Just The Facts Ma’am
I was brought up on 1960’s television and as the youngest and only girl, I was outnumbered 2-1 by my two older brothers. That meant I had to suffer through many a war or cop show. Dragnet, an old show where two detectives track down criminals was one of them. The show began with its signature music: “dum-de-dum-dum,” then:
“The story you are about to hear is true:
And, of course, Sgt. Joe Friday played by Jack Webb’s famous business-like catch phrase:
“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
Well, your CV or resume is all about the facts.
Lets start with a bit of clarification. What is the difference between an artist CV and a resume?
CV or curriculum vitae means course of life. An artist CV is an in depth overview of your professional visual arts career. It’s similar in structure to an employment resume but should only contain what is pertinent to your artistic career. It’s longer than a resume, up to 2-3 pages, and covers your education as well as any other accomplishments like publications, awards, honors, etc. relating to your art career.
A resume is more of a summary, typically one page. Generally speaking, a resume is used in the U.S. and the rest of the world uses a CV. As with many things there are exceptions to this. In the U.S. a CV is used in academia and engineering for instance. Many people use the terms interchangeably. I thought they were the same thing until I looked it up for this article.
You probably have a resume or CV you used to find a job. You’ll be able to glean some of the content from it if you do. Now you need an artist CV. (I will be using the term CV for the rest of this article.)
There are some good resources to help you write an artist’s CV. If you’re an experienced artist with exhibits, sales and other experience, you just have to plug in the relevant information. The Practical Art World website has a 10 step process that’s easy to follow.
But what do you do if you’re just getting started, and you need a CV to apply to an exhibit that wants to know what your experience is? Kind of a catch-22 but there are ways to deal with this. The Practical Art World site has a page that will help you: How to Write an Artist’s CV When You Don’t Have Much (Or Any!) Professional Experience . This page has some very good suggestions on how to create a professional CV for an emerging artist.
Arts Business Info For Artists is another very good site. They break down the needs of a North American based CV and a UK based CV. I think this will be useful to the rest of the world too. There are also some useful tips and guidelines.
I hope these are helpful.
Writing an Artist’s Bio
Once you’ve written your artist bio post it in comments below. If you would like to have an image that goes with your bio posted on the blog go here and upload the image along with your bio.
What is an Artist Bio?
Your ‘bio’ is a short biography that tells who you are and what you do. It’s basically your resume in paragraph form. Your bio will also give a little bit of history and background as relevant: where you are from, what your education and/or training has been, where your work has been presented, and what awards and honors you have received.
Why Write A Bio?
“Your artist bio is the most important document in your promotional arsenal. It’s most people’s first introduction to you. So it really needs to succinctly communicate what you’re all about as an artist and give collectors a reason to want to learn more.
How Your Bio Gets Used
A bio will usually be necessary in any publication, print or online, that accompanies your work. Bios appear on artists’ websites, in artists’ catalogues for exhibitions, and in press packets. And in all those, they’ll use your bio verbatim.
Bios also drive search engine optimization (SEO). When returning search results, Google and other search engines privilege written content that is “sticky” (i.e. readers spend time on the page and continue browsing), so providing an engaging, well-written bio is a great way to increase discoverability.
General Guidelines When Writing a Bio
- Write in the third person; you will refer to yourself by your full name. Rather than speaking as ‘I’ you will write about yourself as he or she. Remember, people will often use your bio verbatim. If it’s written in the first person it’s much less likely to be used because someone would actually have to put some work in to rewrite it.
- Bios should be short, less than a page, but you will probably need more than one: a very short one — 2 or 3 sentences, and a longer one – 1 or 2 paragraphs and another 3-4 paragraphs. Each will be useful for different things, website, gallery exhibit, catalogue, etc. The ideal bio is ~120 words, though a tightly written 80-word bio is preferable to a longer bio that includes repetition and filler sentences.
- You will need to revise and update your bio once or twice a year!
- You want to write a strong, compelling statement that connects the viewer to your work with a strong first sentence.
- Focus on topics that may not be apparent from viewing your work.
- Edit and edit some more. Make sure you keep your artist biography short and concise with a focused structure.
