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Writing 101: Write like you Give a Shit

· Writing,Artist Services,Support Artists,Collateral

Why are words so important for a visual artist? Getting the story behind your work increases the understanding of you and your art, the likelihood of a patron purchasing it, and the probability of them sharing it with others.

When you tie an artist statement to your work, it humanizes the creator. And when people understand that a human person made this thing they are interested in, it increases the perceived value of the work. Therefore, you must share some information about yourself and your work.

That said, the specifics of your wording and tone depend on a variety of factors. How you speak about your work will vary from how you write about it in a blog post, which will, in turn, differ from how you write about it in a grant application, social media post, exhibition catalog, and so on.

Today, we’re going to walk through the groundwork to prepare you for your writing. Like when we discussed collateral materials, we broke it into the preparation and then the application. In Writing 102, we’ll discuss how to apply everything so it ties together.

What to Prepare

The good news is that you already have a start on the prep work whether you realize it or not! When we were talking about your Why in Collateral Materials 101: Do This Before You Make Anything, I asked you to reflect on your mission and values.

If you actually did it (and I know you did because you’re a pro), you’ll have solid footing for writing about yourself. You’ve already taken the time to define yourself, so you can easily carry that thread through all of your materials.

By knowing who you are and owning it, you’ll be able concisely to describe what you’re all about so you can present yourself and your work in an approachable, complete way. Like your branding pieces we talked about it the Collateral Materials classes, every element supports your vision as an artist. The words must work together just like your font and color choices must be in harmony.

In addition to reflecting on the questions posed in that post, also do the following to prepare yourself for the writing ahead:

  • Read the statements or writings of artists with whom you have an affinity. (In the academic world, this is a primary source.)

  • Read what has been written about artists with whom you have an affinity. (In the academic world, this is a secondary source.)

  • Make a list of the nouns, verbs, and adjectives that relate to your work.

  • Make a list of the most overused words in your field.

For extra credit, visit galleries and/or museums to collect your own examples. Look at how things have been written and note the length!

Pieces You’ll Need to Write

There are two basic subjects about which you’ll need to write. One is about your career and growth as an artist. The second is about your work both overall and in smaller series or projects.

These translate into the following pieces you’ll need to write:

  • Short bio (100 words or less)

  • Long bio—you may include more info about accolades, career trajectory, and brief information about what kind of work you do. (1-2 paragraphs)

  • Elevator Pitch—what do you do and who are you in 30 seconds or less.

  • Website copy

  • Multiple versions of your artist statement

Different Tones Depending on Application

Naturally, you’ll take different tones depending on what, exactly, you’re writing. While it all has to support the same message (your mission, values, and so on that come together to create your brand personality), some things will be more formal and others can be more relaxed.

Your word choice, usage, and sentence structure will vary with the myriad things you write about yourself and your art.

In the informal realm, you may find:

  • Social media updates

  • Email newsletter copy

  • Talking about your work in person

In the formal sphere, you might see:

  • An application for grant, scholarship, residency, and so on

  • An essay for an exhibition catalog

Then there are some things that get a bit gray. A website, call to action, and sales message might toe the line between formal and informal. It comes down to your goals and your particular brand.

80/20 Principle

When in doubt, operate with the 80/20 principle in mind. Good writing is 20% writing and 80% editing. So, just start!

I know that some people view writing, especially about themselves, as a total drag. While it can be tricky to get started, it’s an imperative to do the work, especially for an artist who gives a shit about how they present themselves and their work.

Look at this as an opportunity to clarify your thoughts. You’ll use this language on your website and in grant applications, press releases, brochures, and much more. Basically across all of your collateral materials and then some.

The content of this post was developed in collaboration with Casey Droege Cultural Productions.

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