Nearly every artist website has a section labeled Artist Statement. Blogs abound. Writing about your art can be highly motivating, and is universally accepted as part of the artist’s life. It's inspiring to feel part of a larger artistic world, to connect to others who create or appreciate art, and to feel the satisfaction of having your work positively accepted. But the flip-side to all this writing is that it can stifle creativity.Yes, what's good for you can also be bad. There are times when I’ve tripped myself up with this dichotomy, the “yes, but…”
- The writing about the art is really good…but the art isn’t mature enough to be written about yet.
- I want to be innovative and creative…but if I put nebulous, fleeting ideas into formal writing, my self-censorship kicks in and the ideas die.
- Sometimes it’s just enjoyable to think open-ended without knowing the result…but an equally effective Artist Statement, and the accompanying Artist Identity, makes it harder to take those risks.
When we think creatively, we need to be open to new ideas, images, and connections. How often – subconsciously or not – do we remain wedded to our older ideas out of a desire for security, and its accompanying fear of failure, limiting our potential? We know that applying a hyper-focus on a problem actually makes it more difficult to solve – just like the struggle to find the best words to communicate something insightful about your work can actually make it harder for you to understand what you are trying to achieve. There are a few times when I’ve caught myself thinking, “I’d like to start making art like that, but how could I fit it into the portfolio I’ve built and written about?” I realize I’m thinking too much about the audience – those people I've been writing to – and I try not to do it. But I know that my willingness to take risks can be directly proportional to what I consider an effectively written description of what I have been doing – not where I’m interested in going. In other words, when I'm really comfortable with an artist statement that I've written about a body of work, I'm more hesitant to move in a different direction.
Here are a few ways I trick myself into seeing creative options, and to write effectively:
- Write in a way that explores more questions than answers.
- Don’t think like a specialist, but an innovator.
- Learn to write about craft, not output.
- Write to explain the possibilities in the inspirations, philosophical connections, and Art History influences.
- No Artist Statement can tell the whole story.
- Always allow yourself to the freedom to succeed and fail – because the consequence is growth.
I have always advocated writing as part of a journalistic, creative process, where existing ideas can be re-evaluated and re-combined in fresh and effective ways. A clear understanding of the artistic process is not just associated with a formal, discerning explanation of what the artist intends, but must be combined with an ongoing engagement of thought, spontaneity, and ideas that form the imaginative experiment. Devoting too much energy to writing about what you should be creating may actually prevent you from reaching the heights of achievement to which you aspire. And wouldn't that stiffle creativity.
So what do you think? How do you approach writing about your work?
From deep in the weeds,
"I just purchased and read your book. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the info and will be following up on your blog. I turned 50 this year. I started my art career 3 years ago. I read as many art business and marketing books as I can but yours is the first I have found addressing starting out at 50." ~ RT, OregonAncient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist