The goal of this series of essays is to help you create successful projects. So far we have looked at why projects are important and at how you can complete a successful project, whether large or small.
We are now going to look at your project statement because the presence of a well-written project statement is an important element of a successful project. We are going to look at what a project statement is as well as the elements that can help you craft an effective statement.
What is a project statement?
A project statement, also called an artist statement, is a text in which you describe your project and your approach to photography. It allows you to express with words what you cannot say with photographs. Using words and photographs together is an effective way of sharing your vision with your audience.
Your project statement explains your reasons for creating a specific project. It also describes what inspires you and it tells your audience what you want to express in your work.
How do you write a project statement?
A project statement is a window into the world of a photographer. It must first and foremost be honest and straightforward. You want your project statement to take your audience further than they would on their own, if they looked only at your photographs.
There are many ways to write a project statement. For example, you can explain what your vision for your project is, what you want to say and how you go about saying it. To do so you can describe some of your images, explain what they mean to you, how they were created and what you want to say with them.
You can also present your project statement as a list of questions that you answer one by one. If you prefer this approach, here is a list of questions that you can use:
• Why did you photograph this subject and not other subjects?
• What kind of subjects do you like or dislike and why?
• What colours and colour harmonies do you like or dislike and why?
• What types or compositions do you like or dislike and why?
• What is your artistic background?
• What are your artistic goals?
• Who are your favourite artists or art movements and why do you like them?
• What are your sources of inspiration?
• What motivates you to create your work?
• What are the unique aspects of your work?
Writing your statement
You may find writing a project statement challenging. However, it does not have to be so. Creativity is not medium-specific therefore the majority of creative individuals are able to successfully engage in different creative endeavours. While writing may not be something you have experience with, if you put your mind to it you may be surprised at the results you will be able to achieve. Also, keep in mind that a project statement does not have to be lengthy. The length is totally up to you. It can be anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to several pages long, depending on how much you want to say.
One of my students recently complained about the difficulty of writing her project statement. I took a look at her website to get a feel for her work and I noticed that she had written a biography in which she made several points that defined her artistic style. For example, she mentioned that Impressionism was her favourite art movement and that her work was influenced by Impressionist paintings, both on artistic and technical levels.
As I read her biography I realised that, while she was having a hard time writing a formal project statement, she had been able to write a biographical statement that was enjoyable to read. Therefore, if you have a hard time writing your project statement, calling it a ‘biography’ may be the key to unlocking writer's block.
Below is some additional advice that can help you write your project statement:
Write in the first person
Julius Caesar wrote about himself in the third person but that was Caesar and you probably don’t want to sound like him. Writing about yourself in the third person makes you sound stuffy and disingenuous. There was a time when artists and photographers hired ghostwriters to write their statements and it made sense that the text was written in the third person because it was written about the artist and not by them. These days are long gone. Today, just about everyone writes their artist statement themselves.
Your project statement is about you, your project, your artistic endeavours, your personal goals, beliefs, aspirations and personal style. As such you need to provide some information about who you are. An effective way to do this is to include stories or anecdotes about you, your life, what you do, the people who influenced you and so on. Write about your life as an artist, how you got started, how you got to do what you are doing now, where you find your inspiration, which subjects you are working on now, which subjects you worked on in the past, which artists were influential in developing your current style and so on.
Share something meaningful
Trust is important, even when looking at art. Sharing something personal generates trust. If you trust your reader with personal information, they in return will trust you. Trust is reciprocal and guttural. It is something we feel, not something we decide rationally.
Include a photograph of yourself
This is also important. You need to feature a photograph of yourself in your project statement. Most photographers do not have photographs of themselves and this is a big mistake. People like to see who took the photographs. Your photograph introduces you to your audience visually and makes them feel that they know you.
What a project statement is not
While you can include a small amount of technical information, the purpose of a project statement is not to teach others how to do what you do. If you want to teach you can do this during workshops and seminars, not in your artist statement.
The purpose of a project statement is to describe your project, talk about your approach to fine art or describe the sources of inspiration for your work. As such, a project statement is about aesthetics and not about technique.
Biography or project statement
As you write your statement you may find out that it is more about you than about your project. If you wish to keep the two separate you can include both a project statement and a biography in your project. This will give you the opportunity to talk about both separately.
Skill enhancement exercise
Learning is more effective if you practice what you have learned. In this instance you probably know what the exercise is. Quite simply it is to write your artist statement for a specific project. The goal is to write something truthful, meaningful and interesting about yourself and about your project while avoiding the pitfalls I mention in this essay.
The subject of this series of essays is projects. However, the larger subject of this essay and of my other essays is creativity. For this reason, before closing I want to say a few words about creativity.
Creativity education is important in order to acquire the ability to think outside of the box in all disciplines. Creativity is best taught in the arts. Unfortunately, because arts programmes are being cut in many schools, creativity instruction is diminishing or disappearing.
Being creative is based on a variety of things and describing these is what I do in my essays. Some of the most important aspects of creativity means operating in a constraining environment because constraints are freeing, not limiting. Whether artists or engineers we are most creative when we have to work within specific or even stringent parameters. It means having the courage to be different and seeking separation instead of acceptance. It means desiring to break new ground rather than trying to be as good as someone else. It means wanting to create something unique rather than demonstrating the ability of doing work as good as the masters. Most importantly, being creative means finding legitimation in placing no limits on what we can do with photography rather than in trying to conform to outdated aesthetic tenets.