The Laws of Nature

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Elevator Speech

Most of us have written an Artist’s Statement (AS). If you look online for advice about how to write such a statement, you’ll find so much information that it’ll make your head spin! Therefore, no single way of doing this exists. However, some approaches are better than others.

What most interests me is the first sentence in an AS. It's the most important sentence because it will either capture the reader's attention or be the reason they stop reading. A great first sentence encapsulates the primary reason that the artist creates art. It also reveals why the artist has something unique to offer.
Just for fun, I decided to take a look at some of the AS's that are posted on line. Here are a few examples of just the first sentence:
My artwork takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues.

My artwork explores how camouflaged political controls filter our understanding of history and relinquish our ability to accurately observe and respond to current socio-political events.

First, my work is about color and texture - relationships, contrasts, and blends.

The process of painting has always been so much more valuable to me than the completed product.

I gather, collate, re-use, layer, peel, burn, reveal, locate,
question, duplicate, play and photograph.

My work was influenced in the early 1960's by the New York School of abstract expressionists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem deKooning, Hans Hoffman, and Robert Motherwell.

These first sentences are really the same as an “elevator speech.” If you haven’t heard of one before, it's the short statement you make to a stranger who asks about what you do before you arrive at the intended floor. Of course, this speech isn’t limited to elevator encounters. I’ve had to use it at cocktail parties, chance meetings, and often when introduced to someone. Usually, people don’t care because they’ve heard too many people claim to be artists and it doesn’t seem like a credible profession to them.

Because most people won’t listen beyond a sentence or two, the wording is important. It must capture their interest and reflect something they can relate to and understand. Brevity is a must.

Admittedly, I’m no good at this. The first sentence of my AS explains why: My natural tendency is to think in images rather than in words, and my paintings are expressions of those thoughts. It would be a lot easier to SHOW people what I do rather than explain it. After all, I am a “visual artist.”

In reality, most people ask us what we do only to be polite – to break the ice. Usually, they don’t really want to know and they certainly don’t want a long detailed explanation. But, it would be great to find something to say that would capture their interest. So, I’ll continue to work on my elevator speech – or – maybe I’ll just respond with “I create whole new worlds with paint and paper.” They’ll either identify me as the lunatic that I am and get off at the next floor, or they’ll be intrigued enough to ask me to explain.

In one sentence, how would you best describe who you are as an artist and/or what you do?


Susan Roux said...

lol Katharine, you can relax about this. You're moving to Maine. We don't even have elevators! You'll be taking the stairs...

Maine's logo is life in the slow lane. This is an interesting post, because I never realized I had to have a quick way to explain what I did. I just tell people I'm an artist, perhaps I add that I teach it and am in galleries. If they're interested, they ask me questions. Your life will simplify here.

Jean Spitzer said...

Context: It's true that in some parts of the world, one can say "I'm an artist" and not be dismissed. But for many places, a good elevator speech would come in handy. Or maybe, best is to say "look" and show them your website.

Anonymous said...

I explore my creative life through an ongoing series of images and words using humor as a metaphorical oil.


I make cartoons dude.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I find the artist statement a challenge. In looking at the ones you've copied, I like the first one best. It's simple. I looked at what I have as mine and thought of a new opening statement. It's a work in progress!

(New) I draw and paint my world because I need to.

(Current) I begin with an idea, an impulse to create.

Linda Roth said...

I journal life as I see it.

Casey Klahn said...

I cringed at these, and then I checked mine...cringe^*-+=@#.

I qualify the ones who ask for my elevator speech, and brief it down to, "I paint landscapes." If they pass qualification, instead I say, "I do New School Color paintings."

I love your line about some people don't see art as a credible profession. That's a keeper.

Celeste Bergin said...

My paintings exist as both fact and fiction.

Robin said...

I rewrite my artist statement regularly. Currently using ... To live life with intensity, passion, and expression; these are the reasons why I am inspired to create art. The thing for me is, if you ask and I start sharing, I get all excited and passionate and it's hard for me to stop!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I like what I read years ago. Question: What do you do? Answer: About what?

Actually, if anyone asks I say "I paint." If they're interested, they'll ask more questions.

Joyfulartist said...

"What do you do?"
"I'm an artist, I paint."
"What do you paint?"
"Paper, sometimes canvas."
"No, I mean what subjects do you like to paint?"