- Understand Your audience. Sometimes it can be beneficial to adjust your biography for different readers and objectives.
- Write two to three drafts. You can try different tones and play around with language in each one. And don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality into your biography.
- Have an artist you trust and admire read your final draft. A fresh set of practiced eyes can do wonders for your biography and help you polish it to perfection. Another reader with a trained eye will be able to tell you if your biography correctly reflects you and your art.
- Check spelling and punctuation. Nothing undermines the credibility of your content more quickly than spelling and grammar mistakes. Make sure you have the spell check function turned on, and that your language preferences are set to the language you’re writing in.
- Use a serif font (e.g. Times New Roman) to ensure proper formatting of “smart” or curly quotes.
- Put exhibition titles in quotations (e.g. “Greater New York”), and artwork titles in italic (e.g. La Vie, 1903)
- The Hemingway Editor, an online tool that can help you keep your writing from getting too complex.
- Don’t use ‘art-speak’, overly flowery or pretentious language, or art jargon.
- Don’t try to impress the reader with vocabulary or extensive knowledge of art criticism.
- Don’t announce what the viewer should feel, just clearly express what you have accomplished.
- Don’t make the bio about your life. Think of it as a biography of your work instead.
Questions to consider when writing about your art practice:
- What medium/media do you work in?
- What is your style like?
- What work or works can you talk about that will give a visual description of the above qualities?
- What are common or characteristic themes depicted in the your work?
- What subjects drive the works or provide underlying themes?
- Why are you as an artist important?
- What precedent have you set in art-making? What other artists have impacted your practice?
- How does your work redefine your medium or media?
- Who are your peers or teachers?
- In what political or technological climate are you working in? I.e. what historical or political events might have influenced your work?
- What areas of the arts or popular culture do you incorporate into your work?
- What other areas of the arts or popular culture do you engage with? E.g. creating theatrical sets, costumes, music videos, etc.
- Can any of the above questions be answered in a brief (1–2 sentences), engaging quotation from you, the artist?
Let’s get down to writing
Give yourself about a week to write your bio. Not spending 8 hours a day on it of course. You’ll be putting it away between some of these steps so your brain can absorb it and you can come back with fresh eyes.
Be sure to to include in your artist bio:
- Your name
- Where you live and work
- The medium you work in
- Influences upon your art
- A sentence or two on key themes in your work
- Your exhibition history highlight
- Art related education (excluding high school)
Now we get into actually writing something. Don’t worry about getting it perfect on the first try. You need to write in article format. Important general info in the first part, deeper info in the second part, and a summation in the third part. We’re looking at 3-4 paragraphs here. Don’t forget to write in 3rd person.
Paragraph 1 – A broad overview of the general theme of your work plus a quick mention of your achievements/credits if any.
Paragraph 2 (optional) – Write about your influences and what they contribute to your work. You may want to make a list of 6-8 influences to get warmed up. Then just pick out the 2 or 3 that most strongly resonate with your current work. This paragraph is optional. While picking through your influences will help you find your themes, you still may not want to put them into your bio. Totally up to you.
Paragraph 3 – Write about your current work This is where you dig into those insights and give them 3 or 4 bite-sized insights that reinforce the themes you presented at the beginning. This can be split into two paragraphs if it gets too long. Or you may be talking about two sides of an issue that can be split into separate paragraphs. You’re not trapped in your themes here. Make the story cohesive and then let it evolve over time.
Paragraph 4 – This is the roundup portion and your last chance at pulling that reader in. A quick summary of the themes and how they apply to your overall vision of your work.
Continue to Enhance Your Biography as You Evolve
When you write your artist biography you want it to be the best expression of your career, but don’t forget that your career is continually developing. Make sure your artist biography progresses with you. Add in and switch out professional achievements as your success and knowledge grows. You might even need to rewrite it one or more times. This means you are evolving and maturing as an artist.
Once you’ve written your artist bio, post it in comments below along with an image of a tapestry and we will use your image on this blog.
