Sending out a bad artist statement is like sending out a CV printed on crappy paper, with stains on it. It doesn’t help to make you (or your work) look very good.

But aren’t you a photographer, a visual artist? If you had wanted to become a writer you would have done so, right? Over the past few years, I’ve tried all kinds of approaches to deal with this seemingly clever point, and none of them worked very well. So here’s my latest attempt: get over yourself!

See, here’s the thing: If you can’t even talk or write about your own photography doesn’t that tell me that you literally have no clue what it’s all about? Doesn’t it mean that I could simply take the work and define what it’s about, twist and bend its possible meanings to make it fit my own ideas? Is that what you want people to do with your work – after you spent all the time getting it together? Probably not.

via Conscientious Extended.

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  1. I have not seen artist statements written by the great photographers and as you mentioned, the meaning of their work is interpreted as the viewer wishes. Is this really a bad thing if it helps to keep interest in the work?

    When I look at work, if it requires reading about it to get it then 2 things happen.
    1. The impact is lost because I had to stop and read about it. and
    2. I rarely finish reading and just move on to the next piece.

    As an intellectual exercise it is okay but is this really an intellectual endeavor or something to please the eye and remember later.

    • @Michael,
      I agree. The piece with just a single interpretation has a right to exist. So do pieces with multiple interpretations.

      On top of that: if piece REQUIRES more than a striking title (if any) then probably picture is not good, as it does not speak for itself. This is what actually important.

      And sometimes vieweres find deep meanings that even author hasn’t been considering. But the meaning is there somehow. Umberto Eco says that once you released the text, it starts to live its own life. That’s normal.

      Besides, photographers are freaking bad at writing and what they DO write in practice is hardly a clear explanation. It is usually some psychedelic mess that has to be decyphered, drawing attention away from pic completely.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Michael. If understanding a photograph’s meaning and impact is reliant upon whether or not I read a few paragraphs telling me how to feel, you’ve lost me. If an image relies upon an artist statement to be valid and meaningful, then it’s more about the photographer than the audience. Not my cup of tea.

    The beauty and magic of photography, in my opinion, is in the relationship between the stand-alone image and the viewer.

  3. Artist statements are simple descriptions of intent taken over by a literary form of cancer.

  4. It would be useful to see some examples of artists’ statements that work. I can’t say I found that Conscientious article all that helpful.

  5. Recently Magnum Photos had their deadline for submissions. An Artist Statement was part of this equation. It took far more time than I had expected.

    Knowing conceptually what your work means to you, is far different when putting pen to paper. Thankfully I had started two months prior to the deadline.

    This article discusses setting aside a solid window of time. I cannot stress enough, how much I agree with this. I found I needed the time to re-edit my own edits, and then again, until the paper was refined and exact.

    Regardless of the outcome of the MP submission, it was an incredibly healthy exercise. I now have a current, up-to-date, Artist Statement which delivers a truthful introspective about my work; ready to produce at a moments notice.

  6. Artist statements are ridiculous and vain.
    The whole point of visual art is to have an effect on the viewer.

    The work itself is the statement.

  7. Unless an artist statement is kept real short or is to describe some process method, I would just as soon not have to read what is usually a philosophical description that is so full of BS its hard for me to not stick my finger down my throat and vomit after doing so. Let the viewer decide what ‘statement’ any artwork makes.

  8. An artist statement is just a parameter for privileged consumers.

  9. This is a tricky one for sure.

    Writing my artist has always been hard and I’ve had enlist the help of others on many occasions. The things that other people write are usually better anyway. I always strive to have my work evoke an emotional response and that always comes first.

    As a viewer, if someone’s work is strong and it interests me I’ll look at their statement. If the work doesn’t interest me, I’m moving on.

  10. I don’t see how the written description of a visual experience can be any thing other than a marker to designate to a particular class of viewers that the art is of a refined and particular nature beyond pedestrian.

    It validates the distribution, but the idea that sans a statement, the work’s capacity to provide the “Ultimate Refined” experience is facetious.

  11. I’m trying to keep an open mind on this topic because artist statements can sometimes be a requirement for some competitions, shows, etc. If you have to produce something, it would be nice to produce something good.

    The problem is most of the artists’ statements I’ve seen are bad, boring or both. They seem to be philosophical musings; shameless sales pitches or biographical information too insignificant to put on a resume. Does anyone really care if you got your first camera when you were eight-years-old?

    That’s why I think it would be very useful to see some examples that really hit the mark. Because, honestly, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one that made me say “wow.”

  12. Robert Adams has a nice section on writing in Why People Photograph (which I just started reading). He suggests at one point to write not about your interpretation of the subject, but rather the subject itself, and why you are interested in it. Recommended reading. I had a hard time writing my website bio, and nearly left it “Christopher lives in Brooklyn and takes pictures”.

    • @Christopher Bush, I like this response very much.

  13. A visual person is not necessarily an intellectual person. You can produce great visual work, or great music, without being a theoretician of visual arts or music. You can write a great PhD on photography or music without being able to take a picture or write a piece. We must keep the creation and the comments on creation separate. Each should do what they do best! Even with my PhD, I am not sure I am the best placed to write on my photographic works, for various reasons (the main ones being that I am too closed to the subject, too involved and unable to have a fresh eye on my work.).

  14. Agreed, that article is vague, maybe intentionally. Without some examples it’s not really useful, and it’s almost as painful to read as a bad artist statement itself.

