Write Your Artist Statement in 3 Simple Steps | Jenny Williams | Skillshare

Write Your Artist Statement in 3 Simple Steps

Jenny Williams, Writer, Editor, Artist

Write Your Artist Statement in 3 Simple Steps

Jenny Williams, Writer, Editor, Artist

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6 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. What Is an Artist Statement and Why Do I Need One?

    • 3. Step 1: Guided Freewrite

    • 4. Step 2: Fill in the Blanks

    • 5. Step 3: Putting It Together

    • 6. Conclusion: Wrapping Up

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About This Class

The prospect of writing an artist statement often generates feelings of dread among all types of artists (yes, even writers!). But if you want to apply for grants, residencies, MFA programs, and fellowships, it's important to be able to articulate your core values as an artist and why you do what you do.

In these videos, you'll be guided through a series of simple, stress-free exercises that will help you unearth the patterns and motivations that drive your art. By the end of the class, you'll have a complete draft of an artist statement.

Be sure to download the three worksheets from the Class Project tab before you start!

Meet Your Teacher

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Jenny Williams

Writer, Editor, Artist


Hi! I'm a writer, editor, illustrator, designer, and all-around maker with particular passions for education, animal rights, travel and adventure, literature and poetry, music, soccer, and antique typewriters. My debut novel, THE ATLAS OF FORGOTTEN PLACES, will be published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press in 2017, and my award-winning fiction, essays, poems, photographs, and illustrations have appeared in numerous print and online publications, including Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, The Sun Magazine, and Vela. I've received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, a fellowship from Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and a residency at Kykuit from the Rockefeller Foundation. I'm also the creator of the 66 Dogs Project, a series of portraits of adoptable dogs.