Sample Artist Bios
John Chamberlain is best known for his twisting sculptures made from scrap metal and banged up, discarded automobile parts and other industrial detritus. “My work has nothing to do with car wrecks,“ he has said. “I believe common materials are the best materials.” With its emphasis on paint finishes and the raw materials’ lines and seams, his work has been described as a kind of three-dimensional abstract expressionist painting. While his breakthrough work dates from the 1960s, most recently he has worked with large-scale photography
In her decades-spanning practice, Carol Rama has explored sexuality and desire through different materials and mediums. Self-taught, Rama began painting as a means of dealing with family tragedies. In her early work in the 1930s and 1940s, she created lustful images of the female body, highlighting sexuality and pleasure as major themes. Rama later experimented with abstraction and assemblage in the vein of arte povera, using bicycle tires from her father’s factory before he declared bankruptcy and committed suicide. She returned to making paintings and watercolors in the 1980s. The recipient of the Golden Lion at the 50th Venice Biennale, Rama falls outside the confines of any particular artistic movement or period, but she remains a seminal figure and an important influence to artists such as Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith.
The often-opaque themes in Christopher Williams’s works have in common the artist’s fascination with obsolescence and the relationship between photographs and the objects they document. Known for his high-gloss, crisply focused photographs, reminiscent of the commercial photography of a bygone era, Williams’s subjects range from stacked Ritter Sport chocolate bars to old cameras that have outlived their usefulness. Williams ironically references the practice of retouching in advertising by highlighting the small but conspicuous imperfections in his own subjects or, as in the case of Kodak Three Point Reflection Guide, © 1968 Eastman Kodak Company, 1968 (Corn) (2003), trying to ‘sell’ a food item that is clearly made out of plastic. Former Editor-in-Chief of Artforum Tim Griffin described Williams’s approach as “sociophotographic,” meaning that the work explores underlying codes within photography, advertising, and ethnography.
Tal R uses the word kolbojnik, meaning “leftovers” in Hebrew, to describe his practice of sourcing and collecting a wide range of imagery, figurative and abstract, from high and low culture. Like work by Donald Baechler, Maira Kalman, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tal R’s paintings, with their bold brushstrokes, colorful patterns, and exuberantly painted imagery, give the false impression of childlike simplicity. Interested in creation myths and darker themes, Tal R always conveys a sense of joy and generosity of spirit.
Furniture designer Chris Schanck is interested in materials and design processes that are not traditionally associated with luxury, mass-production, and standards of perfection. “If we accept the idea that [an object] doesn’t have to be reproducible and doesn’t have to mimic a commercial form, or process, then what are the limits of that?” Schanck asks. Among his best-known pieces are those that comprise his “ALUfoil” series, in which industrial or discarded materials are covered in aluminum foil, painted, and then sealed with resin. The final pieces are both durable and light. His methods characteristically involve both marginalized techniques as well as the help of marginalized members of his Detroit community. Schanck has a background in commercial model-making, and has produced commissioned works for Tom Ford.
Sample of LONG Bio:
Amy Barkow was born in Great Falls, Montana. After completing her MFA from Hunter College in 2002, she had her first solo exhibition at New Jersey City University. She has worked in New York City as an architectural photographer since 2000, an occupation that has influenced her photography and sculpture.
Her work has been exhibited worldwide. She has received support from the Santa Fe Art Institute, Times Square Business Improvement District/Times Square Alliance, The Artists’ Museum in Lodz, American Institute of Architects and the Golden Seed International Art Residency, Mt. Abu India. She has been a visiting critic at SUNY New Paltz, New Jersey City University, and the Montana State University School of Architecture, and worked as an art educator for the Joan Mitchell Foundation.
She is presently completing a series of photographs combining portraits with commercial logos for Branded and on Display, a traveling group exhibition opening at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She lives and works in New York City.
Sample of SHORT Bio:
Amy Barkow was born in Great Falls, Montana. Her work as an architectural photographer influences her photography and sculpture. She has exhibited her work worldwide, and has received support from the Santa Fe Art Institute, Times Square Business Improvement District/Times Square Alliance, American Institute of Architects, among other institutions. Her work is visible at www.barkowphoto.com.
How to Write an Artist Statement
Once you’ve written your artist statement, whether it’s about your body of work of a specific piece, post it in comments below. If you would like to have the image that goes with your statement posted on the blog go here and upload the image along with your artist statement.
