Putting Words In Their Mouths: Writing an Artist’s Artist Statement

Sunday, November, 8th, 2015

Putting Words In Their Mouths: Writing an Artist’s Artist Statement

This is one of the three winning entries to the Arts Future Classroom Competition 2015. Share your class with the Arts Future Classroom educators community here.

This lesson helps students think about what an artist is attempting to accomplish in their work, taking into consideration biography, commission, context, etc. In doing so, the hope is that the student will think about the role these pieces play in telling a story.

Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods are some of the most celebrated, and yet many never wrote specifically about their art. The aim of this lesson is to give those figures a voice. Selecting an artist from this period, we will discuss several of their works along with an analysis of a reading of a biography of and selected scholarship on the artist. Following this, we will break into groups, and each group will work as a class to write an “artist statement” for each piece we discussed. Using our discussion and research/reading as a guide, we will work to find the artist’s voice while we better connect to the works we are discussing.

  • Class size:
    • Minimum: 5 students
    • Maximum: 25 students
  • Suggested venue(s):
    • This class could take place in a museum, gallery or in the classroom with a projector presentation – all that is required is access to images we can all see and discuss together (a library might also work for a smaller scale class.)
  • Duration:
    • 1.5 hours (3 hours max)
  • Lesson details:
    • Class would begin with a brief introduction to the artist and a discussion of 4-5 of his or her most celebrated works. We would try to dissect these works as best we could using visual analysis alone, and then we would turn to scholarship. After digesting these sources, we would, in small groups, work to draft brief artist statements for each work. Then, at the end of our session, we would regroup and share/critique the statements we had generated.
    • Depending on the size of the class and the level of the students, this project could be extended across several sessions and could also be developed into a larger research project.
  • Content materials and resources:
    • Required for this class would be presentation slides of selected artist’s images (if working in classroom) as well as a brief selection of reading resources for research. For example, it would be great to select an artist originally written about by one of the earliest art historians, such as Giorgio Vasari or Giovanni Baglione, and use this as a springboard for additional research/readings.
  • Equipment/ tools necessary
    • Computer and projector; otherwise gallery/museum access.
  • Evaluation/ Grading System:
    • Students’ work would be evaluated based on their ability to synthesize elements of research with an incisive visual analysis in their final submitted artist statement. An additional component that could be factored into the grade is how well the students are able to collaborate with one another to generate this statement.
  • Possible complications:
    • I cannot foresee any complications with this lesson.
  • Inspiration:
    • Working often with college art students, I have found that they struggle to express exactly why they create the art that they do. They also generally come to art history course with an overwhelming sense of apathy. This lesson is designed to make their study of art as hands on as it can be while also helping them refine their writing abilities. This is particularly important for art students who will need to write artist statements in the future, but students from any academic background can benefit as it also provides essential practice in writing a position statement, research summary, etc.
  • Instructor’s Evaluation:
    • Depending on the level of your students, it might be best to begin this exercise in the classroom, so that your students can review several works on a singular artist spread out in front of them. This can help them identify connections, themes, or outlying/unusual elements by looking across several works rather than trying to remember from one piece to the next.
    • It is also helpful (when possible) to provide your students with adequate resources about your selected artists (biography, news articles, statements, etc.) in an effort to showcase all aspects of that artists’ oeuvre.
    • Finally, it can be beneficial to begin your session with a sample of the artist statement you hope your students will draft. This can help them understand the length and scope of the document the should be creating, and it can also give them a sense of the format/structure as well. When you repeat this exercise, you can bring in a sample from a previous class, to reinforce to your students that it is possible for them to write concisely yet comprehensively about an artist and his/her work.
  • Submitted by: Alexis Culotta | American Academy of Art, Chicago, IL, U.S. | Email