Sunday, February 13, 2011

Artist Statement: Know your Audience by Brian Sherwin

Griswold Point, Charcoal, available at Maple & Main Gallery

Today I'm re-printing (with permission) a terrific article from Fine Art Views Newsletter. Good stuff here, read and learn!

Artist Statement: Know your Audience

by Brian Sherwin

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I am of the opinion that an artist can benefit from having several versions of his or her artist statement. The artist statement submitted to a college art program, grant program, or curator may be very different than the artist statement presented-- verbally or in written form-- to a potential buyer during a studio visit. Thus, I think it is important for an artist to have several versions of his or her artist statement that can be utilized for specific situations. Key point-- know your audience.

Artist statements are ever-changing-- and I will go as far as to say that an artist can take different directions with his or her artist statement depending on who he or she is striving to lure interest from. I realize that my opinion flies in the face of traditionalists who suggest that an artist should use the same artist statement in all situations.. However, it stands within reason to have different versions of your artist statement that are catered to a specific audience. With that in mind-- I want to discuss the type of artist statement that is best drawn upon when conversing-- verbally or in written form-- with the average potential art buyer.

A business motivated version of your artist statement needs the same focus of clarification presented in your ‘standard’ artist statement-- it will just take a different direction. Being able to clarify your artistic direction should be an important aspect of your overall strategy for selling art. That clarification-- displayed within the context of writing a meaningful artist statement-- is a key step toward being capable of discussing your artwork thoroughly with potential buyers. After all, if you can sum up your approach to art with a few well structured paragraphs there will be no doubt that you can handle questions that a potential buyer may ask concerning your art.

With the above in mind-- an artist statement that is geared toward the business-side of art may take a simplified direction compared to the ‘artspeak’ that is commonly used in ‘standard’ artist statements. Simplicity is often a strongpoint of business matters-- you want to get in, make the sale, and make an impact that spurs future transactions. Thus, it is important to keep your business motivated artist statement simple when expressing it to a potential buyer in written form or verbally. You don‘t want to burden the average art buyer with information that is unnecessary toward the goal of persuasion, so to speak.

As mentioned, be wary of artspeak that is common among your art related peers. The words and terms we use among other artists and art professionals may be lost on potential buyers. After all, an art buyer obviously loves art-- but that does not mean that he or she is an insider traveling within that specific subculture, if you will. He or she may not be knowledgeable of art history and specific art terms. Information that your art related peers find clever and insightful may leave a potential buyer confused-- which only serves as a distraction from making a sale.

To put it bluntly-- customers don’t like to feel stupid. Think of the car dealer who rambles on about the mechanics of a vehicle-- the average buyer has no clue what the car dealer is talking about. Thus, the customer is left nodding his or her head out of courtesy while edging away toward the dealer who is more ‘down to earth’ in his or her selling approach. I’m not comparing selling art to selling cars-- but I do think that artists can learn something from the car dealer who strays from only offering hard-line information about a specific product. Most customers-- no matter the business-- only want basic information. That is a key aspect of the consumer culture that we all live in. Thus, your average art buyer is not interested in artspeak or obscure references-- he or she wants the basics.

Artspeak can leave a potential buyer with nothing to say-- unable to reply-- which hampers the confidence of both parties. The words and terms that you use among your art related peers can actually limit the conversation between you and a potential buyer. Furthermore, throwing obscure references at a potential buyer is often not a tactful direction to take toward making a sale. The buyer is not visiting your studio to receive an art history lesson-- he or she is visiting because there is an interest in purchasing art. Again, you don’t want a potential buyer to feel ignorant or to chip away at his or her confidence by over-intellectualizing the conversation. Keep it simple. Make the sale.

In closing, the success of an artist statement, based on my experience, often depends on what the artist leaves out. That goes for artist statements that are geared toward the art community as a whole (Specifically the world of art grants, art exhibit proposals, and art critics) as well as artist statements that are geared more toward art marketing in general. A solid artist statement-- especially if one has a version that is simplified with average art buyers in mind-- can be a powerful tool to draw upon when strengthening the foundation of your art marketing strategy. Know your audience and you may see results.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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Brian McGurgan said...

Hi Jan, I'm taking a longer look at some of your recent pastels and admire the work you're doing. "Winter Dunes" is a favorite for me. On the pieces that you are using a handmade paper, what paper are you working with and where do you buy it? As a fellow fan of handmade papers I'm always curious to see what others are using...

Laurie G. Miller said...

I recently took a 2 hour pastel workshop and have a new found respect for pastel artists. These are beautiful.