The Artist Statement — What Is It?

By Dolores Andrew, NAN-Certified Master Judge

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in summer 2014.

There are almost as many ways to write an artist statement as there are artists. Mostly, they involve the “why” in your thinking, the “how” in your stitching, and the “what happened” in the end. Here are some possibilities:

You have this inspiration for a fantastic piece of needle art. Maybe you saw the colors in a sunset, or a swirling pattern in some leaves. Maybe it was a scene in a movie that stayed with you. Whatever it was, you have to catch it.

First, you assemble just the right materials: the canvas, Congress cloth, or linen that the composition needs. You find all of the correct yarns, metallics, and beads needed to set it off, then choose the best technique to capture it properly. Then, of course, it is stitched with no trouble, finishing it just as planned, or even better. Framing is subtle and tasteful.

That is one way to create an Artist’s Statement: what you thought of and planned, as well as what methods/techniques, materials you used to create it. This is what you would describe to a friend (or judge?), as you explain your enthusiasm about the project. Your friend could be sitting next to you, but the judge can’t always be handy. The Artist’s Statement describes your thought processes, challenges, and motivation so that the judge can better appreciate and understand your work.

So what if you haven’t had all these inspired ideas, but have been challenged by a painted canvas, or a class piece? Maybe it was a kit, or a canvas that caught your fancy in a shop recently? Those are more easily described.

A painted canvas usually has a designer or source that should be acknowledged. It is a good starting point for a challenging work. You, the stitcher, can follow the painted areas or not, using the same colors or values, or not. You must choose the stitches and give the canvas the vibrancy and drama that will enhance it beyond the flat, painted surface where it began. An Artist’s Statement about this project could summarize the source, if known, what stitches were chosen to add “distinction” to the canvas, and why any color changes were made from the original design. This will give a judge a better understanding of your work and the choices that you made.

A class piece or kit is even easier to describe, since all of the materials were provided for you. The teacher or designer selected the colors, stitches, stitch guides, often even the ground fabric. Only should you change a color, use a different stitch, or alter the design in some way, would it be necessary to explain the motivation for those changes. Usually an Artist’s Statement for simple projects like these need only a note of the source (purchased kit, class piece) and where, if any, changes were made. The more a judge knows about your work, the better he or she can evaluate it.

An Artist’s statement can take many forms, from a simple sentence or two, to a longer tale of challenge, inspiration, frustration, to completion. Think of it as you, talking to the judge.

It helps not only the judge who must study it, but the viewer who can appreciate it more fully in an exhibit.

An Artist Statement template based on this article is available on the Assembly page.