The artist biography. It sounds so simple, right? Who is more equipped to write about your life and work than you? Well, sometimes it can be the hardest thing to write your own biography because you are too personally involved or are conscious about sounding too boastful. How do you decide which life events are important? Which aren’t? Organizing your own artistic journey into a succinct story can be a big challenge.
Luckily, we are here to help. In this guide, we’ll explain why you need an artist biography and what should be included in it. We will also offer an insight into what galleries are actually looking for when they read your artist biography.
Why Do I Need An Artist Biography?
It has become industry standard to have an artist biography prepared. It should be in your portfolio and on your website. Additionally, once you start exhibiting, this artist bio will find its way onto gallery websites, exhibition materials, and may even be quoted in interviews.
Useful Article: How To Create A Professional Portfolio
While you may want to customize your bio for every situation, it is a good idea to have one all-purpose text prepared at all times. Your artist biography is necessary for most competition entries, gallery and museum submissions, and promotional requests. It is one of the first things that anyone will reference on your website in order to decide if they would be interested in working with you.
What Is The Difference Between An Artist Biography, Artist CV, and Artist Statement?
Being an artist today can be a challenge. As the art industry expands, there is a growing demand for professionalism. There is a long list of necessary (and optional) documents and exhibition materials, like an Artist Statement, Business Cards, a Portfolio and so on.
You could obviously hire someone or collaborate with a representational gallery like Agora to take care of the marketing and publicity. However, there are three important documents that have to come from you – Artist CV, Artist Statement, and Artist Biography. People often confuse the three but they actually serve completely different purposes.
An Artist CV is a timeline of your education, your exhibition history, awards, projects, and press you’ve received. It tells a reader at a glance what you have done in the past, whether it includes previous exhibitions, employment, awards, etc., and lets them decide whether you are the right fit for the job/exhibition. You could argue that it is basically the artist biography in list form. However, your artist biography includes more information about you as an artist and not just bullet points.
An artist bio talks about your work and your ideas and inspirations. It incorporates your history and connects how your life events have influenced your artwork. Were you born in the center of New York City, but have always longed for a countryside lifestyle? Is that why you’re an acclaimed rural landscape painter? That’s not going to find its way onto your CV, but the artist biography is the perfect place for that information. Whatever you do, wherever you’re from, it all comes together to create your style and the artwork that you want to share.
Did You Know? We have written a “How-To” article on creating virtually every document and exhibition material that you might need. Browse through our How-To Tutorials and Marketing Your Art categories of the blog for useful advice and ideas.
An Artist Statement, on the other hand, is much more similar to your biography. More often than not, it is the front line of communication between an artist and the public. It will be used when you submit your portfolio to competitions, galleries, and museums. It is also usually displayed alongside your works during exhibitions and in galleries. This gives it a sort of flexible nature. You might have to write a new statement for every exhibition if your works are versatile. The artist biography, however, remains more or less the same. You would only need to update it in case of any major changes to your status or developments in your work. Another major difference between the two documents is that an artist statement is always written in the first person while a biography always talks about you in the third person.
The infographic at the bottom of the page differentiates between all three of these essential artist documents.
Narrowing Down Your Artist Biography
No matter how old you are, you’ve lived a full life of major events and wonderful memories. However, your artist biography needs to be no longer than one printed page. For some submissions, it’ll be even shorter!
That’s why you need to narrow your artist biography down to the key points: show the reader where you’ve been and where you want to go as an artist. The best way to get started is to understand your own artistic path. By answering just a few key questions about yourself, you can figure out what those critical points were in your life that have most influenced your journey as an artist.
Sit down with a pen and paper and answer the following questions:
Take your answers and review them. Can you draw a line from any of your life events to your art today?
Once you have an idea, you’ll have to carefully work this into your life story in a way that seems focused, interesting, and (as painful as it may be) concise.
What Galleries/Museums/Press Are Looking For In Your Artist Biography
There isn’t a definitive list as to what facts you must include in your artist biography. Everybody’s different, and so are our stories. So what does Agora Gallery look for in an artist biography?
1. It is the right length. We said it before, but this biography should not be longer than one page. When you send in your artist biography, always check to see if they have word requirements. At Agora Gallery, we prefer that your artist biography is between 100-600 words.
2. It is written in the third person. Yes, you are writing about yourself, but this isn’t the time for “I” and “me” – now is the time for “he” or “she.” An artist biography should be something that can be printed word-for-word in an article or catalog. One or two self-quotations can add some personality and variety, but for the most part you’ll want to save your “I, Me, Mine” for your artist statement.
3. It is interesting and accessible. You don’t need to have been the first man on the moon to have an interesting story to tell. Your most decisive moments in life don’t need to be action-packed: your life may have been changed by something you thought of in the shower. Whether you have an adventure story or something low-key, tell your story in a way that we can relate to. A big part of that is keeping your tone clear and professional, yet not too clinical and detached.
4. We can read it. Proofread your artist biography. Have somebody else look at it, too. Even at Agora, we make sure everything is checked over by at least two people before it is published. Nothing looks less professional than a text littered with spelling and grammar mistakes.
On the other side of the same coin, don’t over-complicate your language. Using highly advanced vocabulary may prove that you’re educated, but it might also alienate many of your readers. The Hemingway Editor, a free online tool, can help you keep your writing from getting too complex.
5. It explains the history of your artwork. Help us draw that connection between you as an artist and your artwork. Let us see your artistic influences and your journey. Again, we don’t need a carbon copy of your CV, we want to know the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of your art. Mentioning other artists who have influenced your work can help contextualize your work and also add legitimacy to it.
6. It doesn’t exaggerate. Don’t hyperbolize. Art professionals know when they’re being lied to, and we aren’t impressed when artists say they’re the “best” in their fields. Which leads us to our next point…
7. It doesn’t judge your work on our behalf. The artist biography should talk about the story behind the work. Talk about your influences, your themes, and your journey. When discussing yourself, avoid words like “visionary,” “prolific,” “extraordinary,” or “genius.” Let the readers come to that conclusion for themselves.
8. It includes the “greatest hits.” It is important to include some of your biggest achievements in your biography. Tell us about major exhibitions, sales, partnerships, and awards. Just remember to stay focused. You shouldn’t mention more than five achievements in your artist biography, or the writing, tone, and interest level will all suffer. This information can often fit nicely in your final paragraph.
Your biography should give us just enough to get a sense of you and your work, and it should make us want to see the works.
9. It keeps us wanting more. Your biography should give us just enough to get a sense of you and your work, and it should make us want to see the works. So don’t write too much: don’t exhaust your reader with so many details that, by the end of it, they have no more energy to give to your works, your statement, or any of the rest of your portfolio.
Above all, you should feel confident and passionate about what you are writing. Not only are you selling your artwork, but you’re selling the artist behind those masterpieces.
Maintain, Update, And Grow
After all is said and done, make sure to remember that your artist biography will grow and change with you. Don’t be afraid to edit your bio as your artistic style changes, as inspirations come and go, or as techniques and subjects develop with time. No artist creates the exact same works over and over again, and your biography should reflect that movement through your artistic journey.