WHAT IS AN ARTIST STATEMENT?
An artist statement is about your work’s purpose or philosophy giving your audience deeper insight into it. It may include the symbolism you give your materials, or the issues you address. Your statement should include whatever is most important to you and your work. It should address and explain in general terms what your art is, your methods and materials.
An artist statement is never finished for long. Like your resume, it will be revised frequently, as your work changes and as you find new ways of expressing what you are doing. Your history and background will be your artist biography. (See Artists Bio).
Uses include the following:
- Exhibit catalogues and articles about you and your work.
- Helping dealers and other arts professionals talk about and sell your work.
- Provide background information for writers of articles, reviews, and catalogues.
- It can function as the basis for cover letters and grant proposals.
HOW TO WRITE AN ARTIST STATEMENT
Here are some tips and ideas for all artists to think about when composing a new statement or revising their current artist statement.
1. Keep the Statement Simple: The artist statement should be written both clearly and concisely for a wide range of people who will read it. The language and terms you use should be simple, jargon-free, and easy for anyone to understand; and your statement should be in the first person, as if you are talking about yourself and your art to a group of people.
2. The Statement Should Tell Why: Explain why you create this kind of art. This could be in the form of an explanation of your motivation and subject matter. In addition, the “why” could also discuss any artistic or personal influences. Overall, you are telling the reader the personal reasons why you create this art.
3. The Statement Should Tell How: Explaining to the reader the “how” can be a short sentence or two about the artistic process or describing any special techniques that were used in producing this art. You should not get technical or provide a step by step guide on how to create your art. If there are any unusual materials used, that can be mentioned too.
4. What it Means to the Artist: Overall, this a personal statement of the meaning of the art for you, the artist. This may be the most difficult thing for you to write about as it will reveal something personal about you. It is very difficult to write about yourself, especially when you need to keep it short. For this, think Twitter and try to write this with 140 characters. It is tough to do but try to do it in at least 2 to 3 concise sentences, maximum.
5. Keep it Short: Remember that people’s attention spans are quite short and that if the artist statement is too long, too complicated or poorly written people will just not read it! Avoid big, flowery and complicated words. It just does not work. You are not trying to impress anyone, you are trying to communicate to a very wide audience what your art is about.
Here are some other things to consider and incorporate into an artist statement:
- Develop a strong first sentence. Explain clearly and precisely why you make art, what it means to you and what materials you use. Tell a story about something that moved you into making a specific body of work. Draw the reader into your world.
- Focus on topics that may not be apparent from viewing your images, such as, influences in your work: themes and issues. The techniques, materials used, or scale of the work can also be important information to include.
- Keep it short, clear and concise – No more than 1 page, double spaced.
Write a strong, compelling statement without art jargon in simple sentences.
- Focus on topics not apparent from viewing your images such as symbols or metaphors, themes and issues underlying your work, materials, scale, etc.
- Proofread your statement for misspelled words, bad grammar, or confusing content.
- Rewrite your statement every time you complete a new body of work.
- Write in first person as if you were speaking to a group of people who don’t know your work. Avoid using I and me.
- If you have multiple bodies or work, materials or techniques, have multiple artist statements for each.
- Study other artists’ statements, as they often reveal inventive ways of expressing artistic purpose and intent—ways that you may wish to emulate in your own artist statement as it takes shape. The time you invest in the editing of your artist statement will pay off in the form of increased audience understanding and interest in your work.
- Don’t imitate the theoretical or intellectualized style of writing used in critical art magazines. Avoid art-speak and pretentious language. If your statement is difficult to read, it will NOT be read.
- Don’t try to impress the reader by your extensive knowledge of art criticism or art history. You want to impress them with your art.
- Don’t use weak phrases that reflect insecurities like “I am hoping to,” “I am trying to,” or “Iwould like to.”
- Don’t “tell” the reader what they “must” see in your art. That is what the artist sees and the viewer may see or interpret something else.
- This is not a biography. Do not get that mixed in with the artist statement.
- Don’t announce what you are attempting to do, just clearly express what you have accomplished.
- If you are unsure about the end result of the statement, then have other people read it, comment on it or find someone that will help you.
