Artist statements are weird. Most of them sound like this: “I’m interested in the relationship between blah blah,” “I have a fascination with the way nature blah blah blah,” “I’m interested and fascinated by blah blah” or “I’m fascinated by my interest in blah blah,” or “My fascinating interest in interesting fascination leads me to blah blah blah.”
It’s fine to be “interested in” and “fascinated by” things all day, but just know that everyone says that in their artist statements and it’s boring.
If you’re interested in the way our environment shapes our language structure, or fascinated by the habit of rubbernecking, you sound like a novice who hasn’t investigated much into the matter. Words like “interested” and “fascinated” demonstrate that you’re still on the surface of understanding.
When you read these phrasings in artist statements over and over, it sticks out as inauthentic and formulaic. If you could be fresh in your wording, while still being professional, someone somewhere would take notice and really appreciate you.
Gallery owners appreciate a professional artist statement. I can make fun of artist statements and rewrite my own eternally and never love it, but ultimately I just have to buckle down and write it and that’s it.
There is only one artist statement I have ever read that stayed in my memory long after having read it, and it belongs to actor/writer Allison Zajac, who really captured the essence of being inspired by the history of her craft and feeling herself in creative urgency’s death grip. It’s epic and honest like a Martin Luther King speech, even if it’s not your standard tell-them-what-your-work-is-all-about type statement.
Artist Statement by Allison Zajac
I believe the truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born inhumanly sensitive. To this human, a touch is a blow and a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god or and a failure is a death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create, so that without the creating of theater or music or poetry or buildings or something of meaning the very breath is cut off from the body. There is a drive to create, to pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, one is not really alive unless one is creating!
I believe that only an artist can come to a full, rich, emotional life off the subtleties and nuances of human interaction. That is, to fly off the handle with it, to create out of circumstance and temperament- completely human and simultaneously super-human behavior. I believe it is a noble thing to be an artist; to use oneself to illuminate humanity; to show something of what it means to be alive. Take example from the trapeze artist. The trapeze artist is performing and defying death at the same time. He is doing more than showing off his skill, he is using his skill to stay alive! Art demands that sense of risk, of danger, but few artists risk their lives. The truth is they aren’t on a high enough wire.
When you create, push yourself as far as you can go and I see where you end. Be literally obsessive about this line, this wire. How can you push it further, higher, deeper…within every artist there is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. And you must practice. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.
I do this because I have heard the music of artists like Vladimir Horowitz, who said, “When I sit at the keyboard, I never know how I will play something” and of whom Emanuel Ax said this about: I knew people who worshiped Horowitz, as I did, and I knew people who hated him. But no one was indifferent. He brought the idea of excitement in piano playing to a higher pitch than anyone I’ve ever heard. For me the fascinating thing was a sense of complete control, and on the other hand, the feeling that everything was just on the verge of going haywire. It never did go over that line, but there was the sense of an unbelievable energy being harnessed, and the feeling that if he ever let it go, it would burn up the hall!
I do it because Milford Graves has cured human beings of illness using drums and strings and air. I do it because I have read the work of poets like Stanley Kunitz, I have seen Kim Stanley perform in the House of Bernarda Alba, I have experienced elation, profound loneliness, triumph, and bewilderment in the presence of Robert Wilson, and Bibi Anderson… I do this because Jose Quintero and Martha Graham have made dance exquisite and because Alfred Stieglitz and Nan Goldin picked up cameras, because Eugene O’Neil and Lanford Wilson wrote plays, because Richard Pryor dared to be funny, because Virginia Woolf and Gerzy Grotowski killed themselves, because Frank Lloyd Wright loved form, because Jacques Derrida philosophized and Ingmar Bergman suffered and millions of women give birth every day….