Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Artist Statement

I realise this is possibly amongst the most boring blog post subject on earth; but it is one I have been grappling with of late and one which I think really matters to me as an artist.  In order to tell the story of who I am and what I do, I need to find ways to write the words about it, to go deep and ask myself some questions and to try and decide what the essence of what I do really is.

Clearly from that haphazard description, I am still struggling to sort this out!

I recently tried to commit to updating my blog bits and my website bits more frequently.  I seem to be quite regular at posting, but those pages at the top of the blog and my website in particular, often end up out of date and of not much use or value to people.  So with this little commitment in mind, I thought OK, I should review and refresh my artist statement.  That sounded like a single dot point on the daily to-do list; which I could knock off before lunch.

Days and weeks later it still hangs there, which is weird.

My main source of guidance and support for the writing of such a statement is Alyson B. Stanfield of Art Biz Coach fame.  I re-read her book (I'd rather be in the studio) and searched her blog and came across ideas and places to begin and I thought I had all the tools I would need.  Instead I went round in circles for a bit.

A couple of points from Alyson that I have paraphrased:
  • An Artist Statement should talk about your current inspiration and drive for work (nothing historical or biographical)
  • It should be in the first person
  • It should talk about what gets you into the studio and drives you to create
  • It should connect viewers to your work - they should read it and then want to look closer at your work and see if they can see the passion
  • It should be no more than two paragraphs
I answered the questions she posed, I did some (not all) of the exercises and I wrote some words which I think I am almost happy with.  Maybe accepting of, rather than happy would say it best.

Fiona Dempster - Artist Statement

I am drawn to quietness, stillness, and simplicity and from here, I explore themes of journeys and place; peace and contemplation; and re-using and honouring things that are old and worn.

My practice takes time and is often meditative and slow – repeating stitches, burning individual letters from pages, gently wrapping, drawing up lines, carefully writing…

Books, paper, words, language and marks inspire me and comfort me and are ever-present in my work. I might use all sorts of materials, but these talismans are there throughout.

As you can see, I haven't yet been able to rationalise it down to two paragraphs that sit nicely together - my thoughts seem too disparate at this point to merge beautifully. In fact I have written three sentences (after weeks of work!)

I would be really interested to hear other people's stories of their time drafting artist statements, and to learn if you think these words go close to who I am and what I do. Do you recognise me and my work in there??  Any comments or separate emails would be most welcome! I hope I'm almost there...

©2012 Fiona Dempster - my waste paper basket detail


  1. I think writing an artist statement is one of the hardest things we arty folk have to do.... I'm still trying to distill mine so that it truly represents me ... it took me more than 3 years to come up with the 5 sentences that have operated as my A.S. for the past couple of years (and I wheel it out for all events....) It continues to be a 'work in progress'

    I think if you look at your A.S and you feel that it represents even a small bit of you, welllllll maybe that's as good as you can get.....

    advice wise - I've been told that its often good to have a friend write a bit about you.... its amazing how you appear in other people's eyes (and words!) ..... I haven't done this (yet) but I think it might be a fab idea.....

    oooo and I just remembered another bit of advice about A.S --- don't string more than 3 adjectives togetherin any given sentence (and don't run more than 2 adjectival sentences together) I can't remember if I followed this - must go check my AS!

  2. Hi Fiona, you know i just rewrote my own artist statement just this afternoon, and i did it because i found that the one i had already was just so caught up in language and 'art speak' that it took away from the true me that was speaking. So i threw away all the 'shoulds' and just spoke from my heart about me and what my art means. I don't know if that helps you at all but i guess its nice to have alternative views at times. If you'd like to read mine you can go to www.janinewhitling.com.au/bio/
    Good luck with it :-)
    Janine ♥

  3. Thank you Ronnie - it's good to know I'm not alone in the struggle - and some good tips re adjectives! In my work-work I am a less is more kind of writer and can end up being cryptic; so finding the balance in important. Where I have gotten to is still too staccato for me; but I might just get a friend to write some words too! Thanks for your thoughts and time.

    Oh Janine - you just wrote it! Brilliant! I liked what I read - it seemed honest and real; and that is what I think an AS should be - too much art talk means we get lost. Maybe I should just sit down and write about my art and see what happens! Thanks for visiting, and for sharing.

  4. Your post comes at a good time. I'm in the process of getting ready to apply for a solo exhibition and need to write not only an artist statement, but a proposal. Neither of which I've ever really done.

