Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Artist and Project Statements

You should be clear about why you are making the work and what you are trying to share with its viewers through that effort. Even the most abstract or most personal work, works best when it connects the viewer in some way to your impulses and inspirations. Serendipity and discovery has a place in art, but without some clarity of intention, you are leaving your project’s success to chance.

Jason Houston, Documentary Photographer and Photo Editor


The term “artist statement” is often used to refer to a general statement about the type of work an artist makes and also to a description of a particular project. In photography, where artists create different bodies of work with distinctive narratives, each project needs its own statement.

 Artist Statement

Typically a photographer will have a general artist statement that summarizes the way the work is made, the major themes that tie the different bodies of work together, and the way that photographer looks at the world. The general artist statement can be combined with a short bio on an artist’s website to create a few paragraphs that give a high-level overview about the photographer and his or her work.

Below are two examples of artist statements incorporated into the photographer bio. They are short and effective. They give the reader a sense of an overall concept or focus area for the photographer. 

Heather Evans Smith is an award-winning fine art and conceptual portrait photographer based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her work captures both the everyday and the whimsical, telling stories of women and struggle, reality and the surreal.

Tatiana Wills is intrigued by the essential spirit of the creative vanguard. Her portraits celebrate the excellence, dedication, and integrity of those who make, do, and inspire. Tatiana has won honors from Communication Arts, PDN, and the International Photography Awards. Her work has been seen on the pages of Time, GQ, HiFructose, and IdN and on the silver screen in Banksy’s street art film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Her book Heroes & Villains was released in 2011, marking the result of a six-year collaborative project with co-photographer Roman Cho. Tatiana currently lives in Portland and Los Angeles.

Project Statement

The project statement (which is often called an artist statement and for the rest of this article will be referred to as such) is a much more specific description of one body of work. A photographer should have a project statement for every body of work.

Photographers will most likely need several versions of their project statements. A short, concise statement is appropriate for an artist’s website and in most cases is also sufficient for submitting work to juried shows and competitions and for gallery exhibitions. A photographer may need a longer, more in-depth statement for academic uses, exhibition catalogs, museum exhibitions, or other printed or high profile uses. This guide offers advice and examples for how to write a succinct statement for your website and other general uses.

Yes, Artist Statements Are Important

The thought of writing an artist statement can sicken even the most accomplished photographer. We are visual artists after all. We express ourselves in images, not words.

There is often a lot of griping that occurs when the topic of artist statements comes up. Many people (mostly the artists tasked with creating the statements) feel the work should speak for itself, and that statements are unnecessary and meaningless. Although not every gallery and collector is concerned about a well-formed artist statement, there are a lot of benefits to having a concise, compelling description of your work.

Nearly as difficult as writing about your work is speaking about your work. The process of writing a statement allows an artist to get the swirl of elusive ideas and concepts that make sense in his or her own head out and organized in a concrete, meaningful way. We all know what we are trying to say with our images, but many of us have a very difficult time communicating those thoughts to others.

As discussed in the upcoming section on portfolio reviews, preparing your pitch is critical to presenting your work to a potential gallerist, curator, or collector. Writing your artist statement can both assist you with this and can act as your agent if you are unable to make a face-to-face connection with the person viewing your work.

Putting Words on Paper: Where to begin?

There are three critical questions an artist needs to ask and answer fully before the writing can begin. Get these hammered out, and you are well on your way. 

  • What are you trying to say with your work?

Think about not just what you are photographing, but what you are trying to communicate to the viewer. What is the story you are telling?

  • Why are you making this work?

How did you come to create this work? What inspired the project? Why did you feel you needed to photograph this particular topic in this particular way?

  • Why should the viewer care?

Finding a topic that hasn’t been done before is not a compelling reason to create a photographic project. Why is what you are saying significant and valuable? How are you making me see something in a way I wouldn’t see it otherwise? How are you making me feel something unique or important? What are you making me think about that deserves attention? And above all, why is your voice the best one to transmit this information?

Think about these questions and start a stream of consciousness flow of writing. Or speak out loud and record your dialogue. Have a conversation with another person who is familiar with your work and whose opinion you value, and then use these questions as a springboard.

Once you have let flow, read or play back your musings and pull out themes that are strong and reoccurring. From there, begin to organize the themes and cull down the extraneous information. 

I’ve Got A Lot of Words – What Do I Include?

The purpose of the artist statement is to provide insight – a context and framework in which to understand your art. Tell the viewer about your concept and motivation for making the work. Draw people in and make them want to see your images. The statement is an introduction and supplement to the work, not a detailed description or a biography of your life with a camera.

Take a look at all you have written down and organize it in a way that makes sense and tells the most cohesive story. From there, cut out any pieces of information that seem unnecessary and that do not really talk about the work (the age you first picked up a camera, how you have always been drawn to color and light, where and when you got your MFA).

Key elements to avoid:

  • Generalizations

Be specific when you write. Avoid sweeping generalizations and vague language. Say exactly what you mean. Analyze every single word and make sure you are not adding “fluff” in an attempt to sound deep, artsy, or smart. You should sound like yourself, just more polished and succinct.

  • Reticence

Admittedly, there is a fine line between presenting your work confidently and sounding arrogant (see “Self-importance” below), but sounding like you believe in yourself and your work is essential.

  • Artspeak

Throwing in technical terms, art history or flowery language will only put the reader off and detract from your concept.

  • Self-importance

Declaring your work to be exceptional or sure to change the way the world looks at art is unnecessary and off-putting. If it is brilliant, it will be obvious to the viewer.

  • Past tense

You are writing about work that is being viewed in the present tense, and you should write about it that way, regardless of when it was made. Writing in the present tense is active and lends a feeling of relevance and vitality.

 I think of an artist statement or a project statement like a step-ladder that helps people get closer to your work. We imagine that we're such a visually literate culture, bombarded with images at every turn, but I'm not sure that's true. Maybe we've just learned to skim pictures easily, without necessarily engaging with them. Your image has to attract an audience by itself, it's true, but your statement can help viewers stay with the picture and enter its world. Some people will only take one step, some people will take two. That's where the action is. Why wouldn't you use any tool at your disposal to achieve that?

— Katherine Ware, Curator of Photography at New Mexico Museum of Art


This article is an excerpt from Crusade for Your Art: Best Practices for Fine Art Photographers, Crusade Press, copyright 2014 by Jennifer Schwartz, reproduced here with the permission of the publisher. This excellent book is available from Amazon, here.