Artist Biography Basics | Creating an Effective Bio

Writing artist biography

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.

Length

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.

Magazine Style

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.

Example:

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.

Overwhelmed?

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?

About the Author: Mara Blackwood

Mara Blackwood is the executive editor of RedDotBlog

4 Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. Mara,
    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.
    Thanks,
    Sandybrownjensen@gmail.com

  4. 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!

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