    I love your artist statement and 3 short paragraphs seems fine to me. If you want to read a somewhat comical artist statement [written by a friend], check out


    Knowing Deb, she wrote this in 2 minutes one day.

    Good luck!

  5. Fiona, I love your sentences and yes-I do see you in the words. Your work has a rich softness and that is reflected in what you've written. Now you've inspired me to put one more thing on my 'to do' list: An artist statement . . . .

  6. I agree that speaking from the heart is definitely more useful than "art speak". The readers and viewers of your work aren't so interested in that, I don't think. I am fascinated by other artists' studios, at their "stacks", I am also very interested in the questions they ask. This seems to be what really drives us, I think, the engaged inquiry combined with our obsessions - materially and technically. I think a reader of a statement might want a sense of the dialog we have with our work... something like that. I know you know this, but its always interesting to me to hear the questions that are being asked. But I realise I don't talk at all about that in my statement!

    I've changed my statement so many times over the years. Bits of all of them might apply to my work at any time, as there are threads that bind all the phases of my work. I think maybe I'm getting better at it, the more simple I get, the more direct and clear and honest about what I am doing.

    I think your statement does speak to your work, I'm relatively new to it, but it fits. Questions that came up for me in reading it were wondering more specificity about materials in the last sentence. You speak of them as "talismans"... I'd love to hear more about that, seems there's hint at a spiritual influence, and where you mention that your practice is "meditative".

    I'm going to go have a look at my statement... haven't read it in a while and I wonder how I am with it!

    Good luck with this... I find it a real challenge.

  7. That's definitely you Fiona. Unpretentious, elegant, with very thoughtful use of each word.

  8. Thanks Jennifer - the words and ideas are me; but still not quite coming together as well as they could I fear...but onwards ever onwards! I loved that AS by your friend Deb; brilliant take on it and you can feel the passion.

    Thank you Jane - best wishes for your AS; it's a good process to go thru (especially for one like me who hops around between this and that). I look forward to the result. There are a lot of kind folk out there with words of wisdom and advice and beautiful ASs.

    Wonderful advice Valerianna - and yes it is a real challenge. I like how the statement should reflect our dialogue with our work - and to hear some of the questions asked is great. I think its good to change your statement - our artwork doesn't stay static; new passions emerge; we gain more insight into an element that drives us...so refreshing is good.

    Thank you Jo - I think I'm in there; I just think I could write it a bit better; so I shall playa bit longer and hopefully the words from the heart will emerge more than the 'right type of words'. Wish me luck!

  9. I love it, Fiona! And I'm glad that you found some of my guidance that was helpful. I know it will serve you well.

  10. Fiona, first off this post is not boring! That initial paragraph is so succinct and gets to the heart of the matter straight away. There is nothing haphazard about it for me. I would say forget the prescriptive two paragraph idea because those three sentences sum up the essence of your work and creativity quite beautifully. If I were shown those in isolation I wouldn't hesitate to say they describe you and your work immaculately. Ponder no more on this issue. You have succeeded in producing a statement that encapsulates all you do and are about - well, for me anyway!

  11. Hello Fiona - I know you and your art work well methinks, and your artist statement reflects both you and your work. Incredible really in so few sentences. I do think there is good merit in Ronnie's comment about getting someone, or a number of art friends who know you well to read what you have written (maybe not write it for you) and see if your AS has done its best possible job. I am so well and truly over artspeak and think that the AS should come straight from your heart - or course some of us, like you, have a knack for saying things beautifully and succinctly and others need a little more help. All for now ..... am off to ponder my own Statement! May need your help..... :-)

  12. Thank you Alyson - lots of good ideas in your book and blog as ever!

    Lesley - thank you! I think the essence of me is there, and Imight just need to tweak it a bit. I'm glad the tyoucoudl see me in it - Ihtink 've got the main bits right...

    Susan - thank you my friend. You do know me and my art and I'm pleased that I have caught the sense of it here. I shall do some more work - to make sure there is 'heart speak' rather than 'art speak'!

  13. I like this version of your artist's statement. But, since I just came to your blog yesterday (!), I am not really familiar with the full range of your work. So maybe my ignorance can be helpful. Somewhere in your statement, I think you should describe not just the impetus and the materials (which you do, really well) but also what comes through that process: what are the end results? You are a book artist, but also, I think, other-kinds-of-artist.


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.