In the book, Steal Like an Artist that I talked about in the last episode Austin says - Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started. So without wasting any further time, let's find out how to begin writing an artist statement.

General ideas about your artist statement

Know Your Target Audience

00:08:32 First and foremost who need to know who your target audience is when you're writing an artist statement. As an artist, you should assess what’s meaningful to you in your work before you try and tell anyone else why it’s essential. Mark Scala, the chief curator of Nashville’s First Center for the Visual Arts, said he’s curious to talk about the evolution (how your work has changed over time) of an artist’s work as it develops.

He says that this helps to encourage useful conversation when one can see a few examples of source materials such as drawings, photographs, digital files, piles of sketches and drawings and ongoing works. He also suggests that it’s useful to see how the progression has gone from older to more recent work. So that means showing how you've improved and what you may have learnt over a period of time. For example, I have lots of different sketchbooks that I have kept from my years of drawing and I can really see the progression of my work. So if I was to take my sketchbooks to show somebody to talk about my work I would be able to show them where I started and where I am now.

00:09:54 Also what Mark believes is most important is you should talk about what you do as an artist and don't talk about what you can't do. Mark Scala has numerous art shows under his belt so I guess he kind of knows what he's talking about. 'Under his belt', is a good idiom which means having successful experience behind you. He's had a lot of successful shows. So he 'has a lot of experience under his belt.' I could also say he has many feathers in his cap for example. Which means he has many achievements.

00:10:33 So, Mark suggests it’s easier to sound informed when you talk about things you do know, rather than trying to bluff (lie) your way through the things you don’t know. He says when he adopts this attitude of not bluffing or lying, he feels much more confident when he talks to people. So my advice would be if someone asks you about something that you do 'do' or something about your art and you're not really sure - just say I don't know if you don't know.

Art Mentors

00:11:05 Secondly, the next thing that I think is important is having art mentors. I think it's important to find an English speaking art mentor especially if you're wanting to put your work out into the English speaking world. My suggestion is to find three English speaking artists that inspire you and your work. Go to their websites or their Instagram pages and read what they have to say about what they do as artists. In the age of Instagram and YouTube and online demonstration videos - we follow artists on Instagram for inspiration and ideas. You can analyse how they share their work. You can see what language they use? Try to mimic that language. Use the things that they've written about their work as a model for you and build on this. Which means to use it as a model and adapt it so it's useful for you. In that process, try not to lose that part of you that makes you unique. Try to understand your similarities to these mentor artists but also try and make sure you know your differences also. One way you can do this especially if English is your second language is to somehow incorporate your culture and your language into your description of your work.

Your culture and your language

00:12:36 If your culture and language are a big part of your work, try to explain that. For example, I've seen some Portuguese artists recently emphasise the importance of the word 'Saudades'. In their artist's statement, they try to explain in English how this word has no English translation. “Saudade” is an untranslatable Portuguese term that refers to a melancholic longing, a yearning or an incompleteness and it is very often a recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature and music. Artists use this in their artist statement to explain how their work provides a window into their culture.

00:13:27 I'm a big fan of reading artists statements when the international artist explains how an aspect of their culture relates to their work. In the process, I learn something about them and a culture which is different from mine. As an English speaking person living in France. I can also say that it's intriguing to me to know how aspects of life in France have possibly influenced artists in their work. It doesn't necessarily always have to be about culture either; perhaps it's about family life or your family story. You might also consider having two different artist statements that don't directly translate from your first language. For example, you might translate your website into two different languages. In the case of a Portuguese artist, it might be in English and Portuguese; however, the explanation of the word 'Saudades' isn't necessarily required in the Portuguese section.

Describe your process

00:14:34 The next thing that's important when you're writing your artist statement is to talk about your process. So describe your process. You don't really need to tell people what is already visually apparent (what is obvious) in your work. People will already be able to see if it's visually apparent in your work. People are much more interested (I find) to know how you do what it is that you do. Spend time talking and thinking about the things that aren’t already immediately self-evident in your work, such as focusing on the behind-the-scenes making of the work. For example, when people ask me what I do, I explain my process - I explain to them that as part of my weekly routine I make myself go somewhere in the city to draw while I'm sitting in a place and observing. I'm trying to focus on the present moment and capturing the parts of the city I see in a way that's personal to me. What I'm trying to do is provide a window into the way that I see something, in my artwork.

00:15:46 So keep in mind when you're writing your artist statement people want to know more about how you create your artwork. They want to know what you do and how do you do it? At the same time, you have to balance how much you talk about your work - you shouldn't talk too much about it or oversell it because it's a visual medium. People should see some of the processes in what you do. It should be able to sell itself mostly.


don't oversell it - don't talk about it too much about it

don't talk it up - discuss something in a way that makes it seems like something different

selling itself - presented in a favourable light without having to say anything about it /communicate exactly what it is without you having to talk too much about it. Very often your artwork will be viewed when there are no people there or they might be a small description next to your work.

So this all sounds excellent and great - but how can you write your own artist statement? First, my advice is to brainstorm and interview yourself. So this is where the PDF that I've included in the transcript notes will be really helpful to help you get started to do your interview. In the document, I have listed all the different questions that you could go through to help you think about your art more. I'm going to talk briefly about these steps.

Download the PDF form to fill in here.

00:17:10 Think about your work first and brainstorm

1. Your overall vision. Gather your work together and look at it. Get all your paintings, all your images together. Just have a look at everything. Write down three words that describe your work. They need to be powerful words. What is the main idea behind your work?

Describe the mood or how it makes you feel when you look at the work. For example, for me, I would use the words, precise, quick and interpretive to describe my work. You could also ask other people the first three words that come to their head when they describe your work.


