New Year, new biography
Why Write A Bio?
An artist bio is often the first piece of information available to readers and collectors on the #Cafdgg website, and as such it offers you a chance to frame your practice and give collectors a reason to want to learn more.
Bios also drive search engine optimization (SEO). When returning search results, Google and other search engines privilege written content that is “sticky” (i.e. readers spend time on the page and continue browsing), so providing an engaging, well-written bio is a great way to increase discoverability.
These are the three cornerstones—tried, tested, and used today by the writers at Artsy website—of the perfect artist bio:
- The bio should summarise the your practice—including medium(s), themes, techniques, and influences.
- The bio should open with a first line that encapsulates, as far as possible, what is most significant about yourself and your work, rather than opening with biographical tidbits, such as where you went to school, grew up, etc. For example: John Chamberlain is best known for his twisting sculptures made from scrap metal and banged up, discarded automobile parts and other industrial detritus.
- The profile should be between 80 and 140 words. The ideal bio is ~120 words, though a tightly written 80-word bio is preferable to a longer bio that includes repetition and filler sentences.
Why 120 Words?
Audience engagement researchers at museums have found that visitors lose interest in wall labels after 150 words. leave your reader wanting more by limiting your word count to ~120 words. At most, a reader should take away one or two key points.
Questions to consider when writing about your practice
- What medium/media do you work in?
- What is your style like?
- What work or works can you talk about that will give a visual description of the above qualities?
- Send me good quality photos of your work for your webpage gallery on #Cafdgg
- What are common or characteristic themes depicted in your work?
- What subjects drive the works or provide underlying themes?
- Why is your work important?
- What impact have you made on history, or what precedent have you set in art-making?
- What other artists have impacted on your practice?
- How do you redefine a medium or media?
- Who are your peers or teachers?
- In what political or technological climate are you working in? I.e. what historical or political events might have influenced your work?
- What areas of the arts or popular culture do you incorporate into your work?
- What other areas of the arts or popular culture do you engage with? E.g. creating theatrical sets, costumes, music videos, etc.
- Can any of the above questions be answered in a brief (1–2 sentences), engaging quotation from the artist?
Most Common Mistakes in Artist Bios
Readers do not respond positively to unsubstantiated claims about an artist’s import (e.g. “Artist X is considered one of the most important artists of the post-war period,” or, “Artist Y is widely regarded for her beautiful work”). Most readers will see right through trumped-up language and, even worse, may become skeptical of the rest of your biography. The best way to maximise the power of a good bio is to try to educate, not “hard-sell,” your reader. Numerous studies have shown that the hard sell doesn’t work, especially for younger audiences (read: tech-savvy collectors), who respond most positively to simple and authentic messages.
The “laundry list of accomplishments”
Keep exhibition highlights and accolades to a minimum (readers who are interested can refer to the artist’s CV). Impressive as these may be, these laundry lists are tedious to read in prose format. They also take up precious space, which you could otherwise devote to a real discussion of your practice.
There are certainly instances where it makes sense to include one particularly outstanding prize or exhibition, for example, an artist’s inclusion in the Venice Biennale. In this case, try to find a way to naturally include mention of the distinction in the normal flow of the text.
Misplaced academic jargon and pseudo-theoretical writing are almost universally despised. Instead of trying to impress other curators, visitors, academics, and galleries, focus on your audience of new collectors who may be completely unfamiliar with your work. Readers want to glean information from your writing, and the best way to do that is to use simple language. A good rule of thumb is to impart one idea per sentence.
Spelling and Punctuation
Nothing undermines the credibility of your content more quickly than spelling and grammar mistakes. When writing, some best practices are:
Make sure you have the spell check function turned on, and that your language preferences are set to English
Have at least one other person, if not two, read over your text
Don’t forget to put exhibition titles in quotations (e.g. “Contemporary Arts Fair Discover:Gather:Give”), and artwork titles in italics (e.g. Sunrise, 2019)
Letting bios get stale
For artists with rapidly evolving careers, be sure to check back every year, or before new exhibitions, to re-assess what the most important aspects of your practice are and edit your bio accordingly.