First things first: What is an artist statement?

In the interest of clarity, let’s define “artist statement,” since I’ve already needlessly complicated things by introducing a wedding metaphor into the mix.

An artist statement is a not-too-long series of sentences that describe what you make and why you make it. It’s a stand-in for you, the artist, talking to someone about your work in a way that adds to their experience of viewing that work.

Here are a few things an artist statement is not: a manifesto, an art history lecture, a story about discovering art, short fiction, self-psychoanalysis, a string of adjectives, a grand theory of everything you’ve ever made, or a list of your career accomplishments.

You’ll be called upon to submit artist statements when you apply for residencies, grants, and sometimes, exhibition opportunities. I wrote my first substantial one when I applied to MFA programs. And here’s the secret: even though they can be hard to write, they’re immensely useful. It truly helps me understand my own practice to sit down every few months and translate this nonverbal solitary thing I spend countless hours on into words for a specific audience.

If you’re reading this guide and it’s not the night before an important application is due, you’re already in good shape. Artist statements take time, but they don’t have to be torture. If you can get into the habit of stepping back, evaluating your work, and writing a few sentences about it, you won’t have to start from scratch when you’re down to the wire.