Do I need a mission statement?

37

Dear Artist,

Different from an artist statement, which is a written description in support of your work for the purpose of a deeper understanding of it, a mission statement can be one sentence that summarizes your purpose, values or goals. You may feel this kind of thing is obvious or that art is simply a form of breathing, but it can also be fun to try to encapsulate a raison d’être — even if just as an exercise for clarity, in this moment, for your work and life.

The Door of Justice, 2000 color lithograph 24.25 x 27.5 inches by Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012)

The Door of Justice, 2000
color lithograph
24.25 x 27.5 inches
by Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012)

This week, for example, many of the Western world’s museums are confronting their histories in the face of a global movement for racial equality. And while the traditional function of a museum has been to collect and celebrate cultural objects, it is time to reckon with the context of this collecting and re-evaluate how best to do that. To get some ideas, I checked the mission statements of a few of my favourite museums and noticed that the most effective institutions were also the most specific about their passions:

“Devoted solely to showing the work of living, especially young, artists, with a brief to show work no more than five years old.” (The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut)

New Generaiton, 1992 Lithograph 29.25 x 20.25 inches by Elizabeth Catlett

New Generation, 1992
Lithograph
29.25 x 20.25 inches
by Elizabeth Catlett

“It is a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society.” (The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York)

“Bringing together and integrating the visual arts with the natural world.” (The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario)

When crafting your own mission statement, focus on why you make art and try to be as concise as possible. Use simple language. Try for a single, powerful sentence. Is there emotion? See if you can include a verb, so that your mission is actionable. “The artist has a special task,” wrote American historian Lewis Mumford: “that of reminding men of their humanity and the promise of their creativity.” If you memorized your mission, could you say it as a mantra when striding towards your easel?

Sincerely,

Sara

Freedom or Slavery, 1998 Color lithograph 35.4 x 29.25 inches by Elizabeth Catlett

Freedom or Slavery, 1998
Color lithograph
35.4 x 29.25 inches
by Elizabeth Catlett

PS: “I care, and therefore I offer this.” (Alice Walker)

Esoterica: In contrast to your artist statement, your mission statement can either be a private thing, just for you, or a public declaration. It is also malleable and evolving, just like you. With the goal of inspiring each other, I invite you to share yours in the comments, below. Here are a few more ideas:

“The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts one in accord with nature, in her manner of operation.” (John Cage)

“That frame of mind that you need to make fine pictures of a very wonderful subject, you cannot do it by not being lost yourself.” (Dorothea Lange)

“My job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (Mark Twain)

“I have always wanted my art to service my people – to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential. We have to create an art for liberation and for life.” (Elizabeth Catlett)

Sharecropper, 1952 (printed 1970) by Elizabeth Catlett

Sharecropper, 1952
(printed 1970)
by Elizabeth Catlett

“I am interested in evolution within my thinking. I am not interested in the evolution of my paint.” (Kehinde Wiley)

“The purpose of art is the gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” (Glenn Gould)

“Always be smarter than the people who hire you.” (Lena Horne)

“I paint for the sole purpose of magnifying the privilege of being alive.” (Robert Henri)

“The purpose of life is to remember.” (Henry Miller)

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“Find purpose, the means will follow.” (Mahatma Gandhi)


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37 Comments

  1. Luc Poitras (Montreal, Cda) on

    Fascinating Sara!
    Here’s my mission statement:
    “To interpret the visual world into my visual world.”

  2. I want to steal Robert Henri’s “I paint for the sole purpose of magnifying the privilege of being alive.” That sums it up so beautifully and succinctly. OK so I will change it to be mine: I paint in order to experience and to share life more deeply. Thanks for this nudge.

    • Rosanne Kaufmann on

      I like Henri’s statement, also. And yours! I might add that I want to be remembered that I was here. Sort of like the “Kilroy was here” signs we used to see scrawled in graffiti. I’ll work on a statement with these thoughts in mind.

      • Hello Heidi!
        I met you, several years ago, maybe on the Elora (Ontario) Studio Tour? I was there with an art friend and remember being enthralled with your work. I still have your card somewhere in my art studio and have thought of the work you do. I’m glad to read your mission statement here.

  3. Jane Carroll on

    Not my mission statement, but here’s John Denver’s: “I am a song. I am meant to be sung. I will sing with all my heart.”

  4. Higgs Merino on

    The Aldrich is/was about to have a major F. Stella in May…so much for the “especially younger artists” statement.

  5. “If you understand your painting beforehand, you might as well not paint it.”
    ― Salvador Dalí, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship

  6. I work in visual materials to connect more deeply to my soul and express that connections outwardly to communicate to another. It is a healing for all.

  7. I am an African American artist. From my Artist’s Statement… ” I want to show paintings of familiar things, places and local people and attract the attention and appreciation for art of those who would not otherwise relate to it. I love giving the joy of art to others.”

  8. Here’s mine – I’m a creative spirit, inspired by nature, fueled by love

    Thanks for all of this always, Sara; you are magnificent as was your father.

  9. Suellen lash on

    I particularly don’t like the museum’s statement who’s devoted to showing young people’s art. WHy segregate like that?

    • Is it segregation to focus on and give exposure to this particular (emerging/young) group? We don’t question museums devoted to historic or established artists.

  10. dan from Ohio on

    I was blessed by God with the gift of creativity. I do not believe I should waste this or any talent I was given, so to the best of my ability, I create.

  11. A Mission Statement:

    “Underlying my creative chaos, a nudge towards a growing potentiality for the exciting birth of a “Divine Mission” is confidently just ahead of me with a life of its own, leading me farther along than I ever dreamed possible.”

    Sharon Rusch Shaver
    June 2020

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http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/sage-beauty-autumn-16x16-acrylic-on-bd-3-20-wpcf_300x300.jpgSage Beauty, Autumn
16 x 16 inches
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We all need beauty, especially at a time when it appears to many that the world is in chaos.

Painting is the way I view my life, and it helps me keep my mind straight and my eyes on the positive. I look for beauty wherever I go. For that reason, I know that my life will not be long enough to paint all the ideas that I have.

I am painting because the Lord put the passion and desire in my heart to glorify Him in this way.

I have dedicated my life since 1983 to creating a body of work that testifies of His Creation, majesty, power, beauty, life and love.

Light and how we see it on the earth is the subject of all of my paintings.

I paint the landscape because I believe that we can see the Creator in His Creation, if we just look for Him there.

Since all who are sighted may see our surroundings, I believe this is one of the most evident ways we may see Him.

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