With all of the current shutdowns and economic worries, some artists are putting off plans for shows and approaching galleries. If you’re in that boat, you might be wondering what you can be doing to use this time productively. If you don’t already have a strong artist biography, this is the perfect opportunity to sit down and write one (or beef up an existing one).
Jason strongly encourages creating an artist bio as an early step for artists looking to approach galleries or market their own work. Having one ready to go as things are opening back up will put you in a great position.
I’ve worked as a writer for Jason for almost five years and produced dozens of artist biographies for Xanadu Gallery and Art Business Academy artists. I wrote a post about artist bios in 2017, but it mostly focused on the writing process, and I thought it could be useful to lay out a few basics about what professional artist biographies should look like.
How long should an artist bio be? It depends. We recommend having a 2-3 page biography to use for approaching galleries and for galleries to give to clients who are interested in your work. This length gives you a chance to go into details about your artistic journey and your art itself that just wouldn’t fit in a shorter narrative. If the biography is readable and interesting, potential buyers will eat it up. If they love your work, chances are they will want to know as much about you—and the story behind your work—as possible.
Some shows and venues ask for a much shorter biography, often between ½-1 page. If you show your work outside of traditional art galleries regularly, it’s not a bad idea to create a short version of your bio to have on hand.
You can use either version on your website, depending on your primary audience and the design of your site. Some platforms will allow you to post the short version but include a link to the long bio.
The standard 2-3 page artist biography should read a lot like a magazine feature, even if you’re writing about yourself. In your artist statement you’ll use first person, but your biography will tell your story in third person.
The first time you introduce yourself, use your full name, then use your last name for subsequent references.
Jaime Jameson is an abstract artist whose bursts of color in acrylic…
Jameson was born in Franklin, Tennessee…
An artist I worked with recently was worried about a magazine-style biography sounding too formal and stiff, but that doesn’t have to be the case. One way you can infuse the biography with your voice is to use quotations, just like a magazine article would.
Layout and Design
Match the look of your biography with the magazine-style content. Make sure you use a clean, readable font. Lay it out in columns and add a few well-placed photographs of you and your work.
If you have access to and experience with Adobe InDesign, you can use it to create a nice, professional layout. Microsoft Word can work for putting together something simple. Just make sure you save the final document as a PDF.
Artists tend to wear a lot of hats, but if yours don’t include writer and graphic designer and the idea of trying to write 2-3 pages about yourself sounds beyond painful, it’s not a bad idea to consider other options.
Maybe you have a friend or relative with these skills who would be willing to help. If not, you can look into hiring a freelancer or even using Xanadu Gallery’s biography services. More information on that here: http://www.xanadugallery.com/ArtistSvcs/Writing/index.php.
Artist Biography Questions?
Do you have any lingering questions about what makes an effective artist bio?
I appreciate how the size and style of biographies is explained. I have paid on 2 artist documents for a professional person saying she would write details well for my biography and statement. Maybe now I’ll write some of my own details to redefine for galleries to review. Thanks
Your artist biography should always be evolving. It is a good habit to re-write it every couple of years. Keep it as brief as possible, while keeping the readers attention, and including the necessary information. ie: name, place of birth, why your work is unique, or brief description of what you do , and in what medium, where you studied, exhibitions, notable collectors, awards and achievements. Finish by stating where you currently live and work. I think they are most effective when kept to a page ,to a page and a half long. Another more in-depth biography should outline things in more detail which a gallery will want to keep on hand as a sales tool for interested customers. This biography should be more detail in areas such as shows, and affiliations with art related boards and organizations. You should also have a separate “Artist’s Statement” which is best written in 1st person format. This statement can explain more about the inspiration for your work, and the mechanics of you “the artist”. Here you can use more flowery and expressive language, however keep your initial biography to the point.
Just checking—are you SURE about this 2-3 page magazine article thing? I’m a writer, so this will be fun for me, but I just never heard of it before—not that I’m so experienced, but I am a talk show host for NPR who reviews gallery shows, and I’m always (gratefully) receiving press packets. NObody has ever given me a self-written magazine article before. Can you link me up to some professional examples. I really want to know more about this practice.
