Learn from Others

When you’re working on your own artist statement, you can learn a lot from how other people answer the main questions to see what resonates for you.

Easy Research – There are lots of ways to find other artists’ statements. Here are just a few:

  • Visit a gallery or a museum and look at the exhibiting artist statements.
  • Listen to a gallery talk by an artist whose work is on exhibit.
  • Peruse viewing drawers. Some galleries have viewing drawers of prints from artists and include the artist’s resume and statement. For example, Blue Sky has the Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers to promote the work of regional artists.
  • Listen to an artist being interviewed on a podcast like Keep the Channel Open or The Modern Art Notes Podcast to hear what they say about their work and their driving force.
  • Watch artists classes on e-learning platforms like CreativeLive or Lynda.com.
  • Talk to or interview an artist to understand what they think.

Sources are everywhere. Here are some things I’ve learned so far by seeking out other artist statements.

How Matters – Artists who include the backstory of how the current body of work came about are more engaging

  • Photographer Lauren Hare relates that she started in portraiture but began incorporating flora into the portraits until one day the flora became equal in importance.
  • Photographer Deb Stoner shares her progression from composing entirely in camera to composing entirely on the scanner until she found through extensive research that artist Karl Blossfeldt composed many of his amazing images by cutting up different prints and reassembling them into a new whole.

Motivation – What motivates you? Do you like to do the same style or do you like to vary it? What brings you energy about your work? Children’s book illustrator and author Ed Emberley says:

  • “I don’t like to work the same way all the time. I would prefer to experiment with different materials. I find that when I am challenged the challenge brings me energy and fun….If I have fun I can pass the fun on.”
  • “It’s very important that people succeed [viewing and using my work].”

I like what Ed says applied to artist statements as well. Your artist statement should help people succeed in understanding something about your work while viewing it.

Elements of an Artist Statement

What is an artist statement supposed to do? For the artist, it can be a way to connect with the viewer by revealing more. Elements of an artist statement generally include:

Media – Did you use oil? pastel? acrylic? Why? Artist statements tend to be posted with a show so they are often specific to the body of work on display. Bodies of work, unless they are retrospectives, tend to be very cohesive. My favorite retrospective so far is David Hockney’s. His use of a wide variety of technologies and media from pencils to iPad was inspiring.

Process – If there is something accretive to meaning about the artist’s process, include it. Jackson Pollock’s process of flinging paint was important because it showed how he achieved such a wildly different effect.

Subject – If the subject is portraits, the viewer can probably tell, but are who are the people and how did they end up sitting for you? What’s important about your choice of subject? Alice Neel painted wonderful portraits of neighbors, children, people she knew, not famous but everyday.

Why – if you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk you know that this is the most important part. People don’t care about your what if they don’t understand your why. Last night in the Basil Hallward Gallery at Powells, I read the why of the artist on exhibit, Annamieka Hopps Davidson: “People who give a damn need access to the power and the resilience that joy brings.”

Extra credit – including these in your artist statement shows that you understand more than just your own work.

Tradition – how does your work relate to other work in the same tradition? Another way to get at this is to ask yourself, “Who inspired you?” Austin Kleon suggests that you track that even further back and ask, “Who inspired them?”

Distinction – how is your work different from those who influenced you and from contemporaries? What does it add to the conversation? You are unique. There is no one else like you in the world ever. You bring that uniqueness to the work. Where does it show up?

If you’ve been through an MFA program, these questions are very similar to ones asked on the pre-thesis or oral exams conducted by a panel of teachers.

Do you understand why you are doing what you are doing? Why this material and not that one? Why this amount of embellishment and not that? How do your artistic decisions about media contribute to the overall meaning of the piece(s)? Do you understand your place in the canon? Who is your work influenced by or derivative of? How is your work new and different?

I created a notebook of all the pre-thesis questions asked over a couple of semesters at San Jose State to prepare for my own oral exams. Answering these questions requires a level of inquiry that assumes at it’s foundation that your work as worthy of study. That you’ve brought something to the “page” that’s valuable and that can be improved through examination. IMG_2046


Writing an Artist Statement

This week my goal is to write an artist statement that I can be proud of and feel congruent with. The purpose of the artist statement is to give the viewer a handle on the artist’s work, a lens through which to translate. It can cover materials/process (how), subject matter (what), deep matters (what about), tradition (how it relates) and critical view (what you’re doing that’s different from before).

It’s challenging. I’ve been an artist for over 20 years. Some things are consistent over time like dancing with my curiosity. Other things have changed like the subjects and medium.

In times like these, when the going gets tough, I turned to Arty Bollocks for an instant artist statement for a start. Here’s what I got:

My work explores the relationship between gender politics and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Rousseau and Buckminster Fuller, new synergies are manufactured from both opaque and transparent narratives.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the universe. What starts out as contemplation soon becomes corrupted into a manifesto of greed, leaving only a sense of failing and the unlikelihood of a new beginning.

As shifting replicas become frozen through studious and repetitive practice, the viewer is left with an epitaph for the inaccuracies of our condition.

Not exactly or nearly true for me. However, if at the end of this week, I can’t do better than this, then that’s what I’ll use!

