Visualization Understanding – Infographic

There is more and more research available that suggests that maybe artists aren’t the only ones that benefit from visual, hands-on learning.  There is a push, more and more, to incorporate ARTS into the beloved STEM education focus (Full STEAM ahead!) and more and more schools are working harder than ever, in order to include arts education in their curriculum, despite cut backs:

Prioritizing the Arts Over Test Prep – The Atlantic
Students deliver wish list to school board. There’s one item on it. – Washington Post

That being said, there are still other subjects that artists have to learn, that don’t have a focus on the visual, hands-on learning aspect they so enjoy.  Even in an art class.  One of the struggles that I’ve met with my high school students is writing.  Now, anyone can argue that good artwork should stand on its own, and that an artist statement can even cloud or stand in the way of a good piece.  Yet, people still ask for them.  Galleries, grant applications, and colleges – likely, a high school student’s first experience with artist statements.  However, the number one thing I hear from my art students?

“I’m not a good writer – that’s why I draw.”

Yet, artist statements are an integral part of the bridge between visual communicators, and the rest of the world, who may appreciate a few words in order to make the artwork more accessible to them.  And, it is a very important part of the college application process, for both public universities and private fine-arts colleges.  At some point, if a student is submitting their work for acceptance, scholarship or grants, they will need to slap an artist statement on their portfolio as well.

As a student bridges the gap between visual and non-visual with their artist statement, I created this small flow chart (using the Piktochart Infographic app) to flip that idea.  Create a visual reminder of what the writing should be about, in order to keep students on track and focused.  An artist statement needs to be clear and concise – yet also broad enough to describe the art itself in the broad context of your purpose as artist.

This can be printed individually, hung at the front of the class, or sitting on their desktop to reference, as they type out their paragraphs.  While my previous posts have focused on resources that help students research and prepare for an artist statement, this is a resource they can use during the actual writing.  Hopefully, creating visual, small blurbs can make the process less intimidating for self-proclaimed


Disciplinary Text Set

Writing a personal statement about a body of work can be intimidating.  Many art students first experiences with writing an artist statement is through their application to college.  When applying for art school, the admissions office is looking at more than simply your GPA and ACT score.  They are looking at your portfolio – a body of work that has been created over the course of a student’s senior year in high school.  Along with a portfolio, an artist statement is submitted, tying the portfolio together, oftentimes used in judging scholarship.

Again, oftentimes this can be an overwhelming process for students, as putting the ideas in your paintings and translating them into text Through a combination of readily available text book resources, online research and workshopping opportunities, writing an artist statement can be broken down into accessible steps.

Annotated Bibliography:

Leland, Nita.  “Writing an Artist’s Statement.” Exploring Color and Creativity. 2000. Web. July 15, 2016.

This article is a very straight-forward description of what an artist statement is, and should contain.  This would be a great handout resource for students to reference while writing their artist’s statements, as it is easy to read and digest.

This text has a qualitative readability of “Slightly Complex” as the vocabulary is clear and concise, and the purpose is short and to the point.  The quantitative reading level is at Grade 8, and so should be accessible to Juniors and Seniors that are writing artist’s statements for college application.  Vocabulary to define and focus on would be; brainstorming, journaling, techniques, aspirations, relevance and “potential audience.”

Activities in Class:
The activities that Leland lists in her article would be great starting points for students to discuss, whether in a large group setting, small groups or even individually in quick-write exercises:

“Why do you like to make art?”
“What subjects do you prefer? Why?””What processes and techniques do you use? Why?”
“How is your work different from others?”
“What do you see in your artwork?”
“What do other people say they see?”
“What are your goals and aspirations as an artist?”
“Who or what inspires you?”

Kahlo, Frida. Los Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas). 1939. Oil, canvas. Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, Mexico.

“Created at the same time as her to divorce to Diego Rivera, The Two Fridas is Kahlo’s largest painting. It is believed to be a painting depicting her deep hurt at losing her husband. One Frida sits on the left of the painting; this sis the Frida that was rejected by Rivera, Her blouse is ripped open, exposing her broken and bleeding heart. The Frida to the right, the one that Rivera still loves, has a heart that is still whole. She holds a small portrait of Rivera in her hand. After her death, this small portrait of Rivera was found amongst Kahlo’s belongings, and is now on display at the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico.” – Museum description

Qualitative and Quantitative measures for viewing this piece would be at the moderate level – heartbreak, divorce, and examination of emotion during turbulent times are ideas that student’s may have familiarity with, whether from personal experience, or experience witnessed through other relatives/pop culture/etc.  Vocabulary that would be defined for this activity would be: self portrait, symbolism, surrealism, autobiographical, duality.

Activity in class:
This Frida Kahlo painting is an emotive self portrait, with autobiographical elements.  The symbolism of the two hearts is used here to describe events in Kahlo’s life, as they were happening.  In order to better understand the ideas that are behind this piece, and to analyze the autobiography behind it, I would have students do a critique of this piece in class; first with no knowledge of the description or artist statement, and then revealing what the piece is depicting half way through, and having students reflect on the conversation up to this point, and whether having a statement helps to clarify a the piece.


Neshat, Shirin. (2010, December). Shirin Neshat: Art in Exile. Video file retrieved from [].

Shirin Neshat is an artist who often takes on autobiographical themes in her work.  She has given interviews, published both film and essays and given TED Talks (See above) regarding her work and artist statements.  Using this video would introduce students to the idea of including personal experiences and backgrounds into not only their work, but artist statements as well.  It would also show students that an artist “statement,” can be written, and interview or in the form of a speech, as long as it is supporting the main body of work you are discussing.

