"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Artist Statements: How Storytellers Gain Them

Musicians, visual artists, actors and sculptors—to name a few—have artist statements yet rarely have I found artist statements for storytellers.

An artist statement is really the compilation of your soul on less than one piece of paper. This is not so intimidating as it sounds.

Confession: I have been without an official artist statement for over 13 years.

Hope: Through support of friends and family, I now have an artist statement.

Reasons Why to Have Artist Statement:
1. Guide future actions and thoughts
2. Prepare for grant applications
3. Promote yourself as an artist
4. Create more opportunities

How to Piece an Artist Statement:
1. Brainstorm
2. Reflect and Enjoy
3. Focus on the Why, How and Where of Storytelling
4. Find Your Authentic Voice
5. Read Aloud
6. Share with Others
7. Evolve

You can easily turn this step into a game. In fact, you may want to gather a group of people who have heard you perform. With a timer, you can have everyone write down words that describe your kind of storytelling. At the end, you can be “judge” and the person who you feel has the most words that describe you could win candy or something else exciting. I didn’t think of this until after I brainstormed my own list. As an artist statement is constantly evolving, I may play this game in the future.

When you have many words listed, set the paper(s) aside. You may or may not use these words as you write. You want time for the words to sit over night to see if you agree with them in the morning or if you come up with any new words.

Reflect and Enjoy
Sometimes staring at a blank piece of paper can be intimidating. You may want to do this next step with a tape recorder. Ask someone—perhaps a neighbor or family member—to interview you. Find someone you trust who is great at asking questions. You can have them pretend that they do not know anything about storytelling.

Even if you end up interviewing yourself, these may be some important questions—
Why did you start storytelling?
What is your favorite story to tell? Why?
What kinds of stories do you tell?
What changes, if any, will there be to your storytelling in one year? Five years? Ten years?
Who, if any, are your mentors? How have they helped you?
Where have you told stories? Where do you tell stories? Where would you like to tell stories in the future?

These are only a few questions. The possibilities are endless. You may find that after this exercise you have two hours of material. Talk about no longer having a blank canvas.

Focus on the Why, How and Where of Storytelling
Most likely, you will create three strong paragraphs that describe who you are as an artist. Though you will get varying reports, artist statements tend to be no longer than one page. My statement is about half a page.

The first paragraph tends to be about why you started the art. Beware of using lingo that only storytellers would know. Statements are meant for anyone to understand.

The second paragraph tends to be about how you perform. For example, what techniques or methods do you use? Where do you get your ideas for stories?

The third paragraph tends to aim at the “where” of storytelling as in the types of stories you tell. This is where past, present and future goals meld.

Any ideas you write down for these paragraphs should also be set aside for the night. Look at the words a day or even a week later.

Find Your Authentic Voice
By this step, pull out the material from your brainstorm list of words to your reflections to your ideas for the three paragraphs.

Ponder on how you have explained your art before. If you find words that you would not normally use, then put a single line through them. You want to be able to read these words later on if things change.

Most people are humble when creating a statement so often they overlook their amazing accomplishments. Have a family member or friend remind you of your good qualities. You never would want to inflate your accomplishments though you also would not want to deflate them.

Read Aloud
When you have a first draft together, read it aloud. You will be amazed at how you can capture grammar mistakes this way. Also, you can check for the flow.

Share with Others
Some of the first people I shared my first draft were the following—
Storytelling Friends

I admit that mother had the best feedback for she received a copy by email and we also talked on the telephone. Sometimes all that people will say is “It’s good.” The main thing is to remind people that you are only asking for feedback on flow, grammar, and authenticity to who you are as a performer.

I have included my artist statement though I expect it to evolve as I explore other ways to prepare and share stories. Always be open to change. Pull out your statement at least once a year to see if it still fits.

My Artist Statement for 2007--
Storytelling is how I find the joy in everyday moments throughout all ages of time and cultures. With energy and passion, I connect to the story so that I may also connect to my listeners. The legacy I wish to achieve is to open eyes and minds to the wonder of storytelling and the vital role of the storyteller in society. For storytelling adventures to thrive for generations, I welcome youth to be leaders in the art.

I am a storyteller because I am first a story listener. I delight in expressing how each person’s life is something to celebrate. As story ideas emerge, I consider how best to transform seemingly insignificant moments into adventures. Sometimes I reveal the light and dark sides of human nature though, in the end, I celebrate the good found within all people.

I tell stories from my heart. I reflect upon how my listeners may respond to the stories and understand that everyone receives something different. Some of my favorite stories combine narrative with song, either from my own creations or hymns learned as a child. Through multicultural and modern tales, I undertake sensitive social concerns. I am exploring the strength of family relationships within the lives of historical, mythical, and personal heroes.

Storytelling adventures can be the tradition of joy for generations to come.

Wonderful Resource on Creating Artist Statement:

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

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