I think the idea of a magazine style biography which includes illustrations is a great idea at any length. I see the wisdom in keeping it shorter, but the benifits of a lengthier text are undeniable to my mind. Although I realize that a lot of people focus on where an artist has shown, what critics have said about work and awards they may have received; I still believe who you are, how you think and what motivates your work is so much more important. And those stories which are the real animating aspects of your tale time time and space to share.
It seems to me that biographies are the sort of thing you share with those already interested in your work. Usually I am drawn to know more about an artist because their work has already worked it’s magic on my attention, not the other way around. So while I think my bios may be to long, cumbersome, and personal for some, but I relish the opportunity to tell even a part of my story, just as if I were standing in the gallery or the studio talking about the work with you. I suppose I’d rather be accused of too much rather than to little. Now I have to get to work revising that bio and especially add illustrations!
In my bio, should I refrain from mentioning any other accomplishments in non-art fields, even though they may be noteworthy. For instance, let’s say I’m an ex-astronaut (not far off) or won an OSCAR five years ago. I am thinking – NO, but just wanted to get an opinion.
As a new artist with no awards or notable art education, am I doomed to be unable to furnish a bio worthy at all?
If those impressive accolades inspire your work which I am sure they do, then mention them and make the connection to your art work.
Anything that makes you unique and interesting is gold, and guessing it informs your work too. Absolutely include other noteworthy achievements.
My Grandfather And My Father Were Both Artists…I Have Been Painting For Over 60 Years And Have Sold 100’s Of Paintings In My Lifetime. I Live In San Francisco Now And Have A Nice Studio !
How about providing a list of questions to think about when writing a bio? What information would a collector would most want to know?
Here are some questions we like to use as a jumping-off point when putting together a biography:
Where is your studio located? What are past locations of your studio?
Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where do you reside now?
Describe what your childhood was like.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be an artist? Was there a particular event or moment when you suddenly knew you wanted to be an artist?
Do you have any artistic connections in your family?
What is your educational background and artistic training?
What is the inspiration for your work?
Why did you choose your subject matter?
How did you develop your technique?
Who are your major influences?
What artist organizations, guilds, clubs, and/or societies do you belong to?
What awards or honors have you received?
What major shows or publications have you been featured in?
What have people said about your art?
What are 2-3 non-art related hobbies or interests?
If you are not a full time artist, describe your non-art work, and how you feel it relates to your art
As an artist, what is your mission?
Thank you for this list, It will sure help to build mine! I have my first solo show ever coming up in March, and need an in depth biography, and was really hesitant on what I should include.
I thought a bio was a list????? :
I have never heard of a magazine style bio. Is it the same as a feature story?
The list would be your resume. The bio would be similar to a feature story, yes.
A question for you: Two magazines, Art of the West and Watercolor Artists Magazine have written articles about me both in 2020. They are each 6 pages and include several photos. Can I print one or both of these as pdfs and use them for my bio? Or should I write my bio but also include the magazine articles in a package for galleries?
I think your question is a good one since I also have been in a magazine, Arabella. The article, that accompanied many photos of my paintings, read like a bio and was about 6 pages long. So, I am interested in the answer you received. Did you get one? If so, can you forward it onto me.
I keep an entire file of biographies ready to go, and every time one is requested, I have to write a new one. Each place has different requirements: some say 3 sentences, some say 100 words, some say 200-500 words, on and on. I tailor each one to the location requesting it. Some shows in my area focus on ag, some on the Sierra Nevada, some on the Central Valley of California; each one requires a little different type of information. No one has ever requested a several page bio, but if someone does, I will crank out yet another one!
This is by far among the hardest things I’ve had to do as an artist right behind asking gallery curators to consider my work. Artist statements and biographies when I’m done with them always seem like shameless, self-absorbed , self important horn rooting. Can you offer any advice on how to get over such feelings of embarrassment. Also, after I write and publish them I almost always realize I’ve overstated the importance of some piece of the story and overlooked some other critical experience. And with that the frustration just starts over again. Thoughts?
2-3 page bio seems to be too much. Galleries I deal with want 200 words, max!