Reprinted from my blog on the American Tapestry Alliance website March 13th, 2017
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 wri
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.