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What is a Good Artist Statement?

What is a Good Artist Statement?

Omaha World-Herald

Troy Muller prefers a paintbrush to a pen.

He’s a painter, not a writer.

But that doesn’t pacify those darn gallery directors, curators and art reviewers who demand some sort of explanation for his work. They’re looking for a neat and clean paragraph that pushes aside hours of creation, frustration and elation and cuts to a concise meaning.

An artist statement.

At its roots, it’s a fairly simple thing — the artist writes a few lines about his or her work to be posted at the entrance to an exhibit, giving viewers a primer on the display. It’s used in promotional materials to draw visitors to the show. It’s posted on gallery Web sites to reel in art collectors.

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Muller concedes that having a concise, insightful and readable artist statement is a necessary evil of being an artist.

“It’s the hardest part of the process,” he said. “It’s hard to consolidate a visual idea into a literary format. That doesn’t come naturally for a lot of artists.”

But Muller pulled it off for his solo exhibit “What Price Progress?” at Omaha’s Hot Shops Art Center last year. His unusual work – often random modern materials displayed as long-lost relics — needs some context to be fully appreciated.

“In my art, I am like an archaeologist working in reverse order,” his statement reads. “I select and juxtapose objects, then arrange them within a new context that mimics the antique charts and diagrams from science past. This reordering and re-contextualization invites the viewer . . . to interpret the meaning of the combined image.”

Those three sentences give a portal into his motivation and the way he approaches his art. That’s exactly what artists should do, said Alyson Stanfield, an artist consultant based in Golden, Colo. A good statement provides clues to why the work is important to the artist and some kind of insight the viewer may not necessarily notice or understand.

“If it doesn’t make the reader want to go back and look at the exhibit, then the statement doesn’t work,” Stanfield said.

Young artists often underestimate the power of the artist statement, said Littleton Alston, an Omaha sculptor and Creighton University art professor. They see it as trivial and unimportant.

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They’re wrong, he said.

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