After it is completed, reread it and make sure that the sentence structure and spelling are perfect. Then put the statement away. In a few days, look at it again and follow these steps all over again! At that point, you will see how a phrase, sentence or a word can be changed in order to make the artist statement clearer and overall better.
Finally, if you are happy with the statement, then it is good to go. If however, if you are still not completely happy with the statement, put it away again and reread in order to fine tune and communicate the artist statement clearly.
Remember: The artist statement is speaking to the viewer in your absence. Therefore, the artist statement should be short, concise and well written in a conversational language.
THREE TYPES OF ARTISTS STATEMENTS
One page statement:
- Artist statements are rarely longer than one page, double spaced. More information than that is usually not necessary and will probably not be read.
- It can address a large body of work, or work in different media all concerning the same ideas.
- This longer statement will accompany an exhibition or performance of your work.
- Can be included in a portfolio or grant application.
- Used as a reference for: promoting, describing, selling, writing about your work by gallerists, curators, publicists, critics, journalists etc.
One or two paragraph statement:
- No longer than half a page.
- Addresses the most pertinent information about the work, a particular series or piece.
- Can be incorporated into the heading of an image description sheet, which accompanies a portfolio, grant application, etc.
- Can be the lead-in to a longer project description.
- Can be used for your website or exhibit catalogue.
25 word statement:
- This statement contains the central idea of your work to catch the reader/listeners’ attention.
- Can be inserted into correspondence: cover letters, letters of intent, artist biography.
- Memorize it. Be prepared to deliver it anytime. For example when asked “What do you do?” when meeting someone for the first time, at social occasions, openings, on the elevator. Think of it as a verbal business card.
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL & NOT SO SUCCESSFUL ARTIST STATEMENTS
Example #1: less successful
T.S. Eliot spoke of how the present shapes the past as much as the past affects the present. These paintings aspire to blur the distinction between the two and enter into a free-flowing dialogue between my present and my past. They ask fundamental questions as to the nature of time, the nature of change, and the meaning of invention. The ambition, which inspires their making, is to step outside of the linear, chronological unfolding of events and celebrate the eternal present that is the time art shapes.
Evaluation: This statement, although poetic does not really address any specific aspects of the body of work. The reader is given very little information. Try to avoid using words like “aspire” along with “hope” “attempt”. They are weak and may reflect insecure feelings on your part. Try to use more active and strong phrases. Notice how much more active and stronger the phrase is without the word “aspire”: “These paintings blur the distinction between… ”
Example #2: less successful
“The body, however, consists of an indefinite multiplicity of parts and arbitrary manifestations which are subjected to movement and divided into substances, moments, and details.”
– Marsilio Ficino from “About Love or Platon’s Feast”
The works deal with a fragmentary corporeality which seeks its stimulation in the natural sciences, such as botany and neurology. The drawings construct and illustrate an intellectual model of deconstruction of corporeality and the search for unity. The central question here is the sense of time. Do different time levels exist parallel to each other? Does the unity of the individual exist in time, which is characterized by acceleration, rotation, and speed? The drawings reflect an internal world view which revolves around fragment, unity, and rupture. The simple pencil drawings are made on former construction plans, on the reverse sides are old sketches of pattern designs. The structure of the folds and the paper collage further emphasizes this vision.
Evaluation: This statement doesn’t service the visual work either. It is full of important sounding words, but what do they mean? What is an “intellectual model of deconstruction of corporeality?” If the statement is difficult to read, it won’t get read. It has not provided much help in allowing the viewer to have a fuller understanding of the art. Prefacing the artist statement with this quote further obscures the artist’s intentions without providing any real information.
Example #3: successful
I began using a typewriter for its obvious function – to record my thoughts and ideas. Communicating is a crucial yet constant struggle for me. The more I typed, the more the letters and words on the pages began to take on a new function, a new language. My discovery of this new language created with my typewriter and paper was one made up of patterns and grids formed by punctuation marks: commas, colons, apostrophes, and brackets. It was as if the typewriter was experiencing a breakdown, and this breakdown was my breakthrough. I had discovered a new way to communicate. There is an endless source of information that can be created through a limited use of materials: paper and a typewriter. I became, and am still, intrigued by this process.
