Updated: Mar 24
When applying for calls, there are certain documents that are most commonly asked for so that the selection committee can get to know more about you and your practice. The feedback we have heard most often from public art curators is that these calls are very competitive and many good candidates are not selected simply because they did not provide all of the required materials for the call.
If your focus has been visual arts, you may find switching to the written word challenging. Even seasoned writers can struggle with writing about their own work. I have put together a few tips to help you out and a little writing guide to get you started.
** I am speaking here from my own experience in relation to the public art selection process. **
What is an Artist Statement?
Put most simply, an artist statement is a bit of writing about your WORK. This is not an artist biography that describes your personal journey and background. An artist statement focuses on your process, inspiration, methods, and themes.
How Long Should it Be?
Every call has different expectations, but most often I see calls being very restrictive with the amount of text (or even characters) that they allow you to submit for an artist statement. I have seen many calls restrict this to 250 words or less.
I suggest that you make two versions of your artist statement, one that is longer and fully expresses your process, and one that is under 250 words. Label and store both files for when you need them. Keep in mind that being long-winded isn't always a good thing. Your selection panel may have to review hundreds of applicants, and your artist statement is just a little written preview of what your work is all about. Don't over complicate it.
What Tense Should I Use?
While it is often suggested for your artist biography to be written in the 3rd person, artist statements can be written in the first person (I, Me, My) or third person (She, He, They, Them), whichever you are most comfortable with.
"I saw an artist statement that was very descriptive and used heavy academic language... should mine be like that?"
No, if that is not you, then don't do it. Your artist statement does not have to use lofty terms to communicate what your art is all about. I would argue that brevity and conciseness is a joy for a reader that is sorting through many applications (but that is just my hot take).
When Do I Update My Artist Statement?
As your work changes over the course of your career, you will need to update your artist statement to make sure it is still applicable. I like to revisit ours once a year in December as I reflect on the year and prepare for all of the calls for public art that drop in the spring time. Chances are, you will be able to keep most of the statement the same from year to year, and make small adjustments as your style transforms.
A Word of Caution
Always read the call for artists CLOSELY. They may have different expectations for your artist statement. I have seen more than one call in which the author of the RFP/RFQ did not know the difference between an artist statement and and artist bio, and were using the terms interchangeably. Try and read between the lines to see what it is that they are actually asking for, and when in doubt, email the point of contact listed in the call.
I have made a worksheet to help get you started and uploaded it below. I hope this helps you on your journey to a successful application!