This article is written by Guest Blogger, Y. Hope Osborn – reprinted with permission from Fusion Art.
"Blessed are the weird people: poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours for they teach us to see the world through different eyes." - Jacob Nordby
If you are like me and your art education consists of a lifetime of hobby photography and expression through a multitude of avenues not typically connected to art as it is to artisan, you may balk at the idea of writing an artist statement or biography. You either avoid those competitions or grants where they are required, or you throw something together afraid of your own writing because you remember all those red ink pen marks in English class.
Artist Lisa Golightly wrote, “There is no ‘right’ way to make art. The only wrong is in not trying, not doing. Don’t put barriers [such as a red pen] that aren’t there—just get to work and make something.” There are a lot of good guidelines Fusion Art and Light Space & Time provides in their blogs and newsletters, and I could get into those, but this is about the importance of writing the artist statement and bio. Get to work and make something.
Think like artists’ Georgia O’Keeffe, “… Making your unknown known is the important thing” and Jacob Nordby, “Teach us to see the world through different eyes.” Think of your artist statement and biography as an extension of you and your art. How you write about you and your art is important because they show the juror or curator that you are an intentional artist. This is not a whim. The juror or curator wants to see what true artists like yourself can do, making your unknown known—who you are in your life in your bio and teaching us to see through different eyes—how you see the art in your artist statement.
“Every artist was first an amateur.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am not a ‘typical’ artist with a degree or a lifetime of experience to introduce myself in a bio. However, I have all my life been interested in photography and crafting things. I also had the tenacity to get a masters’ degree though it is in writing nonfiction. Make what you have been doing as a person and as an emerging artist work for you, because if you are truly an artist, you have done something all your life to prove it, even if in a different medium. Show your audience of art lovers, curators, and jurors who you are as a person, including your quirks, your loves, and the latest, and you connect with them personally. Introduce us as if someone else is introducing you before you go on stage.
"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light, and shadows." - Jim Jarmusch
Art lovers, jurors, and curators want to converse with you over your art in your artist statement. Georgia O’Keeffe “found [she] could say things with color and shapes that [she] couldn’t say any other way—things [she] had no words for,” so it can be difficult to write an artist statement. Did the sun glint off a stained-glass piece hanging in your window? Did the wind stir windchimes making you feel alive or sad? Find those keywords about yourself that represent you and your art. We want to know the essence that comes from you both in general artistry and specific art. What do you feel? What do you know that we don’t know? Leave room, though, for the art enthusiast’s imagination. Welcome them into yours as a pitstop on the way to their own.
Your bio and statement are important for opening doors. It introduces you to the general art lover, juror, or curator, and other artists. Think of it as something that influences beyond this art competition or this experience. This is what they might discover of you in our web-fueled world, and it may just be your ticket in for you to get a call about another opportunity.
Think of the artist statement and bio as the third leg in a three-legged stool of your art. Your art falls flat if we don’t know who you are and what you are about as an artist. Forget the red marks, make your own art education, tell us who you are, and you will stand tall among fellow artists.
Y. Hope Osborn is a photographer, digital artist and writer. She helps artists and other creatives with writing, editing and revising their artist statements and bios. Hope can be contacted through her email or her website, where you can also see her photography and digital art.
For our art gallery’s monthly art competitions, artists are required to provide the gallery with an Artist’s Biography and an Artist’s Statement as part of their submission.
During a normal year, we see and review more than 7,600 biographies. We have seen great biographies and terrible biographies with most being somewhere in the middle. Through this process, we have been able to identify common biography mistakes.
Perhaps you will see yourself in some of these examples and be able to correct or improve your existing biography. Here are what we see as common artist’s biography mistakes:
1. Writing the Biography in the First Person
Many artists write their biography in the first person (i.e., “I did this…”, “I was influenced by…”, I intended to…”). Stop! Your biography should sound like it was written by someone else about you. “She did this…”, “He was influenced by…” She intended to…”. Also, use the third person when creating a press release. It sounds more authoritative and professional.
2. Being Boring – Tell a Story
Tell the reader of your biography your story as an artist from the beginning of your pursuit of art until now. Your creative journey has been interesting. Your biography should be too.
A well-written artist’s biography should include the following:
Anyone or anything that has influenced your artwork.
Your education or training in the field of art.
Any related experience in the field of art.
A short description of what you would like to achieve with your art.
3. Confusing an Artist’s Statement with an Artist’s Biography
Many times an artist will substitute an artist’s statement for their artist’s biography. Or, midway through their biography, it will become an artist’s statement. I believe the reason for this is that most people find it easier to talk and write about their art than to talk or write about themselves. For artists, writing, in general, is difficult enough, but writing about themselves is twice as difficult.
