The Art of the Artist Statement

….wherein I explain what the heck it is, and how the heck to write one.

Not long ago, a fellow writer asked me about the benefits of applying for a literary grant. It’s not the same as being published, he claimed, so if you have limited writing time, wouldn’t you be better off focusing on your work, instead of spending valuable writing time filling out a long, complicated grant application?

I agree that writing time is a precious commodity not to be wasted. (Have I mentioned I finally gave in and became a Facebooker this week?)  However, the idea that applying for a grant is a waste of time, I do dispute.  I’ve posted previously about the value of entering contests, so this is a close cousin to that:

Winning a literary grant is good because:

…..It validates you as an artist.

…..It supports you/your work on a particular project.

…..It offers an opportunity for public performance.

…..It supports the grant system to aid and abet artists.

…..How can I put this? Oh yeah–

As in my prior post, winning is best, but applying is good, too:

….Applying forces you to prepare a polished work sample.

….Applying makes you to update bio and resume information.

….Applying makes you develop a project description.

….Applying gets you to write an artist statement.

….Applying doesn’t cost any of this:

All that being said, one of the bugaboos I hear from writers who avoid the grant process is that numbers 2, 3 and 4 above are tedious. This is true. Most writers I know hate writing about themselves. On the other hand, you have to put on your big girl (or boy) panties (or boxers) and master the boring stuff in order to give your work the exposure it deserves.

So, lesson #1: How to Write an Artist Statement.

First, let’s define the term. An Artist Statement is a group of “I sentences” that explain your artistic hopes, dreams, ambitions, philosophy, direction, growth, evolution, plus how this grant will patently help you to achieve all of that. More simply, and practically, put, the Artist Statement tells the grant administrators what your hope is for this project, how you will be affected by working on the project, and how the support of the grant will help you to achieve that.

Second, let’s talk about what an Artist Statement is not. It’s not your resume or CV; it’s not a  list of publications, awards, honors; it’s not your personal background; it’s not a project description.

Third, let’s figure out the purpose of the Artist Statement. While not all grants are administered in the same way, in general, the grant agency (state division of the arts, or arts council) will employ an out of state judge to read and score the work samples. The Artist Statement is a document the grant agency uses to allow the artist to give voice to how the grant will help their career or work. It is also often used as a PR tool.

Fourth, and finally, how do you write one? Here we go:

An Artist Statement can be from 500-1,000 words, or so. In that space, include some/all of the following:

….What is your philosophy as an artist, in relation to this particular project? For instance, if this is a family memoir, do you believe that art is a means of examining and exploring your personal history? Is it a way to heal, or celebrate? Is this work meant to be a tribute, to set the record straight, to capture for posterity events that have impacted you and yours?

….How will you grow as an artist through this project? Are you trying a new medium? A new voice? Fictionalizing reality? Creating an entirely new world? How is this project different from your prior work?

….What message are you trying to convey?

….How is your work, and this project in particular, a reflection of you? If you are writing about a culture, are you tied to it? Is the project trying to satisfy a curiosity? Trying to recapture or examine something you have lost?

….What is your goal, specifically, for this work? Do you plan to complete a novel? Write X number of short stories?

….Stylistically, what is special about this project? Is this a departure for you? A new venture into an entirely new genre?

That’s a lot to cram into the small box on the grant app.What is comes down to is explaining what you want from this particular project, and how it fits into your goals as an artist. The Artist Statement is your way to make the grant people understand you. It gives you a chance to express your heart.

What’s so great about writing the Artist Statement is that it makes you think about the questions above. In your daily life as a writer, how often do you think, concretely, about your goals as an artist? Do you ever stop to recall just how you chose this medium, and how it has impacted your life?

The Artist Statement makes you examine yourself as an artist. Who are you? What do you want? What are you trying to say?

It’s that simple. Really.

Bonne chance~


P.S. As mentioned above, find me on Facebook.


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