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However, parts of this story were probably made up. Apparently, research shows there were no tartars in that area at that time. And furthermore, eyewitnesses say the pilot died shortly afterward, and Beuys was conscious and was taken to a hospital to recover for three weeks. Beuys was making his own myth about himself, and you can just as easily adopt this strategy even if you do not want to be a major figure in the art world as he was. Does that mean that you should make up a story about yourself? Possibly, but embellishment isn’t out of the question, and this is straightforward myth-making and self-aggrandizement at that.
The point I am making with this example is that your statement can also begin to create a myth about yourself—that is, a fictional story that is mixed with the truth. If this appeals to you, then use it and experiment, and if it doesn’t, use one of the other methods. The point of an artist’s statement is simply to get the attention of the person you are showing work to or the institution that you are applying to for a grant, or for your average juried show. No matter which it is, it is important to make your- self stand out and look different from others who are competing with you.
More on the Critic
As I said earlier, the New York art critic Jerry Saltz has a Facebook page, and at one point, he offered to edit people’s writing if they posted their artist’s statements. On his page, he said an artist’s statement should be
[written] in plain language. Keep it short, simple, to the point. Use your own syntax; write the way you speak. No platitudes! With giant abstractions (“nature,” “beauty,” “ambiguity”) say what you’re doing with these big things. Or AVOID . . . them. Don’t be afraid to be funny/weird, your stupid self! A glimpse of real self is powerful.
He is affirming much of what we are saying here, that you need to be straightforward to a large extent, and that you need to be clear. But what he is not saying is that you can also break the rules, as Beuys did, and make a story up that is compelling, edgy, and effective.
I am not saying you should not seek the help of an editor. All writers use editors, and even a friend who is a good writer can be of assistance.
After you finish your statement, show it to someone who will give you their honest opinion. Show it to someone who knows nothing about the arts; show it to a child, and examine the responses you get. The statement should be understood easily by almost everyone. If it is difficult to understand, then something is wrong and should be adjusted. Ideally, it should also be very exciting or engaging so that it is memorable and makes one want to see the work.
To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here. To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.