2. History of your work Why you have created the work and its history or its story. When did you first start creating the artwork? Who would you say are your most significant influences? Or is there a particular history or historical period from which you draw inspiration?


3. Where does your inspiration come from, who or what inspires your work? Which artists encourage you to do work? For example, I would say the Japanese artist Hokusai is someone that heavily influences my work because I really liked how he created his block prints with fine lines and flat ink. In this section, it's also good to include a quote about your work. It should be a quote that comes from you, not from someone famous or well known. For example, I could say something like 'I have often said that my artwork is something that allows me to live in the moment.'


4. Process What media do you use? Do you make it yourself or do you buy it? Is there a reason you choose that medium? (materials) Do you start with an idea of what the end product will look like? Or do you think you're in some significant way of reacting to the world around you - to culture or the economy? In this section, you also want to talk about how your work unique? How does your work fit into a series of works or longer projects? So maybe you're creating pieces that are a part of a 2-3 year project.


5. You and the relationship to your work. Do you have a favourite artwork among your creations? Description of an artwork you like best: How did you get the idea for the piece? Why did you choose that media to make it? What do you like most about it? How do you know when you've finished a particular piece of artwork? i.e. How do you know when to stop working on a piece? When it comes right down to it, what do you like best about making art?


When it comes right down to it - means 'what's the most important thing' to know is what do you like best about making your art.


6. Audience in this section we ask things like - Do you think that you see the world differently than the people that see your work? Does religion, or any spiritual belief, play in the creation of your work?


7. Selling your work - How can people see your art and buy it? Does your work sell well in another geographical location? If so, why do you think that is? Is it ever hard to part with a piece of art? Did you ever consider expressing yourself in other art forms?


8. The bigger picture (the bigger world around you) What do you think art is really about today? Where does your work fit in with the current art scene? How does your work fit in with the history of art and art practice?

Once you know all this, and you've answered all of these different questions you'll have a lot of inspiration and a lot of 'food for thought' when it's time to write your artist statement.

food for thought - you have lots of ideas in your head ready to write something

Why write an Artist Statement?

00:22:08 So now we're up to the part where we have to write the artist statement. Now, why do we need to write an artist statement after answering all the interview questions? Basically the artist statement is a summary of all the things that you have answered in the interview.

Writing an artist’s statement can be an excellent way for you to clarify your ideas about your work. So things like applications for funding, dealers or curators all require Art Statements. The public needs to have access to your description of your work, in your words. This is what the art statement will provide. Art statements are also useful when writing a proposal for an exhibition or project. The style of your artist statement will most often depend on the context of where it will appear. Who is your audience? What assumptions can you make about what they know about your work? You can be emotional and show a side of yourself. or it can be Analytical, humorous, antagonistic, political or professional.

antagonistic - showing or feeling active opposition or hostility towards someone or something

00:23:20 I'm sure many of you that have made art statements in your own language already understand the process and understand why you need to write an artist statement.

Sarah Hotchkins from The Creative Independent says that an Artist Statement should be three things: I'm going to summarise what the three things are.


What. Make sure to state what medium you work in (paintings, sculptures, installation, non-narrative video, performance, etc). Sarah Hotchkins believes it’s incredible how many statements don’t include this basic fact. So if you use oil paints, make sure that you state this. Make sure you say what it is you use.


Why. Try not to overthink this one. Look back at your brainstorms and your casual conversations and your interview questions and think more about this. You make this work because you’re excited about it. What, exactly, makes you passionate? She says: Be confident: Your art shouldn’t “hope” or “try” to do something. So never use the words I hope to do this or I try to do this. You should say 'it does this.' Here is where you can also bring up, without going too far into the art history who your influences are and who your inspirations are.


How. If you have a truly unique process that’s important to understand. Usually, this is one thing that images can’t accurately convey. Briefly describe how you do your work. You should talk about what gets you into the studio and what really drives you to create. Why are you so passionate about creating. It should connect viewers to your work - they should read it and then they should want to look closer at your work.

Lastly, unless it needs to be a one-page statement, it shouldn't be any longer than two paragraphs.

When it comes to writing your artist statement, I have three tips.

1. Write in English first

00:25:44 Some people would suggest writing your artistic statement in your native language first, but I highly recommend as an exercise to help your English, to first have a go at writing it in English. You can use certain parts of it to translate using google translate if you want to (this is something that I do a lot as well), but I also try to use websites like Reverso Context and Word Reference I will put some of these links in the show notes. I usually use these to understand if what I've written makes sense. But then, just be sure that you have it double checked by a speaker of English.

00:26:27 Don’t try to limit yourself to your foreign language vocabulary. That's why I suggest writing it in English first and using all of the inspiration you can from the different artists that you've looked at. Try your very best to compose something that is done by yourself. Rather than just using google translate. Do your very best to compose something for yourself.

2. Proofread and edit. With everything I write, even these podcast Episodes, I use Grammarly. I use this to edit and refine my writing. For me, it certainly helps my confidence when writing and knowing that what I am writing is grammatically correct.

3. Give your statement to someone to proofread. Send your art statement to at least three people to look at to make sure it makes sense, and it does your work justice. 'Doing your work justice' means representing it in a right and fairway. Your statement might encourage some debate or discussion about making sure that you show your work in the most favourable light. Again - this is always tricky, but I suggest trying to show people who support your work so that they understand what your work is about.

00:28:00 But how do I know how to write using the active voice and in first-person?

Grammarly has a really good article about the difference between active voice and passive voice. If you use Grammarly to help you write, it will point out when you have used the passive voice. I'm not just saying this to advertise Grammarly either. It's something that I genuinely love using when I do use it I learn a lot about my writing.

You should write your artist statement in the active voice.

Active voice -