The Artist Statement is like your introduction to the public, and needs to be written in a way that anyone can understand, like any proper introduction. When you present your work, you want to show the public who you are. It is not only polite to do so, it also helps the public put a face and a story behind an arts & crafts work and helps them return to you and refer your work to more buyers.
The Artist Statement is also important because of the internet. The Artist no longer can stand in front of a room of buyers. Buyers now rely on your online profile to find out who you are and also the story behind your work, and if you do not provide this easily, internet viewers will drift to other websites quickly. Your Artist Statement will help them stay awhile on your profile to look at more of your art, because you are letting them get to know who you are and why you make your work, and what your work means.
The importance of this statement cannot be emphasized strongly enough in keeping buyers interested and also valuing your work.
Record your verbal introduction. To begin, you might want to simply record yourself giving your own introduction. Nowadays, you can record yourself using a smartphone. When you play it back, this will help you organize your thoughts. Additionally, the recording that you make might even be good enough to put online. So to begin, introduce yourself in the manner that you would in-person. For Navajo artists, this means telling your name and your maternal and paternal clans, and it may be a bilingual introduction. In addition to your clan introduction, you must also introduce your work, which involves come key elements, which will be discussed below.
It might be very helpful to make your recording in front of friends and family in order to help you focus on what your audience will hear.
Freewrite. For those who are more comfortable with writing, “freewriting” instead of recording may suit you better. Both ways are good approaches to getting started with the Artist Statement. Let us now explore the key elements.
- Tell it in the first person. Unlike a bio, an Artist Statement is told by yourself, in your voice, so you will use “I” throughout the statement.
- Introduce yourself. Not only do you want to give an introduction of yourself as a person, you want to introduce yourself as an Artist or Artisan. Sometimes, this means telling briefly the story about how you came to make art, including the story of your family, if they also make art.
- Introduce your arts & crafts medium. Tell about the medium you are working in, e.g., rugs, jewelry, baskets, kachinas, sandpainting, pottery, painting, carving, photography, fashion, mixed media, etc. Tell why you work in this medium, and where you fit in the traditions behind or innovations in the use of this medium.
- Introduce your work. For buyers, this is often the most interesting part of the Artist Statement, but also the most difficult. Introducing your work may mean telling stories about your approach, and how and why you make it. Even though most arts and crafts marketing sites simply present work for sale, more and more artists and buyers depend on websites with actual stories about the work in order to properly value work that is bought and sold. There is no single way to tell the work’s story. You should tell the story that fits the work, as how you would tell it if you told the story in person.
Above: Jolonzo Goldtooth, fashion designer & N.A.T.I.V.E. Project supported artist
For example, in the documentary The Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family, the jewelry maker Lee A. Yazzie introduces his jewelry like this: “I treat each piece of turquoise like they were my children. I look at the stone and say, how can we help each other? I say, I need your help. You need mine to come to life.”
The rug weaver Amy Begay says, in the article, Modern Weaver, Ancient Art: how to make a Navajo rug: wool, loom and tradition: “It’s great knowing that wool from my sheep is going to end up in a rug on someone’s wall. That’s one reason I only raise and breed Churro sheep. They are so important to the Navajo culture, and they are not as plentiful as they used to be . . . There are machines that do this now, but I prefer the old ways. This is the way my mother did it. This is the way I show others. It feels like the way it should be done.”
The Menominee artisan and jewelry maker Wendy Bolvin says on her website: “The materials I use are varied from traditional brained-tanned smoked buckskin, porcupine quill, brass beads and cones, imitation sinew, cotton cloth, to plastic, paper bags, nylon threads, synthetic fabrics, factory tanned suedes and leathers. Like my ancestors, I use the materials available to me. Styles vary also from traditional ceremonial objects to the gas tank cover on my brother’s Harley-Davidson. But the things put into all my pieces are quality craftsmanship, care, and “a little of myself”. I’d like to thank all of the people who own or have seen and appreciated my work.”
William R. Wilson, the Diné photographer, says on his website: “In my work there are stories that I grew up with, stories bringing together the cultural weave from which I come. These stories are personal to me as an individual and a member/citizen of a people; therefore, they must be presented and received with respect. In a way it is a ceremony, it’s about exorcising discursive demons that have been planted in our minds and the processes of remembrance and continuance that enable us to keep functioning. For Indians, I want to produce experiences that bring us close to home, while unsettling us with the evidences of colonization. I want my work to strengthen Indians with examples of resistance, and the possibilities of controlling one’s own representation.”
And finally, the painter Tony Abeyta writes on his website: “There exists a rhythm in the land where I was born. I spend a lot of time deciphering the light, the cascades of mesas into canyons, the marriage between earth and sky and the light as it constantly changes at whim, the intensity of rock formations, and the sage and chamisa that accent this poetic experience, unlike any where else I have seen. I am beckoned to remember it and then to paint it.”