Most artists are used to expressing themselves in creative ways, but few understand the importance of expressing who they are in an artist bio, containing an artist statement and resume or CV.
Why is it so important to do so? Consider this analogy: Contemporary art often leaves plenty of room for interpretation. An artist’s intention, inspiration or process is often left to be determined by the viewer. In the same way, an artist can often be somewhat abstract – who they are or why they do what they do may not always be clear, but the information can be a critical component to whether or not someone may be more inclined to find about more about their work.
Likewise, collectors and curators, in particular, have an interest in the artist’s history because it helps them determine what stage an artist has reached in their career, which has a bearing on the artist’s perceived value in the marketplace as well as future value for art as an investment. Detailing where you’ve studied, where you’ve shown and who you’ve been represented by will be critical to collectors and curators who are considering buying or displaying your work.
Artist Statement, Traditional Resume and CV?
Most people have at some point or another used a resume to detail their particular skill set and experience. A traditional resume is an itemized list of your education, work experience, and skills background, meant to convey why you might be suitable for one position or another. The key tenet of the resume is that it is meant to be tailored to accentuate certain items depending upon the audience. As an example, a Graphic Designer sending a resume into an advertising agency may want to focus on his or her experience working with teams, while sending their resume for a consultant position may highlight meeting deadlines.
The CV (Curriculum Vitae) is a list of what you have done. It’s less of a way to market yourself for work and more a laundry list of accomplishments. It’s not a document that is tailored for different positions like a resume so individual items don’t change but it is constantly being added to as new work is created or some other creative highlight occurs, such as winning an award or being in a magazine. Over time, the CV can become very long, which is why the corporate world focuses on resume’s but the academic and fine art worlds tend to prefer CVs.
On the other hand, an artist statement tells a story. It is a compelling narrative that encapsulates the artist as a person. The content is highly variable and can be tailored for a time and audience or it can be encompassing, used for any situation or moment. The artist statement should express his or her overarching creative philosophy and motivations, along with relevant personal history or background that informs the artist’s creative work or provides context. The artist statement is meant to be more personal than a resume or CV, allowing the reader to connect with the artist’s ideas. It can be used alone or in combination with either a CV or resume, but is always seen at the beginning. Think of it as the summary or teaser, with the detailed resume or CV following. The CV and resume, however, are rarely used together as they would be somewhat redundant.
So, like any other attention grabber, in order for the artist bio to be effective, it should be should be both concise and compelling. In our short attention span culture, there is very little time to engage the reader, so you will need to use your creativity to hook the reader making it so that they just have to know more. If your summary is boring or is too unrelated to the work or reason that it is being read in the first place, then don’t expect anyone to continue reading.
When used in tandem, an artist statement and resume / CV can be extremely powerful. with the artist statement grabbing the readers attention, reading like a biographical summary and then the itemized resume CV filling in the blanks. Lastly, the work product becomes the visual encapsulation, acting as proof that your story is real.
So, now that you understand the importance of writing an artist bio, what needs to go in it?
Crafting the Perfect Artist Bio
As we’ve discussed, the principal purpose of writing an artist’s bio is to draw the reader in and give them a sense of who you are. Writing the perfect artist bio means you’ll straddle a line between selling yourself and self-aggrandizement. You’ll want to discuss the meaning of your work without being confusing or overly critical. Rambling passages that are too long and too convoluted want to be avoided. At the same time, you won’t want to seem prosaic or too flat. We never said this would be easy!
To begin with, an artist bio should be written in the third person, rather than in the first person. It should begin with a summary including pertinent details such as where you’re from, and where you currently live, your medium and style and perhaps a list of important skills. In total, you’ll want to include the following information:
- Personal details – your name, where you born and when, your contact information such as email address and phone number.
- Artist statement
- Education – this includes your bachelor’s education and any post-secondary arts
- Exhibitions – list where you’ve exhibited, beginning with the most recent shows first.
- Bibliography – if your work has been written about in any publications, this is the place to list that. See a citation guide for guidance on formatting your bibliography.
- Collections – list any public institutions that own your artwork.
- Texts – if you’ve published arts related writing, include it here!
- Teaching – have you ever served as an adjunct professor or instructor? Include that information here!
- Curatorial projects – if you’ve ever participated in a curatorial capacity – this can even include in your own shows – then you should include that information here.
- Awards and Grants – if you’ve received any awards or grants for your work, provide a detailed list of the organizations that have awarded you the recognition, and be specific about what that entailed.
- Residencies – have you completed any artist residencies? If so, list where and when and what the fruit of the residency was, with a detailed explanation of the project.
(For comprehensive standards and guidelines, go to collegeart.org). Remember that a CV is exhaustive but for the resume choose only those items relevant to what you are trying to acquire. For example, if applying for a graphic designer position, it may not be necessary to highlight photography awards. Use only the most compelling items and when appropriate add descriptions that discuss the item’s importance as it relates to the particular application.
Though more seasoned artists may want to hire a professional to write their bio, you can most certainly take a stab at it yourself. Perhaps ask a mentor or instructor to read it over for you and make sure it’s concise and well-articulated. It’s also useful to ask someone who knows your work to give you some insight into what your work is about for this purpose, in case you’ve missed anything.
Now that you understand the importance of telling your story, be sure to update that story as it changes or evolves. Don’t be shy to present these materials to potential collectors or other interested parties, and always remember to keep them polished. Most importantly, remember that writing the perfect artist bio and artist CV means that you’re being as authentic and truthful about the scope of your work.