The Artist Statement & Bio: Q&A

MonaLisaWhat’s the difference between a resume, a bio, and an artist statement?

Basically, your resume is a skeletal look at your training, background, education, accomplishments, etc. Reading a resume is like reading a phone book–boring! It serves a purpose, though–a very specific purpose…to get you that position or job. You want to include everything pertinent.

The bio, on the other hand, is a concise and well-constructed summary of things like education, influences, background, techniques, and overall message or artistic viewpoint, but it should be captivating and infused with your personality. This can also include where you are from, credentials, significant recognition… It’s the most basic facts about you as an artist. Include what you most want people to know.

It should be written in a flowing paragraph and be infused with your personality. A bio isn’t meant to explain your entire background and all the details. It’s impossible to do that in so few words and most bios run about 200 words or so. Instead, it should paint a picture. You get to choose how you say everything and/or whether to leave something out entirely.

The statement is a one page overview of your message as an artist, why you create what you do, your methods, your techniques, your influences, your inspiration. That sort of thing. It’s your story and your message. You have to read what you wrote and feel “Yes! That’s who I want to be!” with your statement. The clearer you can be with that message, the more likely people will want to engage because they sense and resonate with its integrity. The statement is your chance to really share your message with the world and explain who you are as an artist and what it is you want your art to say.

I don’t even know where to begin. Where do I start?

A great place to start is with some questions to help prime the pump of your creativity. What is your message? What makes you different? What are your achievements? I also highly recommend visiting other artist sites and having a read through their bios and statements. It will help you know what is possible, what you want to emulate, and more importantly, what you don’t! It might also be helpful to start a conversation with a friend and simply talk about who you are as an artist. Record the conversation or have him/her take notes you can refer to later when writing.

I tend to ramble when I write. How am I supposed to write something that’s only 250 words?!

If a person has a tendency to go on and on, the best place to start might be doing just that. Purge everything onto paper. Then go back in and find the highlights…circle the most important points and start narrowing and zeroing in. Learn the art of combining your sentences so you can say as much as possible with as few words as possible.

I’m concerned about coming across as big-headed or fake. It’s just so hard to toot my own horn!

Everyone I know who has ever had to write a bio had to overcome the feelings you’re talking about. It’s a rite of passage! We have to get over the idea that we are shameless promoters when we share our gifts. That construct has got to go! Unless you can afford to hire a crackerjack publicist who’ll talk you up, you’ve got to learn to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to own your amazing and unique talents and proudly share them. No one ever got anywhere from hiding their light. Writing your bio in 3rd person would be a good way for you to break through this block. In fact, as a writing exercise, you might even try going purposefully overboard with the self-aggrandizement just to get that fear out of your system (or the opposite…write a pitiful paragraph about how much you suck compared to others and then consider if even you would want to buy your own art!). The fact is, we have to self-promote. We have to believe in ourselves.

What’s 3rd person?

Writing in 3rd person is writing your bio as if someone else was writing it. You don’t refer to yourself as “I”. You use your name…Joe Smith was born with a paintbrush in his mouth…  I recommend artists have a 3rd person bio and a 1st person bio (in which you do refer to yourself…I was born with a paintbrush in my mouth…) because you’ll find different uses for each. I have a 1st person, a 3rd person, a 50, 100 and 200 length bio at the ready at all times, and even these I have to adjust to fit every occasion.

What are some bio don’ts?

Don’t get complicated and wordy. Too much information is just going to overwhelm your reader. Here’s a great article by Phil Johnson on some don’ts.

My background is all over the place, and I’ve only been painting for a little while. How do I write a bio?

Don’t sweat your former jobs as a waitress or gas station attendant. And don’t worry if you haven’t had a dozen exhibitions or awards. These things are not essential ingredients. Don’t see a diverse background as a liability; they can actually inform your art and inspire your artistic eye. You can really use your unique life experience to pull your audience in.

What makes a good bio or good artist statement?

Keep things to the point, combine your sentences to say more with fewer words, get constructive feedback, check for grammar and spelling, keep track of where you’ve posted or shared your statements in case you need to update them, and have several versions and lengths at your disposal for different purposes. Remember, the bio is factual but personable. The statement can be more flowery and poetic (but not too much).

What makes an effective artist statement is that it fits its purpose. The statement on your website might be different than the statement you use at an exhibition which might be different than one you use when entering a competition. They’ll all have common root elements, of course: your message, who you are as an artist.

Keep your statement to one page. Any more than that and you risk pontificating and losing some if not all of your audience in this day and age of soundbites and short attention spans. The thing is, make that one page SING. I abhor confusing language and things that try too hard to sound important or intellectual. It’s far better to write from the heart and clarify/distill your message as an artist.

Overall, with both the bio and statement, the message is what matters. Words are our power to influence and open minds. They are our means to say what is truly important. If you focus on that and let the rules and contradictory suggestions go, you’re going to have something special.

Any final tips?

Before you post, print or send your bio or statement anywhere, have someone (or several someones) read it, fellow artists if possible. Friends can be helpful but sometimes, they are overly positive and love everything. Find people who can lend a constructively critical eye.

Remember, you may have written something interesting, but if it is full of misspelled words or run-on sentences, it’s not going to make the impression you were hoping for. So always proof your work.

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