Sample Artist Statements

Every creative person will describe their work differently, and a great pleasure of this work is reading each applicant’s artist statement. Some past awardees have generously permitted their SAF artist statements to be used as examples to applicants. We offer these not as a model of what an artist statement must be, but to show the wide range of what they can be.

Applicant in Painting
The rapid speed in which we navigate and occupy landscape is transformative and destabilizing. My work considers aspects of this pace, and the implications of how we engage the landscape. Within my work, I blur the boundaries of passage and site in order to create spaces that question our relationship with perception, pace, access, and equity.

I am inspired by the history of landscape painting, specifically its relationship to tourism, and its influence on development in the United States. In my research, I explore how technology, travel, and speed alter the way in which we perceive and interact with landscape. I question where traditional ideologies of beauty come from and how they are employed in the construct of landscape.

The gesture and physicality of mark-making is central in my work. Within my paintings, horizon lines are repeated and manipulated along with a deliberate push and pull between foreground and background. These gestures of abstraction are used to deconstruct and destabilize one’s understanding of place, mirroring the constant shifts occurring in the Anthropocene. I am critical of our accelerated experiences with nature and I am concerned about the long-term implications of this quickened pace. I think about the act of looking with discernment, while considering both the idiosyncrasy and uniformity of that experience.

Applicant in Sculpture
I deal primarily with local architectural practices and investigate the visual culture and the aesthetics of cities, the relationship between nature, humankind, and humankind’s urge to build. My work focuses on consumption, both in terms of politics and ecology, urbanization, and also on awareness towards nature, history, and architectural heritage. My aim is to make the audience think about the spaces we create to live, our occupational approach to those spaces and our use of land.

A cluster of buildings made of found cardboard, represents to me, how humankind occupies the land by their urge to build. All those buildings look like a bunch of unstable, tremulous boxes stacked on each other. I think that we, humankind live as if we are passing by the world, instead of embracing it as our home. I focus on the sense of impermanence in our lives and the occupational approach that we adopt while we are settling. To emphasize that, I work on visually impressive and neatly done spaces, and try to convert and integrate those spaces with my artworks. I mainly use found/reclaimed materials such as cardboard.

Applicant in Photography
I photograph people. In the era of the selfie, it is rare for a portrait of a stranger to arrest our attention, but my aim is to make us stop and look. Our understanding of identity cannot exist outside the frame of reference photography has provided and imposed since its invention. Using the historic tintype process that made portraits ubiquitous in the 19th century, I am revisiting portraiture at a time when digital images of people are everywhere, but are also quickly consumed, disappearing into the noise of social media.

I create my portraits in collaboration with my sitters. They determine what they wear and how they sit, even as I work within the parameters of the medium, a slow process that demands formal, extended poses. With their assertive expressions, they demand to be seen beyond categories that often define us and that were presented as empirical truths by early photographers.

There is a powerful tension in this work between portraits that highlight the individual and the larger groups that shape our identities. The images are exhibited in large salon-style arrangements, evoking the idea of crowds, the body politic and a nation composed of individuals. Community engagement through portraiture has been central to my practice as an artist for more than a decade. I have completed portrait projects at museums, art spaces and non-profit institutions around the country.

Applicant in Creative Nonfiction
When I first began writing memoir in 2004, my departure from poetry was both frightening and thrilling. In creative nonfiction, I found new stories to tell and a new way to tell old stories. My goal as a writer in both genres is to find ways where language intersects, complicates, and gives new meaning to the various parts of my identity and world: motherhood, adoption, immigration, education, bilingualism, and religious conversion.

The metaphor of tectonic plates seems useful to me: these parts of myself are always pressing against each other, sometimes causing faults that reveal what’s buried, sometimes opening new visible forms. From of all these parts of myself, I ultimately write to connect with a reader, who wants something new and familiar; something challenging and beautiful. I want my intimate experiences to be rendered both personal and universal, so I try to read and learn as widely as possible, in order to know what of my own life will resonate and what will bore, what will be familiar and so must be made strange.

As an Asian American writer, I know the vitality, richness, and responsibility of our voices, especially in conversation with fellow writers of color, when addressing issues of social justice, and speaking with minority members within our community. Ultimately, my goal is to always be in conversation, to speak and listen, to find relationships with others and myself.

Applicant in Poetry
To write and raise children in the Anthropocene is to be acutely and chronically aware of the way looming disaster (of many origins) frustrates and amplifies the (individual, collective, and ecological) urge towards survival, continuation, meaning, and creativity. My poetry and motherhood exist at this tender, uneasy nexus.

I write out of an insistent sense of worry and wonder, inspired by the natural world, natural history, spirituality, literature, and everyday motherhood. I lean into sound and imagery to create a sense of music, memorability, and resonance for my readers; my ultimate goal is to connect and offer a sense of complicated hope.

While raising three children, long-term homeschooling, part-time co-working a day job with my husband, cooking dinners, occasionally sweeping up tumbleweeds of dog hair off the floor, and, more often than I’d like, doom-scrolling… I’m currently at work on my first full-length poetry collection.

Applicant in Fiction
The real work for me is not in my attempt to imagine the story. That’s easy. I can see a ridiculous catchphrase on a commercial billboard, laugh, and then concoct a story. My ears can catch a quote from a first grader in a school hallway and my senses will ignite; I can come up with a plot in minutes thanks to that little wise one. I can experience sheer terror, or sadness, or joy and a story will brew in the wee hours of a work week, shortly before it’s time to put my imagination to bed and get my family and I out the door.

The real work for me comes with getting the reader to experience what I am imagining. The world around me is a cacophony of realities. My fiction reflects those realities with which I’m most familiar. American ghettos, the working class, violence, but also Black joy, womanhood, and love. How does a writer get a reader to walk, see, hear, taste and touch within the realms of those realities?

As a writer, I’m tasked with painting the story onto a canvas that begins blank, with a paintbrush that begins dry and brittle. The characters, the settings, the plot: the reader must be able to visualize and interact with every element of the story. It is in the same incredible way that I, as a young reader, was able to emotionally connect with Pecola in “The Bluest Eye” and visualize the dystopian world of “The Giver.” The writers—Toni Morrison and Lois Lowry, respectively—did that amazing work for me. It was nothing short of magic. I have never forgotten how I felt while reading these books.

Painting a picture with words is a challenge, one that I have learned to face with curiosity, navigate with confidence, and then enjoy with satisfaction, but only once I know I’ve done the work. It is not easy. I often have to start over. Then it’s back to the blank canvas. Yet, I always embrace the work ahead of me and I meet the reader on the page, determined to connect with them and maintain that connection beyond the final word of the story. I want to create a body of short stories and novels that are immersive, a collection of vivid art work that captivates readers with every stroke of the brush. I’ll know when I’ve done the work. I’ll know when I’ve performed a little magic.