This approach gets more conversation and attention than an "artist's statement." "Keep it simple", is my motto. (As Pamo does.)

-Don said...

I'm in a dilemma right now as I move away from my mask paintings. I'll be having to rewrite my statement - and that's one of my least favorite things to do. Any volunteers out there???

My elevator speech usually starts with people asking me, "Are you a musician?" or "Are you in a band?". (I think it has something to do with my long hair and choice of black t-shirts.) So, I get to respond with, "No, the only instrument I play is the CD player." Depending on who asks, sometimes I follow this with, "However, I do express myself creatively using paint and canvas."


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I must say the 2nd statement had me drifting almost immediately.

It's always been hard for me to come up with an artist's statement, but your post has got me back to thinking about it. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Hi Susan - Stairs are fine with me :-) I like the sign on the highway when I cross the border into Maine that says "Maine, the way life should be." Amen!

Hi Jean - thanks for reminding us that there are places where being an artist is considered important. (Where ARE those places??)

Hi Pam - both great!

Hi Peggy- I liked the first one best as well. Both of yours are good.

Hi LW - great statement!

Hi Casey - I like the "New School Color" statement!

Hi Celeste - oooo... mysterious! I'd definitely ask you for more info and would probably ride on the elevator longer than I had intended.

Hi Robin - I know about the excitement part! It's hard to restrain it, but maybe our excitement is important to generating excitement in what we do in others.

Hi Hallie - ha! "About what?" is toooooo funny. Thanks.

Hi Joyful - good point!

Hi Don - at least you've got them asking! And, since you look like the creative sort it won't be hard for other people to identify you as an artist. But, do they know about the "Decade of the Don"????

Hi Carol - do let us know what you come up with! I'm always interested in reading about others.

Linda Roth said...

After reading all the comments, I recalled a time I answered the question what do you do with "I paint."
And yes, I lost the person's interest. I suspect that if a man had said "I paint," the conversation might have gone on?

Women who paint are not taken as seriously as men who paint. It's the old crap: men are chefs; women are cooks. Guys paint and are artists. Women paint and they're hobbyists. Credentials and resumes would have to be shown. This kind of thinking is still around unfortunately.

Also, perhaps the problem is the public's view of fine art painting itself. From the way the museums are struggling, art is not a mainstream public interest. Sports are. And that may be due to the long history of art being for the elite and all those flamboyant snooty guys like Dali and Warhol who strutted their stuff and philosophized BS.

My son is a mechanic (old time, simple jargon)--but if I say that when people ask, people look sorry for me that my kid didn't work harder or strive for some profession with more status. It never occurs to them that automobile technicians are actually automotive computer technicians with on-going education required to keep up with new advancements in electronics. So now I say Automotive technician when asked and people take an interest.

Sharmon Davidson said...

I think "I create whole new worlds with paint and paper", would be a great first sentence for an artist's statement! Grabs your attention, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

Hi LW - I've long been upset by the disparity in assigned value to female/male artworks. The Gorilla Girls have taken on the big guns to try and effect change, but it's woefully slow in coming. Who says that ignorance is bliss?

Hi Sharmon - Thanks! I guess it does.

William Cook said...


I'm new to blogging, and am wrestling with these issues. The term, 'Elevator statement' sums it up nicely--quick summarize before the door opens.

I use three stages: 1. "I'm an artist." 2. "I draw pictures and color them in." and then, 3. If (and only if asked) I describe some aspect of a current or past project depending who's asking.

People have a chance to drop out at any point without having to politely listen to a bunch of verbal art booshwa, and I have the option to either hang around and make a friend, or give them the bum's rush.

The written ES problem is different, but KISS comes to mind.

I just hate having to write these, they always sound so self absorbed and not a little inane. I'll be paring down the one on my own blog now that you've made me so self conscious about it.

Thoroughly enjoyed your discussion. Thanks.


Unknown said...

Hi William - welcome to the blogosphere! Nice of you to join the conversation. I agree with you KISS principle. Works every time! It'll be good to follow what you write, too.

Nick said...

A waste of time and space IMO, I never read them. Why is it that visual artists feel the need to compose these things? More here:

I think the best painter these days is Alex Kanevsky. Go to his website - no bio, and certainly no "statement."