Evaluation: This is a good statement. It is precisely written and fun to read. The sentences are strong and simple. It answers the kinds of questions that arise when viewing the work, in this case, how are these marks being made and why while providing supportive information about the artist’s process and thinking.
GETTING STARTED WRITING AN ARTIST STATEMENT
Ten Minute Writing Exercises
1. Describe your work: Describe one work of yours that is currently in your studio. Do it quickly. Don’t worry about grammar, jargon, or finding the right word. There is no format to this, no structure. Just get down on paper everything that comes to mind about the piece. Some questions to get you started:
- What does it look like? (size, colors, shapes, textures, light, objects, relationships, etc.) Make your description visual.
- What inspired the piece? Where does the work come from in you?
- Talk about the work from a conceptual, thematic, and/or emotional point of view.
- Is there a central or guiding image or idea?
- What are its different elements and how to they affect each other or interact?
- What kind of materials did you use/are you using to create the work? Why
- What was the process of development for the work?
- How does the work use space and relate to the surrounding space? What would be the ideal space in which to exhibit or present this work?
- How does this work fit into the overall flow of your development as an artist?
- Where does it fit into or relate to your awareness of other contemporary work?
2. Identify yourself: Use these questions to articulate who you are as an artist, what is special about you, and where you fit into the big picture.
- What words would you use to describe your work as an artist?
- What sources guide or influence your work? Physical, intellectual, emotional, conceptual?
- What materials do you enjoy working with? Hate? Why? What would you be interested in exploring that you haven’t tried yet?
- Whose work or what work do you admire? Why?
- What work/styles/modes do you dislike? Hate? Wish to challenge? Why?
- Who do you compare yourself to? What kind of comparisons do you draw?
- Who do you think your work is for? Who you would like to reach with it or who you would most want to see it?
- What critics do you read? Why?
- What else do you read, see, listen to, and follow outside your discipline? Poetry?
- Philosophy? Science? History? Politics? Film? Music?
- How would you describe your background, and how has it influenced you? Where do you come from? Community, geography, ethnicity, family, peers, mentors?
3. Describe your studio: Write a one-page description of your studio or workspace. Do it quickly, and don’t worry about grammar or the right word. There is no format to this, no structure…paragraph, notes, or even a list format is fine.
- What does it look like? Size, colors, shapes, textures, objects, relationships, light? Make it visual.
- What identifies it as uniquely yours, or distinct from some other studio?
- How do you relate to it? Order, arrangements, processes, methods, equipment, materials?
- What are you working on? What kind of work do you have in it at present?
4. Describe your process: Write a one-page description of the process you use to create your work. Do it quickly, and don’t worry about grammar or finding the right word. There is no format to this, no structure. Just get down on paper every single thing you can remember about how your work is created. Think in concrete terms: influences; physical qualities; and emotion.
- What materials, elements, surfaces, processes, methods, equipment do you use? Why?
- Where does the impetus for a piece come from in you, personally speaking?
- What concerns guide you in the execution? Are they visual? physical/sensory/sensual? thematic? emotional?
- What moves you to work?
- What is your favorite part of the process?
5. Putting it all Together: Don’t Panic! If writing is torture, Get some help!
- Tongue tied? Invite a friend to the studio to discuss your work. Tape-record the conversation and listen to it later. You can also take notes, but often the best phrases get lost in the heat of the moment. Make a note of what kind of questions come up during these sessions. Is there a pattern? If there is, use it in your statement.
- Have several friends who know your work — especially non-artists — read your artist statement and respond. They may have good points to add. They may catch phrases that don’t seem to make sense. Your non-artist friends will be best at helping you catch the jargon and ‘art-speak’ which you may want to rewrite.
- Ask a professional writer to proofread your written materials to check for errors. Ask someone merciless to help you delete repetitive or extraneous phrases and straighten out long sentences.
- Ask people in the comments section below to read your artists statement and give you feedback.
REMEMBER: Keep your statement coherent and to the point to retain reader interest!
NY Foundation for the Arts, by Matthew Deleget, NYFA Quarterly, Summer 1999