Quantitative measurement of her talk is at an 8th grade level, the vocabulary presented is easily understandable on its own – however, I would say that the qualitative measurement ranges from moderately to very complex, as the subject matter can be unfamiliar to students and the relationship of examining one’s culture from afar, something that some student’s may not have experience with.  Vocabulary to be explored would be; exile, social discourse, culture, transcendence, allegorical, “voice” in an artistic context

Activity in class:
Class-wide discussion, including a viewing an excerpt of her short film, Rapture:

Prompts for discussion would include:
“How did she explore her questions of her identity through art?”
“What other artists/writers have inspired Neshat?”
“How do politics play into her works of art?”
“What are some life experiences that you would include in your art?”
“How does your culture inform the works that you make?”

Bernstein, Mashey and George Yatchisin. Writing for the Visual Arts.  New York: Pearson, 2000.

I would be specifically looking at chapters, “How to Write About Your Art,” “How to Revise and Peer review,” and “Writing Art Manifestos: Expressing Your Philosophy.”  These chapters can stand alone, or build off of each other, in that each step is a successive step towards writing for your audience.  This books has step-by-step guides and examples for all manner of artist writings that a student will face in their career – from grant writing, resumes and manifestos – all of which are easily translated into the verbiage needed to write an artist’s statement.  The qualitative and quantitative measure of this text is at a high school level – it is fairly easy to understand, as it handles the content in manual form.  This would be another resource that I would offer to students as a reference or guidelines, especially if there are students in the class that prefer a more “manual”-based approach to writing exercises.  Vocabulary to be explored is; vision, exhibition, audience, theoretical, academic, retrospective.

Activity in class:
At this point in the assignment I would have students workshop their artist’s statements in small groups.  Students would critique each others artwork and offer suggestions in order to clarify the artist’s statements to match the body of work being presented.  Questions of relevance, audience and purpose would be addressed.

Research an artist’s statement of an artist who’s work appeals to you.

An assignment that I always require of any student that is interested in pursuing art at the college level, is to research contemporary artists that they respond to.  A lot of students will have artists that they are fans of, and so I would have students research one artist they know, and one artist that they discover over the course of the semester.  Students would then analyze not only the work, but the artist statements as well.  The text complexity will vary based on the artist a student chooses to research, and the end goal will be for students to begin their own personal “catalog” of artists that they can refer to and reference in not only their own works, but writings as well.  This research can take place in a trip to a museum, research online or even visiting artist series offered by the local colleges (often for free).  The more a student is able to research their contemporaries, the stronger their artistic voice becomes.

Students will share their findings, summarizing the purpose behind a respected artist’s work, and finding common connections between that contemporary artist and their own processes when creating work.  Prompts could include:

“How is your work similar to your chosen artist? How is it different?”
“What are the techniques the artist uses to create their work?””How do these techniques compare to what you have been using in class? How would you experiment with a technique that is different than your own?”
“What is their audience for the work?  Who is your audience for your work?  How are they similar/different?”

Where I am, and where I want to go.

Blog inquiry #1

I am in a strange spot.  I’ve been teaching for a while, but it feels like an unofficial position.  I feel like a teacher, I have absolute confidence in my knowledge of art, I write recommendations of students I’ve worked with, reviewed portfolios, accepted students into college. Yet, I am also separate.  I am not involved in their regular high school curriculum.  From my cozy and protected vantage point, I am unencumbered by the limitations that I have seen some of my peers work with – yet their “official” status lends stability, respect and clout.

I know my work, how to practice it, teach it, and yet folding my knowledge into the script of a lesson plan, a curriculum, approval by school boards, working with students that are part of the general population (and have no interest in art!) are new challenges that I face.  New challenges that I will tackle and learn from.  Literacy, both in the visual form, but also in the form of sharing ideas and creating work that must communicate not only your desired intent, but also withstand the interpretation of others, is a complicated subject matter.  As a working artist, I’m only now starting to understand my place in this conversation.  Helping students find their voice through art, yet also guiding them to invite the greater community along with their experience…it’s a weighty task.  Often for young artists, the decision to make work and invite others along is personal.  The time, effort and thought put into pieces of work are hard to separate from the self at that age.

Artist Statements are a small, yet often overlooked tool that can be utilized to make that jump.  To invite the viewer into your own work, and make them comfortable.  To help them understand where your art is taking them, yet allowing the viewer to have the possibility to take it elsewhere, perhaps even further.  To separate the work from the personal (and yet have it still be completely personal).  Artist Statements are also a stepping stone for understanding another artists work, from the contemporary to the original innovators.

Resources for students:

The best way to learn how to write an artist statement?  MAKE WORK.  Practice your craft, the words will discover themselves.

In the past I have had students create either their own blog to track their progress, or create a collaborative blog, so that the student’s could write and share their work for each other, and give each other feedback ( <– dug this ol’ blog up – I would expand upon this for high school students and suggest not only posting their work, but revised artist statements, resources they found helpful, etc.)

Milwaukee Art Museum/other local museums – often times reading what other artists have done, and the summaries included in ancient/modern pieces gives students exposure to topics that artists have explored in the past

Research individual artists – a lot of students have one artist that they’ve heard of, one artist they aspire to be like, and artists that they will meet.  Research their work.  Read what they have to say about their work.  See if the student can relate to why they make art, too.  (i.e. Interviews of contemporary artists:

Critique, critique, critique.  Feedback from other artists, non-artists, neighbors down the block, regarding a students’ own work is invaluable.  See if the idea you are trying to convey through your work is actually being conveyed, or if it needs clarification, and adjust your work (and future works) from there.

Workshops – Places like the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network have mentorship programs as well as workshops that focus specifically on professional development of upcoming artists.  (