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1. Introduction: Hi, My name is Jenny. I'm a writer and editor and an artist. And in this class, I'm going to guide you through an easy three step process for writing an artist statement by the end of the class, the goals for you to have a draft statement that you can start using immediately. There seems to be a culture of dread around the artist statement, and I think part of that is because we have this idea that artist statements are supposed to sound a certain way, you know, be intellectual and intimidating and use a lot of jargon and art speak. But in this class, I want to take some of the mystery out of that process and help you draft a statement that is not only an accurate representation of you and your work, but it's also something that you feel really good about. So first we'll go over some general definitions of what an artist statement isn't isn't. Then we'll do two guided exercises to help you loosen up and get you to think about your work in some new ways and then finally will put it together. I hope you'll join us, and I look forward to seeing you in the class 2. What Is an Artist Statement and Why Do I Need One?: in this video, we'll go over what an artist statement is and why you might need one. So there's no single definition of what an artist statement is. There are lots of definitions out there, but typically an artist statement is written in the first person, and it describes your artistic goals, your vision and your process and tries to connect readers or viewers to your work. Now, if you're going Teoh be applying for a specific grant or residency, and they define an artist statement in a certain way. You're definitely going to want to use their guidelines and their definition. You may also be familiar with biographical statement or a bio or statement of purpose, thes or other items that are typically asked along with artist statements. Um, just to distinguish these things. A bio is usually written in third person, and it highlights key parts of your resume. Publications awards your work history. You can include things like where you were born where you currently live. It's kind of like a summary of your resume hot. You know, the highlights and then the statement of purpose is usually written in first person, just like the artist statement but it describes your plan for how you would use a specific residency or grand your opportunity to advance your artistic practice. So it's really much more like a proposal or plan rather than a description of who you are as an artist. So why might you need an artist statement? Well, typically, any time that you want to apply for funding, you're going to need to submit an artist statement in some form so this could be applying to fellowships, grants, artist residencies, retreats, MF A programs, workshops, something like that. And it's also nice just to have some language that you can use to talk about your art in any setting. So when you're caught off guard, you know, like a family re union and someone says So tell me about what you dio, Um, you have an answer that feels natural and hopefully gets them asking more questions and becoming interested in your work. One thing I think is really important about artist statements is that you don't have to capture every single thing you've done or everything you're interested in. Your artist statement will also evolve over time. So my statement five years ago was really different from my statement now because I have different interests and my work has really changed a lot and grown since then. So it's OK to lighten up a little bit. And, you know, don't feel like you have to be married to this one statement forever. Your first assignment is to start your class project by just sharing. You know, the most basic things about you and your work, something like I'm a writer. I write novels and short stories, or I'm an illustrator and graphic designer and then maybe post a link or a picture of something that you're proud of and if you already haven't artist statement that you've used in the past definitely feel free to share. 3. Step 1: Guided Freewrite: the first step of the process is a guided free right. These prompts are designed to get you to come at your work in directly rather than straight on, so the first thing you'll need to do is download the worksheet from the class materials, and then you'll want to put aside about 10 minutes or so to complete the exercise. You'll need something to write with. You can use a computer, but I recommend writing longhand with good old fashioned dependent paper. I find that that gives you permission. Sort of mental permission Teoh, not tickets of seriously, which is really the goal. We don't want you to take it super seriously. Here. There are no wrong answers. It's not a quiz, and no one will see what you're writing except for you. So at this point, don't think about writing stuff that makes sense, or something that sounds smart just right. The first things that come into your head I'll go through the first couple of prompts and share some of my own answers. Hopefully, that'll make you feel better about your own and maybe give you a sense of what's normal. So the first prompt is to close your eyes and picture a completed work that you're proud of . Sit with it for 15 or 20 seconds, open your eyes and then write the 1st 20 words that come to mind. For this prompt, I pictured the completed novel that is going to be published next year. It's called The Atlas of Forgotten Places on. It was a novel that took me nearly 10 years to write from start to Finish, and so I sat with it, sort of visualized its characters. It's setting its, you know, storyline. And then when I opened my eyes, I wrote down a bunch of words and some of them that came up for things like guilt searching , war family, ivory heroes, Greep hope, storytelling, whisper aid work. So just kind of a mishmash of things. Nothing really profound, you know? But just just getting those words down there, and then the second prompt is to close your eyes and picture work that you're struggling with, and then you do the same thing. You sit with it, and then when you open your eyes, you right again. The 1st 20 words that come to mind. So for this prompt, I, um I visualized the novel that I'm currently working on, which has been really difficult for me. I'm kind of struggling with it. Um, and when I opened my eyes and I wrote down a bunch of words, some things came up like granite magic photography Brothers wore madness, Soldier bearers River. Um, and it was interesting because I hadn't actively sort of paid attention to the fact that both of these novels are about war. But that became really evident just in this, like this simple exercise of a word association. So go ahead, take your worksheet, your pad of paper, your pencil, find someplace comfy and then spend about 10 minutes going through All of the's prompts as many as you can. And when you're done, come back to your class project and share one surprising thing that surfaced for you during this free right for me. One thing that was kind of funny was that I realized that even though I love to read epic, sweeping SciFi and fantasy novels and Siri's as a writer, I am much more interested in real people, real places and real historical events, and it doesn't necessarily factor into the final statement But it's another way of thinking about how what I create is different from what other people create and how that defines me as an artist. 