4. Providing a CV (Curriculum Vitae) Instead
A CV is a chronological resume of an artist’s experience within the art field. A CV provides the reader with a list of the artist’s education, experience, solo and group exhibitions, teaching experience, texts, and awards etc. It is not a biography, it is a resume. This is not what someone wants from you when they request an artist’s biography.
5. Other Common Errors
Writing a biography that is too short or does not contain enough details about the artist.
Having a biography that is too long. In today’s fast-paced world, a reader will not spend a lot of time reading an artist’s biography. Make the biography concise and easy to read.
A biography that contains spelling errors is really bad. Be sure to spell check yours before you send it in or add it to your artist’s portfolio.
There is no excuse for a biography to have poor sentence structure or poor grammar. Have someone edit it for you.
Forgetting to provide contact information. Name, address, telephone number, email address and a website should all be included.
If you lack experience in the art field (See Number 2 above), no problem. Go back and tell that story about yourself and explain how you have gotten to the point of calling yourself an artist.
Experience, no matter how little or how much, may be important in some areas of the arts, but for artists who want to create, show and sell their art, it is overrated. Its all about the art!
There is a whole generation of “Baby Boomer’s” who started out wanting to be in the arts but life came along an interrupted their dreams. They have 40 or 50-year gaps in their biography. Embrace that gap and tell us how your artistic dream was derailed but not forgotten. Be open and be honest as all of this is part of your artistic journey.
As artists, we all had to start somewhere in our artistic quest. Some artists are just setting out. Other artists may have a great deal of education and experience in the art field.
In life, we all have different paths. This is as true in the arts as in any other endeavor. Your biography should be personal and portray the enthusiasm that has brought you to this point.
For Light Space & Time art competitions, we ask artists to include a brief artist’s biography. This information is important as it helps us to understand and interpret the artist’s submission.
We receive biographies that range from one sentence to two or three pages! We encourage artists to keep their biographies between 250 to 500 words. If an artist writes more than this, they take the chance that their biography will not be read by anyone! (Longer biographies if asked for can be provided).
Include the following information in your artist biography:
An artist should periodically review and update their artist biography to keep it fresh and up-to-date. The updated biography should replace older copies on any art websites or art forums where it has been posted or where you show your artwork.
A new artist’s biography is expected to be brief. Use what you can from the list given above and flesh it out as you become a more seasoned creative. Whatever your level of experience, you should make sure that your bio is concise and well-written. This increases the chances that it will be read and included as part of the viewer’s experience of your art.
An effective artist biography (bio) is necessary information to have as part of the artist’s presentation to any viewers and interested parties of their artwork. A well written and composed artist bio serves to help a reader to connect to the artist and to the artist's artwork.
An artist bio, when written and created correctly will provide the reader with a greater understanding as to the artist's art, the artist’s motivation for creating their art and finally it will provide a guide or a means for a viewer to interpret the artist’s art. In these terms, the importance of an artist’s bio cannot be stressed enough!
What should be included in an effective artist’s bio?
1. Anyone or anything that has influenced the artist’s artworks.
2. Any education or training in the field of art.
3. Any related experience in the field of art.
4. A summary of the artist’s artistic philosophy.
5. Any artistic insights or techniques that are employed by the artist.
6. A short description of what the artist would like to accomplish with their art.
The following are some helpful hints on how an artist can create an interesting bio;
1. Keep the biography structure short, concise and to the point. A rambling disjointed bio will only confuse or lose the reader altogether. Always write the bio in the third person (as if someone other than the artist is writing the bio).
2. Try to write the bio differently 2 or 3 times and then have someone with good writing and communication skills proof the various bios and help you to pull them together into one great bio (there will be different aspects of each bio that are written better than the others).
3. Get an artist(s) who you respect and admire to read your final version and make any suggestions to help improve the final bio. Does this bio reflect you as a person, as an artist and does it accurately describe your art?
4. Finally, after any changes are made as described above, have someone who is an expert in spelling, grammar and sentence structure review and make any necessary changes to the bio.
Keep your bio up to date with any new work, influences and experience that may have changed you, your art and your artistic perspective. Make sure that you have an appropriate and up to date image of yourself that is included with your bio. Also, update the bio on any other websites and art forums where you post and show your artwork as well.
An effective artist’s bio will not sell any art for an artist but it is the type of information that an artist should have in order to provide to any interested person (buyer, gallery, art rep etc.). Also, this is necessary information that an artist should have, as it will be required during the overall sales process.