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
The goal of this series of essays is to help you create successful projects. So far we have looked at why projects are important and at how you can complete a successful project, whether large or small.
We are now going to look at your project statement because the presence of a well-written project statement is an important element of a successful project. First, we are going to look at what is a project statement and second at the elements that can help you craft an effective statement.
2 – What is a project statement?
A project statement, also called an artist statement, is a text in which you describe your project and your approach to photography. It allows you to express with words what you cannot say with photographs. Using words and photographs together is an effective way of sharing your vision with your audience.
Your project statement explains your reasons for creating a specific project. It also describes what inspires you and it tells your audience what your want to express in your work.
3 – How do you write a project statement?
A project statement is a window onto the world of a photographer. It must first and foremost be honest and straightforward. You want your project statement to take your audience further than they would on their own, if they looked only at your photographs.
There are many ways to write a project statement. For example, you can explain what is your vision for your project, 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 them.
You can also present your project statement as list of questions that you answer one by one. If you like this approach here is a list of questions that you can use:
– Why did you photograph this subject and not other subjects ?
– What kind of subjects do you like or dislike and why ?
– What colors and color harmonies do you like or dislike and why ?
– What types or compositions do you like or dislike and why ?
– What is your artistic background ?
– What are your artistic goals ?
– Who are your favorite artists or art movements and why do you like them ?
– What are your sources of inspiration ?
– What motivates you to create your work ?
– What are the unique aspects of your work ?
You can see the entire folio contents HERE
4 – About writing your statement
You may find writing a project statement challenging. It does not have to be so. Creativity is not medium-specific therefore the majority of creative individuals are able to successfully engage in 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.
Also keep in mind that a project 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 long depending on how much you want to say and on your personality.
The length of your statement is also a function of the size of your project. A one page statement is appropriate for a mini-project or a folio while a multi-page statement is more adequate for a portfolio.
One of my students recently complained about the difficulty of writing her project 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 project statement, she had been able to write a biographical statement that was enjoyable to read. Therefore, if you have a hard time writing your project statement, calling it a ‘biography’ may be the key to unlocking writer’s block.
Below are a few additional tips that can help you write your project statement:
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 statements and it made sense that the text was written in the third person because it was written about the artist and not by the artist. These days are long gone. Today just about everyone writes their artist statement themselves. Even if it so happens that you do not –say a friend or your significant other does– it is still better to make it sound like you wrote it because your audience wants to hear from you, not from a third party writing about you. We live in a first person world!
6 – Be yourself when you write your project statement
Your project statement is about you, your project, your artistic endeavors, your personal goals, beliefs, aspirations and personal style. As such you need to provide some information about who you are. An effective way to do this is to include stories or anecdotes about you, your life, what you do, the people who influenced you and so on. Write about your life as an artist, how you got started, how you got to do what you are doing now, where you find your inspiration, which subjects you are working on now, which subjects you worked on in the past, which artists were influential in developing your current style, etc.
7 – Share something meaningful about your life
Trust is important, even when looking at art. Sharing something personal generates trust. If you trust your reader with personal information, they in return will trust you. Trust is reciprocal and guttural. It is something we feel, not something we decide rationally.
8 – Include a photograph of yourself
This is also important. You need to feature a photograph of yourself in your project statement. Most photographers do not have photographs of themselves and this is a big mistake. People like to see who took the photographs. Your photograph introduces you to your audience visually and makes them feel that they know you.
9 – What a project statement is not
A project statement is not a tutorial or a list of equipment. While you can include a small amount of technical information, the purpose of a project statement is not to teach others 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 describe your camera gear in detail, it is best to make a list and post it on your website under the heading ‘equipment.’
The purpose of a project statement is to describe your project, talk about your approach to fine art or describe the sources of inspiration for your work. As such, a project statement is about aesthetics and not about technique.
10 – Arty Bollocks
What if all this leaves you cold, uninspired and somewhat suspicious of the validity of writing a project statement? Well, there is a solution, one that adds levity to the 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 arty 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?
Here is an example artist statement generated automatically by Arty Bollocks:
My work explores the relationship between gender politics and daytime TV. With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and L Ron Hubbard, new variations are distilled from both explicit and implicit dialogues.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes manipulated into a hegemony of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the chance of a new understanding. As wavering derivatives become clarified through emergent and academic practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the outposts of our era.
11 – Project statement example: White Sands Folio
In case Arty Bollocks is not for you here is an example of a project statement that I used in one of my projects, the White Sands Folio:
12 – Biography or project statement
As you write your statement you may find out that your project statement is more about you than about your project. If you wish to keep the two separate you can include both a project statement and a biography in your project. The statement will be about your project and the biography about you. This will give you the opportunity to talk about both separately.
This is what I did in the White Sands Folio. I included both a project statement and a biography. The project statement focuses on the subject of the folio while my biography focuses on myself.
13 – Skill Enhancement Exercise
Learning is more effective if you practice what you learned. In this instance, you probably know what the exercise is. Quite simply it is to write your artist statement for a specific project. The goal is to write something truthful, meaningful and interesting about yourself and about your project while avoiding the pitfalls I mention in this essay. You can use the materials and examples in this article as a starting point if you want.
If you want to make this exercise more challenging, write both a project statement and a biography, the way I did for the White Sands Folio.
14 – Conclusion
The subject of this series of essays is projects. However, the larger subject of this essay and of my other essays is Creativity. For this reason, before closing I want to say a few words about creativity.
Creativity education is important in order to acquire the ability to think out of the box and this in all disciplines. Creativity is best taught in the arts. Unfortunately, because art programs are being cut out in many schools, creativity instruction is diminishing or disappearing.
Being creative is based on a variety of things and describing these things is what I do in my essays. Some of the most important aspects of creativity means operating in a constraining environment because constraints are freeing, not limiting. Whether artist or engineers we are most creative when we have to work within specific or even stringent parameters.
It means having the courage to be different and of seeking separation instead of acceptance. It means desiring to break new ground rather than trying to be as good as someone else. It means wanting to create something unique rather than demonstrate the ability of doing work as good as the masters. Most importantly, being creative means finding legitimation in placing no limits on what we can do with photography rather than in trying to conform to outdated aesthetic tenets.
15 – The Fine Art Photography Summit
Taught by Alain Briot and Jeff Schewe and now in its 14th year, the 2016 Fine Art Photography Summit takes place in Page Arizona home of Antelope Canyon, Slot canyons, the Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell and many more world-class locations. The Summit includes field work, classroom instruction, printing, print reviews and one on one instruction and is followed by a three day field workshop to Navajoland. You can read the detailed description of this unique event HERE.
16 – About Alain Briot
You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website . You receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on my website. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.