The use of the term art medium is, to say the least, misleading,
for it is the artist that creates a work of art not the medium.
It is the artist in photography that gives form to content by a distillation of ideas,
thought, experience, insight and understanding.
1 – Introduction
So far in this series we have looked at the importance of vision and at what a fine art photograph consists of. Another element of visionary photography is the presence of a well-written artist statement. In this essay we are going to look first at what is an artist statement and second at the elements that can help us craft an effective artist statement.
2 – What is an artist statement ?
An artist statement is a text in which you describe your vision. Doing so allows you to express with words what you cannot explain with photographs. Using both words and photographs together is an effective way of sharing your vision with your audience.
Your artist statement explains your reasons for creating art., what inspires you and what your want to express in your work. Writing an Artist Statement can be difficult because there are many subjects to address. Your artist statement can include the following:
- Your story
- Your artistic background
- Your sources of inspiration
- What motivates you to create your work
– Your artistic goals
- Your technical approach
- The unique aspects of your work
3 – How do you write an artist statement ?
An artist statement is a window into the world of a photographer. It must first and foremost be honest and straightforward.
You want the artist statement to take the audience further than they would on their own, if they looked only at your photographs.
You want to explain what is your vision, what you want to say and how you go about saying it. To do so you can describe some of your images, explain what they mean to you, how they were created and what you want to say with these images. There are many ways to write your artist statement. One approach that I like is to present it as list of questions that you answer in your statement. These questions can include the following:
- Why do you photograph this subject and not other subjects?
- What kind of things do you like and what kind of things do you not like?
- What colors and color harmonies do you like or dislike ?
- What types or compositions do you like or dislike?
- What kind of subject matter do you like or dislike ?
4 – What it is and what it is not about
An artist statement is not a tutorial or a list of equipment. While you can include a small amount of technical information about how you do what you do, the purpose of an artist statement is not to teach how to do what you do. If you want to teach, you can do this during workshops and seminars, not in your artist statement. Similarly, if you want to talk about your equipment in detail, it is best to make a list and post it on your site under the heading ‘equipment.’
The purpose of an artist statement is to describe your vision, your values as they pertain to fine art, and the sources of inspiration for your work. As such, an artist statement is primarily about aesthetics not so much about technique. As an example you can read my personal artist statement at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Artist-Statement.html
5 – Write in the first person
Julius Caesar wrote about himself in the third person, but that was Caesar and you probably don’t want to sound like him. Writing about yourself in the third person makes you sound stuffy and disingenuous. There was a time when artists and photographers hired ghost writers, to write their artist statement, and in that case it made sense that the text was written in the third person because it was written about the artist and not by the artist. But these days are long gone and today just about everyone writes their artist statement themselves. Even if it so happen that you do not –say your significant other does– it is still better to make it sound like you wrote it because your audience, your readers, want to hear from you, not from a third party writing about you. We live in a first person world!
6 – Share something meaningful about your life
Doing so generates trust. If you trust your reader with personal information, they will in return trust you with their personal information and, if you sell your work, with their business. Trust is reciprocal and guttural. It is something we feel, not something we decide rationally.
7 – About writing your artist statement
You may find writing an artist statement challenging. However it does not have to be so. Creativity is not medium-specific therefore the majority of creative individuals are able to successfully engage is different creative endeavors. While writing may not be something you have experience with, if you put your mind to it you may be surprised at the results you will be able to achieve.
As you do so, keep in mind that an artist statement does not have to be a lengthy document. The length is totally up to you. It can be anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to several pages, depending on how much you want to say and on your personality.
As a case in point one of my students recently complained about the difficulty of writing her artist statement. I took a look at her website to get a feel for her work. There I saw that she had written a biography in which she made several points that defined her artistic style. For example, she mentioned that Impressionism was her favorite art movement and that her work was influenced by Impressionist paintings, both on an artistic and a technical level.
As I read her biography I realized that while she was having a hard time writing a formal artist statement, she had been able to write a biographical statement that was enjoyable to read. If you have a hard time writing your artist statement, calling it a ‘biography’ may be the key to unlocking writer’s block.
