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.
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 [https://www.ted.com/talks/shirin_neshat_art_in_exile].
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?”