4. Step 2: Fill in the Blanks: So now I hope you're feeling loosened up, and you've generated some interesting maybe some surprising reflections and observations of your own work. Um, and if nothing you've written so far feels like something you'd actually put into an artist statement, that's good. Um, we're building up to that, so don't feel like everything you've written. You know, it's just gone to waste. Um, in the second exercise will start funneling those ideas or kind of translating them into manageable pieces and into actual sentences that you can start using as building blocks for your for your artist's statement. So if you haven't done so already, go ahead and download the fill in the blanks worksheet from the class materials. I like to think of this exercise as like the mad Libs approach to writing an artist statement, so it's not so much a template as it is a starting point, a foundation that you can jump off of So again you'll want to get something to write with and set aside about 10 minutes or so to go through the exercise. It can also be helpful to repeat lines several times that were you forced yourself to come up with something new to say so often, the first thing that we write down, or even the second or third thing, they're still sort of vaguer superficial or you haven't quite gotten to the meat of things . Yet when you're forced to dig a little bit deeper, you might unearth something that feels fresh on exciting when you're filling these out. One key is to think about audience on the worksheet. I suggest that you pretend that you're describing your work to a stranger at a party who has already said, I don't know anything about art, and it's maybe a little bit drunk. Um, contrast that with how you might describe your work toe a professor or ah, fellow artists of professional artists in your field, so those aren't bad ways of describing your art. But it's not necessarily the most accessible on, and I think there are ways to make it accessible without dumbing it down. And that's what we're trying to do here. And just to give you some examples from when I filled out this worksheet for this particular situation. So specifically for my novels, I started with the really basics right, the WHO and the what inbox say? I am a writer. I am a novelist. I am a short story writer through that short story thing in there. Just because it kind of came to me and I felt like, Well, if this ends up looking out for more of my fiction, that's great. But right now I really am focusing primarily on my novels. So I write novels about places that haunt me. I write novels about places with dark histories, and then because it still feels a little bit abstract, I kind of threw in some specifics from the novels that I have actually written or that I'm actually working on. So I write novels about rebels who inhabit remote jungles in central Africa. I write novels about the erasure of Native Americans in the history of national parks in America. Um, and that way I am, you know, again, even if I don't specifically use those sentences or those examples in the Final Artist statement, I'm starting to dig a little bit deeper and get the concrete things of what my my work is actually about. Um, I write fiction that explorers obscure corners of real places and settings. I write about war. I write about individual agency in box B. Ah, some of the things I wrote where I start with a setting and then afterward discover character and story. I even, like, made a little chart. You know, start with setting. Go to research, then go to character, then go to story inbox. See, Ah, we start getting at, like what influences you, what motivates you, where you're coming from and what kinds of questions you're asking in your work? Maybe. What? You what kind of questions you want your audience to ask in in my boxes I talked about I'm influenced by identity by politics by poetry. I am interested in what happens when good people are trapped in bad circumstances. I'm interested in what happens when the personal intersects with the political or the intimate intersects with the sweeping historical contexts. Or what happens when science intersex with mystery. Um, I there's a line in there. I believe that Blank and I say this is a good one to repeat because I think you know what we're trying to do with our art often is really explore some of these things. Some of our core beliefs about not just art, but about the world. So writing this kind of thing, you know, 10 times fast or 20 times fast, over and over again, it'll bring to the surface some of those core values that that your art might be trying to explore, not saying that everything is totally profound. Um, but, you know, some of the things that came up for me was I believe that stories matter. I believe there's always another side to history. I believe we all have capacity for great cruelty and great kindness. Um, and I think that, you know, those things aren't necessarily, like, so profound or so amazing. But they are things that ground your center, me in my writing. So go ahead and fill out this worksheet. And then when you're ready, come back to your class project and maybe share a couple of sentences that came up for you . Some of the ways in which you filled in these blanks 5. Step 3: Putting It Together: Okay, so now you've got all of these disparate pieces kind of all over the place, and you've spent some time writing and reflecting and digging deeper, and now is the moment that things start coming together. So here's what we're going to dio. We're gonna take your favorite sentence from Box A, your favorite sentence from Box B and your favorite sentence from box. See, put them together in that order. And voila! You have a draft artist statement. Okay, so it might still feel a little bit awkward. It's definitely unlikely that you're going to have a perfect statement right off the bat, but this gives you a really great starting point. I've offered a few specific troubleshooting tips in the worksheet that you can download, but in general the idea is to keep playing around in tweaking things until it feels coherent and natural. So have fun with it. Try switching out different sentences from each box to see how they build on each other and interact with each other. If there's a phrase or idea you like from one area, see how you can weave it in into a sentence in another area, smash sentences together