How to Edit Your Artist Statement

Write down as much as you can. Write everything down. That means everything. It doesn’t need to make sense. And that thing you don’t know how to say? Just write it down. There’s always words, even for what you think you don’t know. Any words on paper are a start and a start is halfway there. The more material you have to work with the easier it will be to edit.

Alright then: go through your first draft and rewrite using the principles below. Then rewrite again.

1] Never begin with “My Work”. Also avoid any use of “my work” anywhere within the statement. It’s also a good idea to never use the word “work” anywhere at all, ever.

2] You have no duty to the facts. Your loyalty is to the honesty of your ideas, emotions, dreams, desires and needs; what Werner Herzog calls the ecstatic truth. That is your goal. Nobody cares about the minutiae and what you want is to make people care. Tell them a good story.

3] Often, what you wrote at the beginning should go at the end, or the end should be the beginning.

4] Don’t try to sound smart. You aren’t. The world is full of people whose job is to be smart. An artist isn’t held to the same ideals; count yourself among the lucky. Make your statement personal – it’s what you’ve got that nobody else has. What you believe you alone know is why we’re looking.

5] Begin with a bang. Which is better? “My work is about airports and longing . . . ” or “The first time I saw an airport was the last time I saw my father . . .”

6] Cut all excess words.

7] Be wary of repetition. Should you repeat a word more than twice, then it’s something you’re not adequately describing. Write more about that. What you’re missing will be found there.

8] Never apologize or prevaricate. Never use a tone of uncertainty. Write as though you know what you’re doing. State the personal as if it were universal.

9] Vary your sentence lengths – long then short, short then long.

10] Match your words to what you’ve made. Use adjectives and adverbs that feel like what you’ve done.

11] Use a thesaurus to expand your meaning. Always use precise words rather than general words. Construct is better than make. Elegant, symmetrical, graceful, or overwhelming will take you further than beautiful. Roget’s Thesaurus is best and the best Roget is the online 1911 version. Use it to not just to find better words, but as a way to riff and expand on your ideas. Travel beyond what only you can think up.

[download the pdf - use as you see fit]