Notes on Writing the Artist Statement

On Writing about Photography: Drafting the Artist Statement

Writers would rather write an article or essay than a query letter to an editor to pitch that article or essay. They’d rather write a book than a synopsis. That’s because it often seems to be so much harder to write a one-page query letter than a four-page article. And the same goes for book and its synopsis. Thing is, when we write or work on longer projects, we allow ourselves, our imagination or inspiration to run free. it’s like weaving a fabric, one layer at a time. A query letter is a much, much shorter piece of writing. It not only has to be concise and to the point, but also sell whatever article or essay, or short story for that matter, you want to write. But, like it or not, synopsis, outlines (especially for those writing nonfiction) and query letters come with the job. As a writer and photographer, I should know. And I do know.

So, on the same or at least similar note, when it comes to photography an artist statement is a must. An artist statement is vital in particular when working on a portfolio, and so is an artist bio. But, like writers, photographers would rather photograph, edit and even retouch (if need be) images for their portfolio rather than write the dreaded artist statement. Right?

Writing the artist statement might not be such a painstaking process if we take a closer look at it, at its purpose in our lives as photographers. So, here are my thoughts:

  • write an artist statement (and bio) for each body of work, for each portfolio you put together
  • artist statement can be short (300 words) or longer (two pages); be ready to show both short and long versions
  • in your artist statement talk about sources of inspiration for your work, message and meaning, and share ideas that can only be expressed in words;
  • be consistent: the mood and creative voice that comes through in the artist statement should resemble or even match that in the actual body of work
  • keep it simple, and yet interesting; make them eager for more, and use the artist statement as an introduction to your work

Here are some ideas from my own work:

HAWAII:

Lava meets the ocean.
Pele’s Work – when lava meets the ocean. Aerial lava field photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

When writing a brief artist statement for my Hawaii photo portfolio, I started by trying to remember what and how I felt when I first stepped out of the plane, in Hawaii–“the Aloha air, thick with the warm breeze” and “the clouds and rainbows that painted the sky.” And then I continued by exploring what the islands meant to me, and what this fantastic place has to offer.

 

SYLT, GERMANY:

syltgermany2010_16_lr

Sylt Groynes (Buhnen), Germany. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

While many, especially those living outside Europe, might not be familiar with the island of Sylt, when writing about my Sylt photo portfolio, I started with some facts about this interesting German island:

“Located in the Nordfriesland district of Schleswig-Holstein (the North Frisian Islands of Germany), Sylt is famous for its strange shape (the letter T rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise) and its endless sandy beaches (40 km or almost 25 miles). Sometimes referred to as ‘the German San Tropez’ or ‘the San Tropez of the North Sea,’ Sylt has its own dialect–Soelring.”
BAUHAUS PHOTOGRAPHY:
My interest in Bauhaus photography and Bauhaus photography movement happen in quite an unexpected way. A few years ago, I had to work on a Bauhaus photography assignment. While somewhat fascinated by the assignment, I also didn’t quite understand its purpose nor its symbolism. What lesson was I to learn from it? And why? How could I connect it to something I actually felt strongly about? And how could I use Bauhaus photography, to express that something? So, in order to be able to work on the assignment, I started by exploring the history of the Bauhaus photography movement.
As a side note, here’s a brief excerpt from my notes on the Bauhaus photography movement:
Hope. Bauhaus Rendering of the rainbow flag, including the color black.
Hope: A Bauhaus Rendering. Photo by Alina Oswald. (photo published in Out IN Jersey Magazine) Caption: Here’s my own Bauhaus rendering–the rainbow flag, with the rainbow colors, including black (and also white, for peace), in geometric shapes–triangles, squares, and circles.
“Having its roots in architecture, the Bauhaus photography movement (or school) was founded by architect Walter Grogius, in Weimar, Germany, in 1919. Between World War I and World War II, the Bauhaus movement has attracted many avant-garde artists, and encouraged their artistic explorations. In 1925, it moved to Dessau, and from there, for one more year, to Berlin, where it dissolved in 1933, as it became increasingly unpopular with the political landscape that led to the beginning of WWII. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the last director of Bauhaus.”
Bauhaus Museum. Berlin, Germany.
BTS picture – The Bauhaus Archiv Museum in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Alina Oswald.
A few more thoughts on getting started with writing the artist statement:
– first consider your body of work, the particular portfolio that needs the artist statement
– to start actually writing the artist statement, brainstorm
– think about what you wanted to express or say through your body of work in the first place, and put it in words.
As always, thanks for stopping by!
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