see what new observations emerged from that. What I like about this approach is that it feels like Legos or Tetris, or you know something where you keep fitting different kinds of pieces together and building a new hole each time. It's also a little bit like putting on different costumes. You know, you get to try out how it feels to be this kind of artist or that kind of artist. In the end, what you want is to have a statement that doesn't feel like putting on a costume. You know, it feels like what you wear every day, what you wear to feel comfortable. Or maybe it feels like your favorite first date outfit because, yeah, I mean, you want to make a great first impression, right? So maybe you don't show up in stained sweatpants, but your favorite first date outfit. You know that's what you wear when you want to look awesome and feel awesome. The outfit you wear when you want someone to think to themselves. You know this is a person I definitely want to get to know better. So yes, so let's go with that metaphor, eso. Here's some examples of what I started with this was putting together, you know, a piece from column, a column B column C on and and seeing what happened when all of those three things combined , I write novels that explore obscure corners of real places and settings. I use historical tragedy to create opportunities for empathy and connection to a single person with the human story. I am interested in what happens when the personal intersects with the political when the intimate intersex with the sweeping historical context. Okay, um, and so some of those things, you know, I had changed words here and there and moved things around, but in general, that's pretty much lifting. Just sentence after sentence Number two. I write novels about places with dark histories, the jungles of Central Africa haunted by rebels and poachers, the rugged wilderness of the High Sierra. During a time of war, I start with the historical footnote and use mystery to turn disparate fax into a connected , intimate narrative. I am interested in untie ing the knots of fact, unraveling the established historical record to reveal the stories that have been forgotten or silenced. Number three. I write about war, an individual agency I start with a setting and then afterward discover character and story . I am interested in what happens when good people are trapped in difficult circumstances. Why do we make the choices we make? How do we survive and troubled times? I believe there's always another side to the historical record, and I am drawn to the places where things don't fit into neat categories where voices have been oppressed or misrepresented or forgotten altogether. These are the stories I want to tell. So I think in general, you know, none of these is maybe exactly what I would end up with in the final statement as we'll see in the next video. But I feel like I'm really getting at some interesting things, and I'm starting to see how these sentences might make sense together and how even in putting them, um, you know, into into a whole I'm seeing new patterns and new ways of looking at my own work. So a couple of things to keep in mind the statement will be relatively short, were aiming for 100 to 200 words, which is a nice length because it's much easier to expand on a really solid foundation. If you're given more space than it is to frantically whittle down, you know a two page artist statement into a single paragraph. So if you can keep it to under 200 words, you're doing yourself a favor. Um, of course, if you really feel like you need an extra sentence or two, by all means, you know, as you saw with mine, this is the 1st 1 was much shorter than the last one. Also, there's no law that says that you can only have one statement at a time, or you can only have one statement forever and ever. Maybe you're applying for a fellowship with a really strong social justice spent. You could have an artist statement that really emphasizes those themes in your work or you're applying for residency in a particular geographical location. That's important to you, Um, or it's important, Teoh the project that you want to work on. So you'll want to bring that into the forefront of your artist's statement. You know this is your statement, and you get to make the rules, so let your statement evolve with you over time and give yourself permission to make adjustments for different situations. So for your class project, go ahead and share your draft statement or a couple different versions. If you want. I can't wait to see them. 6. Conclusion: Wrapping Up: wrap things up. I wanted to share with you how my final artist statement turned out in holding the statement, I was playing with a few different angles. You'll recognize some of the stuff I was working with earlier at this stage in the final polishing of your statement. This is where you can really deep in your reflections and way, what's important for you to capture about your work. I actually put my draft statements aside for a few days, and when I came back to them, I felt like some new themes sort of coalesced in the place. And remember how I was surprised to have the word war pop up twice and my first re free writing exercise? Well, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me to use that as a way into my statement, specifically in terms of the novel I've already completed and the novel and currently writing, both of which are really central to my identity as a writer right now and kind of the things that I want to capture in this particular statement. So here goes I write war novels that subvert expectations of what a war novel should be. And who should tell it? I start with a specific place in time and immerse myself in research, looking for characters and stories that pulled me into the intimate human side of conflict and violence. I'm drawn to voices that have been ignored or forgotten by the established narrative, particularly the experiences of women in war. I'm fascinated by the historical footnote, the offhand remark that opens a trapdoor into a vast new world. Who is the person in the background of that photograph? Where was she going? Why was she there? These were the stories I want to tell. Of course, this might change tomorrow or next month or next year, and clearly it doesn't encompass my work as an editor or as an illustrator or designer. It's just one aspect of my creative self. So try your statement out on friends and family, see what they think gauge their reactions. You know, if they start asking questions about it, that's a good sign. If they start relating their own interests or they see how your work might be applicable in the world, those air all definitely good signs and, of course, share your final statement with us here in the project gallery. We would love to see it. I hope this statement leads to lots of great things for you in your work. And I wish you the very best of luck and all of your creative endeavors.