Here are quick links to how it unfolded:

5 Things I Learned From Deleting my FB Account

In my recent post, The Process of Personal Archeology, I shared that I deleted my Facebook account. I had 2 weeks to change my mind before it was permanent. On the last day, I reinstated it. Here’s what I learned:

Contact Info – I don’t have contact info for most of my Facebook connections except through FB. To stay in touch I would need to collect each person’s contact information outside of FB. Marketing departments call this “owning the customer data.” Both Amazon and FB have a lot of data about each user. In personal terms, unless I take active steps otherwise, FB “owns” the contact info of my contacts.

I let three people I am connected to on FB and IRL know that I was deleting my FB account. I didn’t post a departure notice on FB [which in retrospect, I should have done].  If anyone noticed, they couldn’t reach out because they likely did not have my contact info.

Conversations – Messenger is also deleted when you delete your FB account. I quite like Messenger. It’s different in feel from mobile phone text. In both cases the content is delivered to your device. The messages are both presumably from someone you already know well enough to give your phone number. But. I write differently for Messenger than I do for text. I translate the message I receive differently too. The tone of content in Messenger is more conversational than text and less transactional.

Communication – When I see my FB friends IRL, we start in a different place because I don’t know what they’ve been up to, what amazing vacations they have been on or what family reunions they’ve been to. I don’t get to enjoy those photos. Likewise, I’m limited in my ability to share as well. Marketing departments would call being able to start communication with a customer in the right place “knowing the customer” or “customer intimacy.”

Cat Videos – I remarked to my husband just yesterday that without FB I lost my reliable source of curated funny cat videos (which send me into spasms of laughter) and adorable dog videos. I’m convinced that once in awhile these videos are the sole benefit of creating the internet:)

Collected Data – You have the option to download all the data that FB collects about you. Picture1I did that. Check out the folders image from the download for details on what is collected. For example, there’s a record of every IP address I have ever logged into FB from. FB uses this information presumably to serve up relevant ads. To FB, I’m a target.

Conclusion – I’m back on FB with the express goal of attracting my friends out of the walled garden into a world where we can communicate directly with each other.

The Process of Personal Archeology


“How’s your Swedish death cleaning going?” my cousin-in-law asked last week.  In Swedish that’s döstädning — a combination of the word “dö” (which means death) and “standing”.

I hadn’t heard the term before but was both delighted and amused by it. Why wait? Why burden someone else with all that I’ve accumulated. That wasn’t actually why I started. I had time and the rare form of energy required to examine and evaluate. But it definitely played a part in continuing. Here are some of the places that I dug into on my personal archeology review, in no particular order:

Hard Drive – Keeping back up drives up to date and mirrored and the hard drive organized are on-going struggles. I renamed and rearranged folders to reflect how my mind and days are organized now and made sure all the information I wanted to keep was saved in 2 places.

The Cloud – Box, Dropbox, Evernote, all contain dirty footprints from files now mysterious and vacation travel research long past useful. Time to go.

Social – I deleted a blog I no longer maintained, my 15 year old Flickr account because they wanted to bill me $99 to keep it going, and most controversial of all, my Facebook account. The good news is that all 3 had the ability to download an archive copy for my records.

The Garage – The paint we used on our interior 15 years ago can be recycled at paint stores. But the various spray paints needed to go to the city’s hazardous waste disposal site. Appointment needed. Some old photography chemicals have a shelf life of forever. These I gifted to friends. Others I took to the city hazardous waste site also.

Hardware – Much of the hardware that I have used for photography is still useful but nonetheless aging. Seals go bad, apertures stop working, so saving an item to use someday is silly thinking. In the face of entropy, donation to a local junior college is my best bet. Old electronics like mice and keyboards can be taken to the city hazardous waste site.

Yard – we’ve been fortunate to have a tree trimming and exterior painting projects that have forced us to evaluate what’s on the patio. No need to keep a rake and a hoe when we replaced all the dirt with pavers. Even the potted plants may still go.

Passion Projects – I had 6 paintings that were taking up space in the closet. They were experiments at one point in time. I put them on the curb and 4 of them disappeared immediately. I am repainting the other 2 with something cheery to see if they will disappear as well.

Furniture – That IKEA Poang chair and ottoman in storage were not getting used. Thankfully, I found some friends in need of furniture because a roommate had moved out. The furniture is now in use.

Photographs – I threw away a ton of my photo prints all carefully filed away in photo albums when that was a thing, but I kept the negatives and photos of people. It was interesting to look in the rear view mirror at experiences that seemed so dear at the time but in retrospect, I didn’t need the evidence to remember the enjoyment.

Artwork – I have a lot of works on paper that I had stored in various sizes of boxes, in various places. I pulled all of these out and consolidated them into an Alex drawer unit from IKEA which I LOVE! I am much more able to find things and enjoy them more.

In short, I’m learning a lot from a life examined.

Many thanks to my friend Kathryn for the title to this post.


Photo Book vs Photo Magazine


Left: Photo Magazine                                                     Right: Photo Book

In my last post I wrote about finding a way to publish photo books cheaper as a magazine. In the process of creating a book and a magazine I learned a lot about the differences between the two.  The medium really does matter!

