We're artists. We paint, dance, act, strum, perform and write. But are we (even you, authors) masters of writing about what we do? Not always. Still, the world expects us to spell out the our ideas and goals in order to score the grants, residencies and jobs we need. The Edit is a look at artists' statements, bios, cover letters and the editorial process that shapes them into more persuasive arguments for one's practice. Our hope is that this feature will help artists tackle the onerous task of writing about their work ... and winning the grant. Want us to take a look at yours? Submit your statement.
Traci Hercher, an artist who primarily uses photography, came to us to create a statement for grant applications and, possibly down the road, graduate school. Traci was off to a great start with her original statement. It describes her motivations, her process, and—best of all—I could easily identify her wry artwork from her writing. Traci wanted to add one new sentence to cover her recent work: mostly sculptural pieces that, like her photography, document uncanny situations.
As a right-handed, left-eye dominant artist, I locate and examine dichotomy in America. Working primarily in the medium of photography during a moment in which our lives are over-photographed, I purposely document the anomalies. I seek to accomplish this without exploiting photography’s most unique and valuable trait; its veracity. I am invested in the relationship between myself and my subject(s), as well as that of my body and the apparatus(es) by which I arrest movement in the world. I strive for objectivity despite its elusiveness; each photograph an answer to the question- What would this look like if I were not here?
We primarily focused on cleaning up punctuation. In fact, punctuation issues—and Traci’s in particular—are the most common problems I see in text by non-writers. On the bright side, there are only about 15 punctuation marks—and the rules are surprisingly simple! Knowing them can be the difference between jotting down ideas and penning professional, grant-winning writing. So here’s a quick and easy primer to the pesky punctuation marks that cause people the most trouble.
Although the semicolon remains a mystery to many, it is very simple and essentially works in two ways. Semicolons can be used to separate items in a list, especially when commas get too confusing. For example: “She used yellow paint; a squirrel-hair paintbrush from a store in Knoxville, Tennessee; and a canvas made in Andrews, North Carolina.” Semicolons are also used to separate two clauses that could stand on their own as sentences. Do not, I beg of you, choose a semicolon to link a sentence and a fragment, e.g. “The painting turned an alarming green color; too much yellow paint.” The trick is to insert them between clauses that are closely related and of equal weight. Example: “The painting turned an alarming green color; she stopped applying yellow paint.”
Hyphen vs. m-dash
The m-dash is the length of an “m” (shocker), and it’s used the same as a comma—but for emphasis. (Like how I did that?) The hyphen generally links phrases used as adjectives before a noun, e.g., “high-quality paintbrush.” Now, I know you might love the aesthetics of that petite hyphen, but you cannot go crazy and apply it interchangeably with an m-dash. So try option+shift+- or click the hyphen key twice to make a proper m-dash.
As a right-handed, left eye dominant artist, I locate and examine incongruities in everyday life. Working primarily in the medium of photography during a moment in which we are over-photographed, I capture the anomalies. I seek to accomplish this without exploiting photography’s most unique and valuable trait: its veracity. When turning to sculpture, I document the uncanny. I am invested in the relationship between myself and my subjects, my body and the apparatus by which I arrest movement in the world. I strive for objectivity despite its elusiveness; each work answers the question, What would this look like if I were not here?
"As an artist, I excel in communicating with visual language, so crafting a statement wasn't easy for me," says Traci Hercher regarding working with an editor. "I had a difficult time writing something succinct that encapsulates what I create across mediums. It's rare to sit down with a writer and compare art work to artist statement. Madeline was a tremendous help in pulling the statement together. It's tricky to step outside of oneself and discern whether the writing and the art align, so it was a great relief to be assured that my initial writing wasn't extraordinarily far-off from the way the work was actually received by Madeline as a viewer."
Traci Hercher is a Chicago-based multimedia artist with a bachelors of fine art in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Madeline Nusser is a writer and editor in Chicago. Many folks know her as the longtime Around Town editor for Time Out Chicago magazine. She currently pens a Sun-Times real estate and architecture column; covers the arts for the Sun-Times, PureWow and the Architect’s Newspaper; and dabbles in copywriting, especially for the web. She swears she’s not a grammar Nazi; however, she loves giving helpful tips whenever possible.
The Edit is a regular feature that addresses the editorial processes and decision-making involved in refining descriptions of work to match one's creative output. If you'd like to be considered for an edit session, submit your stuff.
Above: Detail of Selfie: Portait of the Apparatus, a series of mages pulled from Instagram photos hashtagged #selfie and cropped to become true "selfies": portraits of the cameras themselves.