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Each Wednesday in June (with the exception of this coming Wednesday), there has been a session scheduled for The Work of Art: Business Skills for Artists, a ten-session workshop I signed up for that has a self-explanatory name. The workshop is being co-sponsored by the Minnesota State Arts Board, Springboard for the Arts, the Regional Arts Councils, and Creative Capital with funding from the Legacy Amendment. I can’t think of a better use for Legacy funding than teaching artists business skills. (Well, okay, there are lots of good uses for the money, but this ranks near the top of any such list because artists who can manage their business affairs contribute to the economy as entrepreneurs.)

The four sessions I’ve already attended have dealt with goal setting, time management, creating a promotional tool kit, and marketing. (The other six sessions won’t be held until the fall.) I’ve taken away useful information from each of these sessions and find myself pondering different aspects as I move through my days.

During the session on putting together a promotional tool kit, we spent quite a lot of time on writing artist statements. An artist statement is a three-sentence elevator pitch that describes who you are as an artist, what you do and why you do what you do. Ideally, it’s not some boring “just the facts, ma’am” statement. It should entice your audience, whether your viewer, agent, publisher, buyer, to want to know more about you and your work.

Naturally, our instructor had us write one in class. Here’s what I came up with:

Mary Warner is a writer from central Minnesota. She is the author of a book containing a series of linked short stories called “Greenville: Where Longing Meets Loss” and keeps The Woo Woo Teacup Journal blog. She explores a variety of topics in her writing, but is particularly concerned with how people fit into the context of place.

Students were given an opportunity to read their statements in class and get feedback on them. First off, I don’t need to state my name. That uses space within the statement and can be introduced to people in other ways. I was questioned on whether “central Minnesota” was critical to my statement. As a writer of local history, it might be. It depends on the audience and what I’m trying to pitch.

We were told that if we were engaged in several artistic forms, we should write a separate artist statement for each, rather than trying to cram them all into one statement. I asked if we could write separate statements for each project and got an affirmative response. Potentially, I could write one that solely concentrates on “Greenville” and another for my blog and another for my history writing.

At the beginning of the next session, the one on marketing, we had to introduce ourselves using our artist statements. My first one was wordy from the get-go, so I quickly edited it before reading. It’s not as pithy or interesting as I would like, although my blog title always gets a reaction. I’d like to punch my artist statement up a click, so that’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about since attending these sessions.

I have half a mind to introduce myself at the next session by saying, “I co-wrote a book with a guy who’s been dead since 1908.” Think that’ll get people’s attention? That’s what I would periodically say to people after finishing one of the books I wrote for work. However, the line won’t work for “Greenville.”

I do enjoy figuring out how people fit into the context of place, but while I was talking this stuff over with Hubby, I mentioned that I really like edges, as in people living on the edges of society, either in regards to physical location or quirkiness of behavior. The Tin Man, Greenville’s main character, sides his house with crushed pop cans, plus I have a character who is a synesthete and a sound healer, and another who does past life regressions. I can’t seem to leave the edges alone.

Another epiphany I’ve had in the past few days regarding artist statements has to do with usefulness. A comment left by Phil on my Weedy Garden, Neglected Blog post led me to my epiphany, so he gets partial credit. Phil observed that I had “an inchoate need to write to [my] viewers expectations as [I] perceive them.” I responded that I want my blog to be useful to readers in some way. I want to get them thinking or provide information they can use or, at the very least, entertain them. I don’t have a problem writing to viewers’ expectations. And then, a few days later …

WHAM!

It hit me. When I was more heavily producing art, I always carried this niggling sense of wanting to make useful pieces. Much better for me to make a handbag or piece of clothing that someone can use than to pump out a lot of wall hangings. Not that I don’t enjoy making wall hangings, but how many, realistically, can people put on their walls before their walls become a jumbled mess? If I’m going to make a wall hanging, I want it to be heavily embellished and take me a lot of time so I can slow down my production.

Until this triangulation of writing artist statements, Phil’s comment, and my thoughts on making useful art, I did not see how closely my art was connected to my writing. Wow-ee. Isn’t that something? Themes developing on their own, unbeknownst to me. (Until now, that is.)

Time to tackle that artist statement again, this time incorporating edginess and usefulness.

If you are an artistic and/or writerly type, what themes have you noticed in your work?

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