Tag Archives: artist statement

An Artistic Statement for Writers Part 2

Feeding the Roots

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the absence of information I was able to find about creating artistic statements for writers. This week, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on why this might be, why I think it’s important for writers to create one anyway, and ideas for scaffolding this tool.

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Artistic statements for writers are treated differently than artistic statements for visual artists. Visual artists are advised to create their artistic statement around a body of work — if not their whole oeuvre, then a distinct, thematically-linked portion. Writers are encouraged to create an artistic statement for a small, specific purpose: a particular project, or an application for a literary grant.

I agree with the usefulness of creating a unique statement for literary grant applications, but it is not the same thing as the artistic statement is for visual arts. Visual artists create artistic statements for public purposes: gallery exhibitions, portfolio preparation. Writers, if they do create artistic statements separately from individual applications, may do so from a more private desire to conceptualize a particular writing project for themselves.

While I think that’s useful, we writers are cheating ourselves if we never create an artistic statement that addresses the totality of our relationship with our art. Writing is a process of discovery — of ourselves, as well as our characters or our topics — which can only make our future writing better. I got some fascinating insights about my vision by creating my own artistic statement — although it was never meant for public consumption.

The bonus for creating a writer’s artistic statement is that we can poach that language for many other materials: personal websites, event bios, press releases, and so on.

A writer’s artistic statement is about vision. Visual artists have to drill down with words.  Writers need to get words to coalesce into something bigger.

What about you? Have you got a vision? How do you know?

Ideas for scaffolding an artistic statement for a writer: feeding the roots

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I like Natalie Goldberg’s analogy of good writing as composting. It involves the mingling and enriching of disparate-seeming ideas over time. The first thing to do, therefore, is brainstorm.

I’ve shamelessly stolen a lot of the structure of the following from Molly Gordon. The questions about writing are my own.

Take a few minutes and think about why you write. How did you get into writing? How do you feel when work is going well? What are your favorite things about your work? Jot down short phrases that capture your thoughts. Don’t worry about making sense or connections. Use a pen. Don’t delete, cross out, or throw out that sheet of paper to start fresh (in other words: no editing!).

Next, make a list of words and phrases that communicate your feelings about your work and your values. Include words you like, words that make you feel good, words that communicate your values or fascinations. Be loose. Be happy. Be real. These are all potential compost ingredients. It’s no time to be selective.

Continue your exploration by answering these questions as simply as you can. We’re not editing yet — let it all hang out:

What is your favorite genre? Why?
Do you ever play with other genres? Why?
Do you like to begin your work from a grand idea? from a small detail? from a character/person? from place? Why?
Do you prefer to write long-hand or using a computer? Do you use a digital recorder and transcribe thoughts and notes? Why?
What do you do differently from the way you were taught? Why?
What inspires you?
What patterns emerge from your work?
What do you like best about what you do?
What do you mean when you say that a project has turned out really well?

Go back to your word list. Add new words suggested by your answers to the questions above.

Choose two key words from your list. Look them up in a dictionary. Read the definitions, and copy them, thinking about what they have in common. Look your words up in a thesaurus. Read the entries related to your words. Are there any new words that should be added to your list?

Write five sentences about your relationship to your work. Be truthful. How do you feel when your work is going well? How do you start? How do you know a piece is done?  What do you want your readers to experience?

Take as much time as you need to brainstorm. To get good dirt, you’ve got to add a lot of material and keep turning it over. If you’re patient, it’ll do all the work for you.

Can you smell it? What are some words that you love?

An Artist Statement for Writers

Part 1

Recently, I’ve started looking into grant applications for writers. Nearly all of these require an already-produced body of work, which is unsurprising. What I hadn’t thought about, but what is also quite logical, is the inclusion of an artist statement.

image courtesy of geekphilosopher.com

Most of the information that I’ve been able to find on artist statements focuses on or pertains to visual artists, such as the scaffolding/thought process that Molly Gordon puts together on her website here. I thought hers was an excellent exercise. My only quibble, if you can call it that, is my wish to find something like this tailored for writers. Molly’s outline contains questions about the medium the artist uses, or what tools, or the part color plays in the work.

Despite the fact that I am no visual artist, I went through the exercise myself, and highly recommend it. It helped me open up my mind and explore my thoughts and feelings on my art. (Personally, I have to fight a tendency to begin editing my work almost as soon as I have a sentence or two down on paper or on the screen, which immediately puts up creative blocks and walls in my work before it gets anywhere.) As I did so, I toyed with the idea of re-purposing Molly’s outline for a writer. For example, “selecting materials” pertains obviously to the visual arts: acrylic, oils, stone, textiles, etc. For a writer, it would make more sense to think about what form or genre or type of writing they are focusing on: short stories? creative nonfiction? poetry? novels? memoir? How does the kind of writing affect its structure? “Tools” may be the computer or longhand for a first draft, books as reference or inspiration, note-organizing software, and so on.

Then I thought, if something like that could help me, surely others could benefit from it also. And: surely something like this already exists.

I began searching for an online resource like Molly’s for writers, and I’m still looking. Maybe it’s a search-engine ranking thing, and the search results are keyed into visual arts; perhaps there is something way down in the search rankings that refers to writers, and if so, it’s a crying shame that it’s so well hidden.

Maybe there’s a bias towards explaining the artistic statement to non-writers, because their area of focus has nothing to do with words.

Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place. (Always possible.)

But maybe it doesn’t even matter. Why should that stop me from putting together my own  outline or suggestions for a writer’s artist statement? The fact that one novel exists doesn’t stop the lot of us from writing more. The fact that one short story got written doesn’t mean none of us can ever write another. Talk about throwing up obstacles to creativity.

In Edward Burger’s recent article about the importance of unstructured thinking, he talks about organizing our reactions to ideas into three categories: positive, negative, and interesting. The premise is that we judge an idea, and whether it is a failure, based on a previously conceived notion of what success is, despite the fact that some of the most revolutionary ideas were unintended and unforeseen consequences of something else that “failed.” For me, the artist statement definitely falls into the interesting category. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go, and it might end up someplace else (apologies to Yogi Berra).

So in my next post, I’ll share what I’ve come up with — a starting point, a series of ideas around the construction of an artist statement for writers. Your thoughts, and your friends’ thoughts (and the thoughts of your cats and dogs) are welcome. (Just no hairballs, please.)

In parallel with this, I am still on the hunt for resources, exercises, templates, or examples of writer’s artistic statements already available. If you have any links or suggestions, please shoot me an email through this website or leave the information in the comments. The more sources, the better. I’d like to put them together in a follow-up post or otherwise organize them under a resources page (TBD) so that they can benefit other writers.

So let’s get to it! What do you think? Got any ideas about artist statements for writers? I’d love to hear feedback from visual and other artists, too.