Ask a Gallery Owner | Should I Include Negative or Depressing Details of My Life in My Biography?

If you’ve been following me for long, you know that I am a huge advocate of the artist biography. I feel a well-written, nicely laid-out biography is a powerful tool that will help you build relationships with collectors and give you credibility. A biography allows a potential customer to become acquainted with your background and get to know you, even if the buyer can’t meet you in person.

ClarkBioOften, when I’m discussing biographies, I hear some variation of the question:

“Should I include negative or depressing details of my life in my biography?”

This is a thorny issue, and I would like to spend a few minutes today discussing it and, hopefully, provide some guidance that will help you decide how to handle unpleasant details in your biography.

First, let’s stipulate that many artists have lead extremely challenging lives. Many of you have overcome incredibly adverse circumstances or terrifying events to become the artists that you are today. Like it or not, those challenges have likely had a huge impact on your life and have helped shape who you are and your outlook on life. To a certain extent, your followers can’t truly understand you without understanding those events. However,¬†sharing your difficult background should be done with care – you wouldn’t want to shock or¬†depress a customer to the point that they no longer feel like buying your work.

The main purpose of your biography is to help people make a connection to you, to help them understand where your art comes from, and to help them move toward a purchase. With that in mind, if you are going to include references to difficult life experiences, you should strive to do so in a way that emphasizes not the problem, but rather the amazing way you overcame it and went on to become the amazing artist you are today.

Suggestions:

  1. Don’t go into too much detail. Talking about the specifics of your challenge might be too much for a reader to handle.
  2. Avoid shocking language. Words like “abuse,” “assault,” “murder,” etc. are all very heavy, challenging words. While it may be good to provide some insight into your life, shocking words have the power to completely transform a person’s perspective and thought process about you and your work.
  3. Keep the general narrative positive. While talking about your past can be powerful, focusing on the process you used to overcome your challenges will inspire. Share how the pain of your life has made your work better.

And finally,

All of your life experiences belong to you, and no one can force you to share what you don’t wish to. If a life experience is just too raw, distressing, or embarrassing, or if you just aren’t ready to face the pain, you should feel no obligation to do share. I know of many artists who have chosen to gloss over or forget about incredibly difficult experiences. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your life with the world – don’t. Focus instead on other aspects of your life that are positive.

Sample Biography

Read the biography we helped Carolee Clark create to get ideas of the types of details and formatting we suggest for your artist’s biography. Note that Carolee’s bio does not reference negative life experiences – this is just a sample to show you how useful a biography might be for you.

What Do You Think?

Have you shared your difficult life experiences in your biography? Why or why not? How has your biography helped you build better relationships with clients and make more sales?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

 

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

9 Comments

  1. Jason is correct when he advises not to get too detailed or lengthy with your past hardships or obstacles. Although it may be pertinent to how you got to where you are as an artist, the public is likely to get lost, somewhere along the way, or even be turned off if you get to wordy about your personal life. Focus on your technique and why you are creating what you create. At times there are things in an artist’s work which are not real apparent to the public. Point those things out, and the significance they play in your work without over stating the facts. That is what will bring more light on your commentary.

  2. Adversity is part of the “landscape” each person inhabits.
    It’s not so much the difficulties, life-changing events, etc. as it is what we do with them.
    Put yourself in the shoes of the listener for a moment.
    What is your reaction to someone giving you the date, time, location and blow by blow of the tragic event?
    If you are like me, you don’t really need or want to be there. They have not exactly dealt with it themselves.

    What would be your reaction to someone who in one or two quick sentences says something to the effect of, “This (fill in the blank) happened to me a while ago.” As a result, I’ve been able to do ____. No pity required and no time shift to the past.

    I’m listening to myself read what I just wrote. I ought to take my own advice.

    1. That’s definitely the best approach to this kind of info, but even then I would ask “does this enhance or detract from the primary narrative of my bio?”

  3. I process much of my personal adversity through poetry. What I’ve done in showing art is to post a poetic piece next to the visual so that the emotions evoked complement each other. I’m still learning what people want to hear in a bio. Process seems to interest potential buyers, either in conceiving the art or executing.

  4. I think artist biographies are boring most of the time, and that artists should stick mostly to writing about their work and what informs their practice, and only include personal details if it is relevant to the content of their work. “I started painting at a young age” and “I switched from watercolors to acrylics” and “My family had paintings hung in their house”, etc. etc. That’s all very boring stuff. Don’t care. Don’t care.

    1. They may be boring to us because we’ve heard the details in other artist bios, but a collector isn’t coming at it from the same angle you are – they want to know about the creator’s background. A well-written biography is an awesome tool for an artist and for galleries.

  5. I agree that a well written background helps create a connection to the potential clients and to your audience. As for the negative details, there are obviously some circumstances where beg for a fuller story, as in the case of my artist friend Stephanie who had an accident that left her a quadrapelegic, which is not a fact she can hide.She has trained her self to use what little muscle power she has left to paint horses, which she loves and she is also a rider, despite her situation. So this is a remarkable and inspiring story, as tragic as her accident was. It made me want her work more not less. But normally, I’d advise against it , not to be dishonest, or to hide anything, but to be considerate and wise is to stress the good in your life.

  6. Is it just me, or is this really long? I had no idea I should go into such depth. I, personally couldn’t read the whole thing, just too much, although I’m sure it has lots of pertinent info. I’ll go back and real it all, later and see how I feel then. Maybe it’s because I’m very visual, I have a hard time concentrating on lots of text.

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