This seems to be a perennial problem for makers. Faced with having to write an artist’s statement, it can be hard to know what to do – use the 1st person ‘I’ or the 3rd person ‘she or he’. Lots of us have been given the advice that the 3rd person sounds more professional and that the 1st person sounds a bit ‘school project’, but I think that’s an over-simplification, and one which doesn’t help with the whole point of writing your artist’s statement: communicating about your work in the best possible way for your work.
The answer to this dilemma doesn’t lie in how ‘professional’ you want your statement to sound (because who doesn't want their work to be professional?), it comes from asking two key questions (ones that come up again and again):
1. Who is your audience?
2. What is your work like?
Answer these questions and the 1st person/3rd person dilemma will be solved.
Who is your audience?
This is the fundamental question you need to ask yourself every time you have to write anything about your work (see my earlier post). Who are you writing for? What situation is it?
If your audience has little or no knowledge about your work (or about making/craft/design in general) a 1st person statement can help you to connect to your reader and explain your motivations, your materials and processes in a direct, uncomplicated way. Similarly, if you are writing for an audience who may have an understanding of your work, or the area you work in, a 3rd person statement may help you to address conceptual or technical aspects of your work more successfully. A statement aimed at ‘experts’ (eg for an application) might work best in the 3rd person, unless the situation calls for a more personal response.
Issues you may want to consider: does your audience want to connect with you and your story, your values, the lifestyle you are creating? In which case, 1st person is great for this. Or, do you want them to connect to your motivations, skills and craftsmanship? In which case 3rd person can work really well.
What is your work like?
Think about which approach suits your work best. If your practice is light-hearted or fun, experimental or cheeky, sensuous or comforting, you may find a statement in the 1st person will allow all those values to shine out. If your practice is focused or enquiring, conceptual or challenging, minimal or technically-driven, you may find you prefer addressing these aspects in a slightly more detached way, in the 3rd person.
This is me simplifying things quite a bit here. It is possible to write a brilliant statement about humorous work in the 3rd person, or a detailed account of conceptual work in the 1st person – it’s all down to how you write it. Writing that is natural, that comes from a genuine, un-guarded place, will always connect with your audience in a way that overly-complicated, stilted words will not. Writing in a way that reflects your audience and the style of your making will create text that feels right to your reader and will show off your work at its best.
So much of my writing advice comes down to this: guidelines not rules. Do whatever works for you and your work. What is your instinct when it comes to this issue? What do you feel happiest writing? If the thought of writing in the 1st person or the 3rd person fills you with horror, don’t do it! Write in the way that allows you to sound like you, and to share everything you need with your audience. If that version doesn’t sound or feel quite right, try writing it in the other voice to see what happens. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that you should probably write two versions anyway, and then you have the option to change your mind at any time, and you end up with two artist’s statements that you can use in any situation. Writing about your work is as personal as crafting your work, and it’s up to you to choose what works best for you.