8 – About timing
If you are just starting to learn photography you may not be ready to write an artist statement. You may be at the ‘exploration stage’ rather than at the ‘statement stage.’ At that stage you are concerned with trying a lot of different things and therefore not ready to explain to your audience what you are doing in your work.
In this case this essay may not be relevant to you. That is perfectly understandable. Just keep in mind that it may become relevant later on as your photographic studies take you to the next step and to the one after that.
9 – Artsy Bollocks
What if all this leaves you cold, uninspired and somewhat suspicious of the validity of writing an artist statement? Well, there is a solution, one that adds levity to this subject: www.artybollocks.com. There you will find an automated ‘artist statement generator.’ All you have to do is click on the button that says ‘Generate some bollocks‘ and, voila, an artist statement that, well, you be the judge. If you don’t like it, click on the button that says ‘Not artsy enough for you?‘ and you will be provided with another version that, hopefully, will better describe your artistic endeavors. if not, just click again. The name of the button keeps changing to reflect an ever-increasing sense of frustration:
Still not good enough ?
You are very demanding.
Surely this should do it?
Are you a perfectionist?
And finally: Maybe write your own?
You can listen to my attempt at using Artsy Bollocks.com at this link. This dates back to April 2012 but I am sure it is still as valid today, or as invalid as the case might be, as it was originally.
10 – Vision Example: Sunrise Reflections, Bosque del Apache
Each time I visit Bosque del Apache I set it as a goal to take photographs without any birds. This was the first photograph I took that morning. When I created it I believed it would be the best image for that morning and it turned out to be so.
Sunrise Reflections, Bosque del Apache
This photograph was taken during our just completed Bosque & White Sands Workshop. The sun was not up yet. I was so convinced that this was a strong image, a ‘keeper’ as they say, that I told the workshop participants that I had created my best image for that morning and that we could leave for breakfast now. Many participants joined me in capturing this scene. Somehow I knew that this was a strong image, possibly the strongest image I was going to create that morning. How did I know? From experience taking tens of thousands of photographs over many years. In other words, because of practice.
I also don’t use a light meter on my manual camera, instead I set the f-stop and shutter speed based on my evaluation of the light level of the scene. After many years of doing so I have become quite good at it. Usually, I find the perfect exposure after 1 or 2 attempts. That morning I found it at my first attempt. In fact, the photograph above was the first exposure I took that morning. I saw it as a sign that this was a truly exceptional situation.
11 – Skill Enhancement Exercises
Learning is more effective if you practice what you learned. There are two exercises in regards to the contents of this essay.
The first exercise, as I am sure you expected it, is to write your artist statement. To do so use the materials in this essay as a starting point. The goal is to write something truthful, meaningful and interesting about yourself while avoiding the pitfalls I mention in this essay.
The second exercise is related to the Vision Example featured above. The goal of this second exercise is to practice finding out if you have a ‘keeper’ when you are working in the field, when you first see the image on your LCD screen.
First, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does looking for keepers in the field come naturally to you?
- Is doing this challenging?
- If it is challenging, which aspect of this approach is the most challenging?
Second, when you return to your studio after a shoot, take a look back at the images you believed were ‘keepers:’
- Were you correct? Are these photograph as good as you thought they were once you convert and optimize them ?
- If you were not correct, why do you not like these images as much as you did in the field? What changed?
- If you were correct, what are the strong aspects of these images?
- What is it about them that makes them work visually?
12 – About Alain Briot
Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography. Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Styleand Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available in eBook format on Alain’s website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
You can find more information about Alain’s work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com To subscribe simply go to http://www.beautiful-landscape.com and click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page. You will receive information on downloading the table of contents, plus over 40 free essays by Alain, immediately after subscribing.
To be continued in the next installment in this series . . . In the meantime you can read previous essays by Alain Briot here.
This is one of a regular series of exclusive articles by Alain Briot called Briot’s View