An artist's statement (or artist statement) is an artist's written description of their work. The brief verbal representation is about and in support of, his or her own work to give the viewer understanding. As such it aims to inform, connect with an art context, and present the basis for the work; it is therefore didactic, descriptive, or reflective in nature.
The artist's text intends to explain, justify, extend, and/or contextualize his or her body of work. It places or attempts to place the work in relationship to art history and theory, the art world and the times. Further, the statement serves to show that the artist is conscious of their intentions, aware of their practice and its position within art parameters and of the discourse surrounding it. Therefore not only does it describe and place, but it indicates the level of the artist's own comprehension of their field and making.
Artists often write a short (50-100 word) and/or a long (500-1000 word) version of the same statement, and they may maintain and revise these statements throughout their careers. They may be edited to suit the requirements of specific funding bodies, galleries or call-outs as part of the application process.
The writing of artists' statements is a comparatively recent phenomenon beginning in the 1990s. In some respects the practice resembles the art manifesto and may derive in part from it. However, the artist's statement generally speaks for an individual rather than a collective, and is not strongly associated with polemic. Rather, a contemporary artist may be required to submit the statement in order to tender for commissions or apply for schools, residencies, jobs, awards, and other forms of institutional support, in justification of their submission.
In their 2008 survey of North American art schools and university art programs, Garrett-Petts and Nash found that nearly 90% teach the writing of artist statements as part of the curriculum; in addition they found that,
Like prefaces, forewords, prologues, and introductions in literary works, the artist statement performs a vital if complex rhetorical role: when included in an exhibition proposal and sent to a curator, the artist statement usually provides a description of the work, some indication of the work's art historical and theoretical context, some background information about the artist and the artist's intentions, technical specifications – and, at the same time, it aims to persuade the reader of the artwork's value. When hung on a gallery wall, the statement (or "didactic") becomes an invitation, an explanation, and, often indirectly, an element of the installation itself.
As subject matter
On two occasions, artists' statements have been the subject of gallery exhibition. The first exhibition of artists' statements, The Art of the Artist's Statement, was curated by Georgia Kotretsos and Maria Pashalidou at the Hellenic Museum, Chicago, in the spring of 2005. It featured the work of 14 artists invited to create artwork offering a visual commentary on the subject of artist statements. The second exhibition, Proximities: Artists' Statements and Their Works, was installed in the fall of 2005 at the Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, British Columbia. Co-curated by W.F. Garrett-Petts and Rachel Nash, the exhibition asked nine contributing artists to respond to the topic of artists’ statements by taking one or more of their own artist’s statements and working with the text(s) in a manner that documented, represented, and annotated the original work, creating a new work in the process.
- Detterer, Gabriele. Ed. Art Recollection: Artists' Interviews & Statements in the Nineties']'. Florence: Danilo Montanari, Exit, and Zona Archives Editori, 1997
- Garrett-Petts, W.F., and Rachel Nash. "Re-Visioning the Visual: Making Artistic Inquiry Visible." Rhizomes 18 (Winter 2008). Spec. issue on "Imaging Place"
- Detterer, Gabriele. Ed. Art Recollection: Artists' Interviews & Statements in the Nineties''. Florence: Danilo Montanari, Exit, and Zona Archives Editori, 1997.
- "Garrett-Petts, W.F. Literary Artists' Statements", Canadian Literature, No. 176 (Spring 2003): 111-114.
- Garrett-Petts, W.F., and Rachel Nash, eds. Proximities: Artists' Statements and Their Works Kamloops, B.C.: Kamloops Art Gallery, 2005.
- "Nash, Rachel, and W.F. Garrett-Petts, eds. Artists' Statements & the Nature of Artistic Inquiry, Open Letter. Thirteenth Series, No. 4, Strathroy, Canada, 2007.
- Garrett-Petts, W.F., and Rachel Nash. "Re-Visioning the Visual: Making Artistic Inquiry Visible." Rhizomes 18 (Winter 2008). Spec. issue on "Imaging Place".