In Writing 101, you learned what you need to gather to begin writing about yourself as an artist and your work. It all should come together in tandem with your vision and branding (like we talked about in Collateral 102: Understanding Your Visual Style) to create a well-rounded view of yourself as an artist.
To recap: even though you’re a visual artist, the writing piece so important. Getting the story behind your work increases the understanding of you and your art, the likelihood of a patron purchasing it, and the probability of them sharing it with others.
Look at this as an opportunity to clarify your thoughts. You’ll use this language on your website and in grant applications, press releases, brochures, and much more. Basically across all of your collateral materials and then some.
You’ve Done the Groundwork, Now Apply It
There are two basic subjects about which you’ll need to write. One is about your career and growth as an artist. The second is about your work overall and in smaller series or projects. This boils into pieces about you and your work, your artist statement, and an elevator pitch.
Bios (Short, Long, About Page)
Just about any and all writing about yourself is a biography. It’s a story of your life. In this case, it’s centered on your life as an artist and what you do.
A short bio is pretty aptly named. It’s a paragraph in length. If you were speaking this to someone, think about it as dropping the highlights of what you’ve done before they walk away. This should include a bit about what inspires you, an overview of your experience, and where you’ve exhibited your art. Also include where they can see more of your work, but do not get too cute with it. We don’t need a link with backslashes and dashes—your main web address is just fine.
A long bio takes the short bio and expands on it. Never saw that coming, huh?! This one can get a bit more long-winded than your short bio.
Since you have more time to “talk,” add more relevant details about your art: where did you train, what influences you, how did you get started. You’ll also want to share what you’re working on now or where your art is displayed. Finally, give a few more personal details. Where do you live and/or work? Where did you come from? (“When a mommy dog and a daddy dog love each other…” I digress.)
Your website must absolutely have an about page. Like I said in Writing 101 and above, when people see that an honest-to-goodness human person made this thing they are interested in, it increases the perceived value of the work. And as a professional artist, you want to sell your work, right?
Your about page may be a bio/artist statement hybrid. Of course, talk about your art, qualifications, and what inspires you, but also make sure there is a personal connection. Give some of your background and what you’re known for. The bottom line is to have fun with it and show some personality.
What to Include in Your Bios
Depending on the length and application, you may have some or all of these elements in your bios. At the bare minimum, you need your name, what you currently do, and your professional highlights. It’s perfectly okay, encouraged actually, to have different bios to highlight different professional activities. In that case, each will mention something about your other profession.
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, in programs for performances, and in press packets. Because you’re always evolving, so should your bio; review and revise it at least twice a year and most certainly after a big professional event.
When you’re writing your bio, remember that it’s your resume in paragraph form. It’s important to note: do not send your resume when a bio is requested unless you also send along ibuprofen for the reader’s accompanying head explosion caused by you not following the rules.
And please, write in the third person and use your preferred pronoun (he/she/they). No first person here.
Check these off as you go, and you’ll have a well-rounded view of yourself in your bios:
Place of origin and/or residence
Training and/or schooling—including informal training from apprenticeships, family instruction, or yourself
Other experiences that led you to your current profession—for example: was there a moment when you discovered or realized you were an artist?
Exhibits, performances, publications—including awards, grants, fellowships, residencies. Mention some, not all!
Other activities or employment, especially if it’s relevant to your work
An artist statement is information that introduces your work and describes your art. They’re important to explain your work and help people viewing it become familiar with your themes, aesthetic, and story. There’s some debate in the community if an artist statement is really necessary. “Shouldn’t the work stand on its own?” they ask. To that, I say, “You need an artist statement.”
Artist statements can be long or short, formal or informal. Overall, make it personal (bet you didn’t see that thread through this.) For the love of gluten-free beer, do not use an artist statement generator. Great for laughs, not great if you’re supposed to be a real human writing something.
When writing your artist statement, do these things.
Your statement must have a strong first sentence. It grabs readers and has to do a great deal of the work; your statement must be brief (one to three paragraphs, max), so every sentence counts. Be as straightforward as possible, though write something that’s more than just a description of your process. Describe the current direction of your work, particularly what is unique about your methods and materials.
Because you’re describing yourself and your work, write in the first person. As you evolve, so will your writing. Allow your artist statement to grow, change, and mature along with your work.
This piece must be strong, so follow good proofreading and editing guidelines. You should do this for anything, but in particular, write it then sit on it for a few days. This will allow yourself to have a fresh perspective and catch things you missed or awkwardly worded. It’s a good idea to have others read it and give feedback on it, too. The more, the merrier, but try for at least three different readers.
When writing your artist statement, do not do these things.
This is a strong, compelling piece of writing that ties your vision, mission, and work all together. It has to speak to many people, so don’t use “art speak” or jargon, tell your life story (that’s why you have a bio), over-explain, and generalize.
Avoid using too many pronouns. Just like no one wants to talk to that guy at a party who only starts sentences with, “I,” no one wants to read that statement either. Be creative with your sentence structure.
As this describes what you’re doing now, don’t use statements starting with “I hope to…” “I will…” or “I am trying to…” Say what you do with confidence! You can’t be everything to all people, so take a position and be proud of it.
And please, do not use quotes. You can only use them if they’re absolutely relevant to your work, and even then, think long and hard before you do.
The final thing you’ll be writing is your elevator pitch. This is the culmination of all the pieces and, quite arguably, is one of the hardest pieces to nail. You must communicate with clarity, confidence, brevity, and poise (no pressure or anything).
While you’ll be speaking this, you have to write it first. No, you cannot just “wing it.” Your elevator pitch is you wrapped into a short, clear statement that has to hit all the high points. It’s essential to write and practice it so aren’t stumbling over your words and forgetting important things when you need to bust it out.
In your elevator pitch, talk about what you do, not what you don’t do and share something you’re most proud of doing. Use descriptive “picture” words so your listener can visualize your art, but avoid sharing excessive details that will bore the listener. To that wit, do not use technical terms. Be as simple as you can.
Just like you’ll have different versions of your short bio based on the professional application, you have to be ready to adjust your elevator pitch according to your listener. Read the room and use the highlights they’re most likely interested in.
Since this is an “ice breaker” of sorts, be ready to continue the conversation after you deliver it. Sure, you’ve memorized this, but don’t act like you have. Continue to talk about your work with authority and confidence. Luckily, you’ve already written about yourself, so you have a lot of information in your memory to use.
Go Forth and Write About Yourself
Remember, you are the authority on your work. Your writing (and speaking) must sound like you. You must have passion behind every word or you’ll lose your audience. It also gives them a reason to care. When they care, they’ll learn more and go from being a person to a patron.
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