You’d think it would be easy to know the differences between a book and a magazine because we read them all the time. All I can say is that the practice of creating a photo magazine, Myopia in Britain and contrasting that with creating my eighth photo book, Myopia in Italy, has given me a more intimate appreciation of what goes into the design and a much enlarged mental map of what is possible. Let’s start with something simple.


My mental model of a magazine read “saddle-stitch” in which folded sheets are held together by  staples regularly spaced up the spine. Whereas my mental model of a book said perfect-bound where the pages and the cover are glued together usually at the left edge. What I discovered is that indie published magazines don’t have to be saddle-stitched. They can also be perfect-bound just like the fancy mags Elle Decor and Architectural Digest.


For my indie published books, I had been able to select from a number of papers. For example, Blurb offers a variety of surfaces and weights. (Note: I’m not able to use Artifact Uprising and Shutterfly as examples because they do not offer magazine publishing services.)

  • Standard 80#
  • Premium Lustre 100#
  • Premium Matte 100#
  • Proline Uncoated 100#
  • Proline Pearl Photo 140#
  • Standard Layflat 100#

I had assumed that magazine paper would be high gloss and a much lighter 60# paper. What I discovered is that the same heavier paper is also an option. For example, Blurb offers

  • Cover: 80# Semi-gloss (216 GSM) for heft and protection
  • Paper: 80# Matte text (118 GSM) paper
  • Cover: 65# Semi-Gloss (176 GSM) (Economy)
  • Paper: 60# Gloss text (89 GSM) (Economy)


In my photo books to date, I had focused on one or two images per page for the most part (although I did sneak in a nine-up and a four-up here and there) because the images were the focal point. In an 8.5″ x 11″ magazine, the portrait or vertical format meant that 2 horizontal images on one page or one vertical image on one page fit best. But that image density and layout didn’t feel right. It felt more natural to put several images of different sizes and orientations on one page along with text.


I wasn’t sure if my preference was a result of reading magazines or if it was something that happened because of the format. So I checked out what the real pros do.

I stopped by Powell’s books in Portland, Oregon and thumbed through the gold standard, LensWork, a premier photo magazine that has won the Benjamin Franklin award (aka the “Oscar” of the printing industry) five times. That’s more times than anybody else. LensWork was perfect bound on heavier paper in smaller vertical format. A single image or two covered most of the page. Where there was text content it was a full page. No ads. The printer was Hemlock Printing.

So the layout can be anything you want it to be. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.


Rather than select that one best image in each case like I did for photo books, I selected groupings of images that helped illustrate an experience, for example, of driving in Britain or of drinking beer at a pub.


When I do a photo book about the same topic, 90% of these images will not make it in.  The advantage of having all of them is a more rounded view but the result (at least of my initial effort) is less art and more information / illustration. A very interesting shift.


What to say, what to say! As a photographer, I don’t use text a lot. Often I don’t even use titles though I should. Coming up with the text meant figuring out what to say about a grouping of images. What story to tell. The inclusion of text is another subtle shove from art to illustration / information. In a photo book, a poem about each image would balance the importance of the image with the words more.


And there’s the decision of whether to lay text over images and/or beside images. When does text over an image make the image “more” and when does it diminish the image.


This project was the culmination of a labor intensive post-travel process that took hours that I didn’t keep track of. I:

  • found 1,000s of images from various years
  • looked through all of the images
  • chose about 200 to examine more closely and edit,
  • selected 93 of those for the final edit
  • arranged those 93 images over 30 pages
  • wrote accompanying text

Overall, I’m very impressed with the magazine format and am considering whether to do more of my future work in this format following LensWorks layout and emphasis. I hope you enjoyed!


PSR: Publish Photo Books Cheaper


What problem was I trying to solve? Independent publishing of printed photo books is expensive. For example, I experimenting with the same book on 3 different services and the average cost was $63:

[Note: this post is about printed matter. Blurb also offers iBooks, Amazon, iOS and Android compatible digital versions as well as PDF.]


While searching for alternatives I found the Alliance of Independent Authors and they review and rate self-publishing services. For example, they recommend Blurb as well as Apple iBooks and Amazon CreateSpace is a partner member.  AIA also have Watchdog Advisory and Caution categories and they use them.

While researching other publishers, I stumbled upon a prolific photographer who recommended switching from photo book to magazine format to bring down the cost significantly while keeping the photo quality up.

Indie magazines have experienced a renaissance lately in part because of the availability of technology. Blurb got into magazines in a big way in 2014 by licensing MagCloud, HP’s web-based publishing platform invented by HP Labs in 2008 that created a network of users publishing magazines on-demand using HP Indigo commercial printing presses.


I published a 37 page soft cover magazine, Myopia in Britain, on Blurb for $10. Versus an average of $63 for a book. That’s 6x difference.

Magazine Cover

Next week I will have an actual physical copy in my hands and will let you know how the quality stacks up. In the meantime, my next post will be about the things I learned about the differences between creating a book and creating a magazine. The medium really does matter!