Connect with Your Audience
IF YOU REMEMBER ONLY ONE THING FROM THIS ENTIRE BOOK, remember to keep your audience in mind while you’re writing.
This is more important than you may realize.
Who is your audience?
Your audience is anyone who might buy your art, especially if they understood more about it.
“To buy” means “to purchase.”
“To buy” also means “to accept, believe, or to take seriously.”
Pay attention to the definition of audience in this context; the definition is limited for good reason.
If you like to write, and the audience I describe feels too confining, then find other outlets for your writing. If you want to discuss art theory and politics, communicate with like-minded thinkers, or shred your enemies, go to online forums. Write your rants and manifestos in a blog or journal. Find a place to write in unrestrained prose.
Want a brilliant example? Artist Ai Weiwei’s blog is now published as a book, Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews and Digital Rants, by Ai Weiwei and Lee Ambrozy.
The more you write, the easier the words will come when it’s time to describe your work. But when you’re writing your artist statement, you’ll need to reign in your self-expression.
To present yourself professionally, concisely, and effectively, address the people who might “buy” your work. It’s easy to get off track if you write without holding on to this definition. All writing that represents you in the light of self-promotion needs to be directed at a defined and well-considered audience. Whoever reads your statement is attempting to understand your artwork. Respect their attempt to learn about you, and you’ll improve your chances of connecting with them.
Remember this key phrase in the definition of an artist statement:
An artist statement is a concise arrangement of words that acts as a bridge to connect your audience to your art.
Let’s examine who your audience is NOT. You are not writing to answer critics, impress your ex-professor or former girlfriend, or amuse yourself and your friends. Here are a few more ways to misfire: You are NOT talking to your therapist Somewhere along the way, you may have picked up the notion that writing about your art means communicating all that’s going on inside your head. You don’t have to do that! In fact, please don’t! Say one thing clearly. Then say another thing clearly. When it starts sounding muddled or self-obsessive, stop writing.
The act of writing about your work will often help you understand your process, clarify ideas, and reveal new insights. But writing your artist statement is not about voicing your every thought. Your inner monologue is a confusing mess of contradictions, a struggle between self-doubt and inflated ego. Of course it may include all kinds of things that you think are fascinating, but probably only your therapist or maybe a patient loved one will agree; anyone other than that will find your inner monologue tiresome. As the child psychiatrist said to his chatty daughter, “Honey, some of your ideas can just be thoughts.” Your task is to communicate your insights and ideas to an audience in a way that they might find interesting. You are NOT writing to argue with a person, group, or ideology If your art is political, or emotionally charged, explain why the issue moves you instead of why the issue should move the audience. Avoid telling other people how they should feel. You must respect your audience enough to let them feel what they feel and think what they think in the presence of your work. There is a difference between being angry and being argumentative. Your audience is reading your statement to learn what you’re about, not to engage in some assumed intellectual conflict. An argumentative tone in your writing will just turn the audience away. Let your art confront and argue your point; let your writing present your message in plain language, or merely introduce the topic of your work. You are NOT writing to impress other artists or art experts Reduce the artspeak in your statement to a minimum. By “artspeak,” I’m referring to the vernacular of visual artists. These specialist terms, so familiar to you, can make non-artists feel uninformed and unconnected. Artspeak tends to describe art in general, yet fails to communicate what is singular and distinctive about your art. Of course you’ll use art vocabulary to describe your work.You’ll have to judge for yourself if your chosen art terms genuinely help to get your point across, or if you’re just stretching out sentences with echoed phrases. You run the risk of distancing your reader and dulling your individuality when you overuse artspeak. The exception: If you’re reading this book while in art school, you have a specialized audience of artists and academics. You probably use lots of artspeak, which is appropriate for your environment. You’re currently surrounded, as you may never be again, by people who communicate using art terminology. Ask your teachers what they think about the following list of bulleted questions. Examine your writing and ask yourself: Do these words truly help to explain what people are seeing? Is there a sentence I could translate from artspeak into plain language? Is this the truth? Do I fully understand what I just wrote? What words might create a better understanding for the reader? Simple consideration for your reader goes a long way toward adopting a tone of directness and truth. Your readers/viewers will perceive your attempt to connect with them through the written word. Connecting your audience to your art is important—very important. Because, in the end, they might just buy it. Your audience is anyone who might buy your art, especially if they understood more about it. “To buy” means “to purchase.” “To buy” also means “to accept, believe, or to take seriously.”