Writing an Artist Statement that “Pops”

The artist statement serves many purposes. It frames your work in the broader context of contemporary art, offers crucial information about your process and gives people something to stare at on the gallery wall while avoiding Taryn’s new boyfriend at the opening. But it’s also among the most tedious uses of written language, right up there with software licensing notifications and black-screen Instagram text stories about someone’s feelings.

Most artist statements are long-winded dissertations full of hoity-toity buzzwords that bore the reader comatose. Times have changed. If you really want to stand out in today’s cluttered marketplace of ideas, here are some tips to make your artist statement “pop.”

Grab their attention with an arresting first sentence. Here are some sample ideas: “In 1972 my nana’s face got mauled by a donkey.” “I AM THE DREAD GOD BULBAROCC!!” “I’ll give you three guesses how naked I am right now.” “The next pastrami sandwich you eat could be your last.” Let the reader know that this ain’t your grandma’s artist statement. Get loose and have fun with it!

Prod viewers to give your oeuvre the careful attention it deserves by introducing a challenge to the proceedings. For example, announce that you’ve hidden a tiny picture of Mark Harmon in one of your multimedia collages and offer a small reward for the first person to find it. Invite gallery-goers to listen for a snippet of the Dawson’s Creek theme song hidden in your 90-minute ambient soundscape loop. Or claim your abstract paintings function as Magic Eye™ images if you stare at them long enough. That’ll get ’em looking!

In this reality-TV era, people love drama. Make the work seem more consequential by getting personal and raising the stakes. Instead of stupefying them with grad school jargon, dazzle them with celeb culture and trashy behavior. Confess that another failed show will push your marriage over the brink. Threaten to destroy every piece that doesn’t sell. Hint at convoluted conspiracies and dark forces working to silence you. Tease at an imminent bidding war between rival Oscar winners.

Think of the artist statement as another way to pull the audience into your web of make-believe, as all good art does.

Finally, appeal to the social-media-addicted public’s sense of self-regard and demand for interactivity. Drag their eyeballs from the phone screen to the gallery wall and stimulate discussion by closing with an open-ended question: What do you think?