    I think Joerg was trying to do a good thing but it went off the rails somewhere while he was writing. Exemplfying how positive an impact a solid, succinct statement can have by writing a solid, succinct blog post about it would have been nice. Then again, owning a flying unicorn and a leprechaun who shits gold would be nice too.

    Seems like people are mainly stressing about statements for grant and competition submissions. My guess is that statements there are judged just as the work is; subjectively, by a person. Just as that person may prefer one style of photography over another, they’ll prefer one type of statement.

  15. “See, here’s the thing: If you can’t even talk or write about your own photography doesn’t that tell me that you literally have no clue what it’s all about? ”


    “Doesn’t it mean that I could simply take the work and define what it’s about, twist and bend its possible meanings to make it fit my own ideas? Is that what you want people to do with your work – after you spent all the time getting it together? ”


    “Explaining your own intentions or your choices I never find to be a good idea, either. Don’t tell people why you’re doing things a certain way in your work. If you know why you’re doing it that’s great. And if it works that’s all you care about. If it does not work, telling people what you wanted to achieve won’t make it happen. Instead it will just give them another reason to dislike the work.”

    This seems to contradict the above statement.

    blog blah blah.

  16. I think Gallerists find them useful, when they want to be able to talk with clients about the work, when the artist is not present.

    • @Dave Hodgkinson, “smiling” If this were facebook I would click “LIKE”

  17. I can’t remember the last time I heard a decent band say anything other than “it means what you want it to mean” when asked what one of their songs mean… Well, except of course in the case of 867-5309 and Jessie’s Girl… But I did say “decent band.”

    So yes, go ahead and take what it’s about and twist and bend it all you want because I know what it means to me and maybe you’re in a different frame of mind when looking at it. Maybe you’ll see something I didn’t see because I was too close to it.

    And also… Isn’t a picture supposed to be worth a thousand of something or another… What was that again? ;-)


  18. Why attach words to a medium that transcends words? An artists bio? That’s different. But to try to translate the meaning behind work that uses visual language into a literary language just degrades any power or impact the work may hold. Artists shouldn’t feel any pressure to write about their own work. It’s their role to create and that should be enough.

  19. “Doesn’t it mean that I could simply take the work and define what it’s about, twist and bend its possible meanings to make it fit my own ideas?”

    ha! that’s precisely what I want a viewer to do when looking at my work. Maybe I should not have an artist statement.

    I wonder how he feels about Seinfeld (a show about nothing)?

  20. If you have to explain your work in words, then you’re not doing it right in photos. Enough said.

  21. Artists statements don’t have to be a clear cut explanation of your work, it can just be something that draws more interest to the idea behind it.

    An artist’s statement shouldn’t be long and drawn out enough that it will make you lose interest. Besides, it’s more of something that you give to a potential employer rather than something everyone HAS to read.

    You can choose not to read it at all and your point will still get across through your images. Some people just like that little extra piece of information and find that it compliments your work (if written well, that is).

    Most of the time it is good to be able to write about your work because you come to understand it better yourself when you actually have to think about it enough to write it down; therefore you are able to present your work to a potential client much more clearly. It’s always good to be able to talk about your work coherently.

    It’s just sad that a lot of artists don’t take time to learn how to write good statements and this, in turn, makes them and their art look bad.

  22. I completely agree with Britta on this.

    No one said writing an artist statement was easy but if you’re unable to do that, how do you expect people to understand your intent. Your artist statement drives the conversation regarding how you want your work interpreted by critics and understood by potential buyers. The more you can control the conversation, the more your intent remains intact. Writing a cohesive and well thought out statement is also part of the business. Yes, unfortunately, the art world is a business.

  23. I’m getting haaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmered at SCAD for my lackluster Artist Statement as we speak…then again I think I have some great work that doesn’t require the verbiage fluff to get someone to stop for 10 seconds and check it out. I am a gooder writer whens I tries to be.

    Meanwhile, I also have some fellow students who have this ridiculous body of *cough*work*cough* prefaced by “War and Peace”…and you’d think MoMa had offered them a permanent wing for their work. If I see one more sentence with “amalgam” in it…I’m jumping from the top floor.

    • @ResoL101, I can totally see your point. However, you are going to school – so, swimming against the tide and worrying what ‘others get away with’ is just a dead end. I am sure what they [instructors] want you to do is just show them that you can ‘get down’ and write a f’ing good artist statement. Never mind whether your work is good or bad. That’s the ‘lesson’ they want you to learn. Once you get out on your own, you can do whatever the heck you want or what will work for you.Might as well ‘get with the program’ – otherwise you are wasting your money.

      • @christian harkness,

        I see you point…and it’s a good one. Guess I’ll give them an “efffing good statement” and put that yoke to rest. Thanks for the advice.

        • @ResoL101, Although I am not a landscape photographer I tremendously enjoyed Frank Gohlke’s book ‘Thoughts on Landscape:…’ I especially liked a couple of his artist’s statements that were ‘strewn about’ in the book. What I liked was how naturally they flowed and how unpretentious they seemed to me. [A friend of mine hated the book- so…]
          Anyhow, you might want to take a look for some ‘inspiration.’

          All the best – christian

          • @christian harkness,

            …and therein lies the important part for me…not coming off as a pretentious assjack. Thanks so much for the advice and the point Mr. Christian. * said in a “Mutiny on the Bounty” voice.

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