Artwork samples & artist statements

The following is advice from Jackie Battenfield’s The Artist’s Guide: How to make a living doing what you love (2009).

The Artist's Guide How to make a living doing what you love Jackie Battenfield

Your work sample and artist statement represent a vital line of communication between you and the rest of the world. Images of your work appear on exhibition announcements, websites, advertisements, catalogues, and art reviews. They are projected in competitive situations such as juried shows and job interviews as well as panels deciding on grants, awards, and residencies. Your artist statement will appear as a handout in an exhibition, a paragraph in a press release or brochure, and a page on websites, portfolios, and grant proposals. Assumptions, judgments, and decisions about your work are made based on what the viewer gleans from these two tools. It puts your efforts at a real disadvantage if you send out poor quality images of your work and obtuse or badly written artist statements. It’s a cop-out to take the position that “My work speaks for itself,” or “If they can’t get my work by looking at it, that’s their problem.” Actually, it’s your problem, not theirs; the viewer, curator, or panelist moves on to someone else.

As you create your work, documenting it through words and images needs to become part of your creative process. No one else in the world will ever be as committed as you are to your work. It is your responsibility to discover what images represent it best and what words need to accompany them to enhance the viewing experience.

To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information do I want the world to know about my work?
  • What kinds of images show my work to its best advantage?
  • What do I need to say or write to assist the viewer when looking at my work?

The first step is to acknowledge that you are the expert on your own work, not the curator, critic, or gallery director. You are the one most intimately involved in its genesis and execution, making you the best source of insider information. Others may help provide insights and food for thought, but first you need to be clear about the meaning of your own work. As you may enter into a dialogue about it during studio visits and exhibitions, you don’t want to be completely swayed by another’s interpretation.

With practice and thoughtful attention you can develop the capacity to capture images that show your work to its best advantage and to find the words that authentically describe your intentions. It’s a skill-building process, just like the one you developed to make your art. You will need to set aside time to do it, which will be easier to manage if you can incorporate it as an integral part of your creative practice. The reward will be that as you become better at getting great images and articulating your ideas, the resulting clarity and insight will function as an important feedback mechanism for developing your next body of work. The key is to make these activities as engaging as making your art.

This excerpt is on pages 26-28 in the chapter: “How to Assemble the Essential Tools to Support Your Work”. The Artist’s Guide: How to make a living doing what you love (2009) is published by Da Capo Press. For more information and reviews, click the link above the article.