I was perusing the Charles Voorhies Library at PNCA last week, looking for something that might help me write a grant proposal, when I came across Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists by Vicki Krohn Amorose. I highly recommend it, whether or not you feel like you struggle when it comes to writing about your art; Amorose drops serious knowledge in friendly, bite-sized chunks. She had me at page 14, where she writes:
What an artist statement is NOT
An artist statement is not art. It is not a full translation of a visual statement into a verbal statement. The writing does not need to encapsulate all of your creative striving and complexities. It does not need to be entirely original or brilliant, and say everything you want to say to the world.
What an artist statement IS
An artist statement is a concise arrangement of words that acts as a bridge to connect your audience to your art.
I agree so heartily with what she says that I started nodding like an idiot while reading this on the MAX train. I’m an artist and I was the communications designer for Chambers@916 Gallery (may that beloved entity rest in peace), which gave me wonderful insight into how what an artist writes about her work actually gets used. Let me tell you: it often gets used verbatim, which is why a chunk of my job involved editing and rewriting for press releases, website content, and social media.
Most artists, even those who are good at writing in general, are not very good at writing about their own work. They get hung up on “art-speak”, say the same thing three different ways, and try to sabotage their own ideas (sometimes consciously but often not) by making statements that are too general or so personal that it’s uncomfortable to read. Amorose approaches these problems with intelligence and sympathy, and I strongly believe that almost every artist out there would benefit from reading her book. Amorose does recommend having someone else proof your work, regardless of your experience with writing – someone competent, of course, which could but does not necessarily include your friends.
In the Art-Write chapters titled “Exercise:…”, Amorose includes a series of prompts, many of which are similar to the ones I use in my interview process (more on that in the next paragraph). She leaves blanks in her book, where one might write in answers to these prompts, but I think recording verbal responses for later playback is more helpful, if one is able to do this.
I offer a writing and editing service specifically for artists. My fees that include an interview are calculated with writing from scratch in mind ($50 fee plus $0.25 per word after the first 50 words). Experience taught me that artists are much better at talking about their work than they are at writing about it. In addition, listening to how an artists speaks allows me to retain a sense of the artist in what I write. I believe that if artists record themselves discussing their work casually, and write their statements from that, that egregious forms of art-speak would never make it to paper.
If you want to give my service a shot, I’ll charge you a flat $50 if you can tell me Amorose’s Three Rules You Won’t Follow.