How to Write a Visual Artist Biography

Artist statements are informational and provide direction for viewers as to the artist's philosophy.
Artist statements are informational and provide direction for viewers as to the artist's philosophy. (Image: Jackson Pollock Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fair use))

An artist's biography is, in many ways, a marketing tool for the visual artist. It helps viewers, curators and others understand the artist's approach and personal philosophy. Usually one to two paragraphs long, the statement does not need to give away every nuance of an artist's work, but rather should provide an overview of the artist's purpose, achievements, background and experience. Every statement is and should be different, but there are certain things to keep in mind when writing any visual artist's biography.

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Consider what motivates you as an artist---why do you create your art? Thinking in these terms guides you toward the opening statement, which should include specific things, ideas or people that inspire your visual art. Matt Siber, a photographer and professor, cautions against confusing style with concept; in other words, if you are a painter whose work is abstract, but you are inspired to paint by performance art in New York, be sure to mention your inspiration and not just that your work is abstract.

Think about what sets you apart as a visual artist. What are you doing that no one else is doing? This could be anything from a technique you use or are experimenting with to your particular style. Look for something to draw on that will convey the message that you are not just another painter or photographer, but someone unique who is one to watch.

Determine the message you are attempting to convey. If you do not have a "message," think about what an ideal reaction to your art would be. For instance, Michelangelo's work may inspire a sense of awe, but what do Andy Warhol's soup cans inspire? Sometimes there is a statement or message (like consumerism) behind the work; other times the goal is more of a shared appreciation. A landscape painter portraying the Blue Ridge Mountains may simply want to share the beauty she sees or the emotional impact they make.

If you are writing your visual artist statement for a particular exhibit or body of work, discuss your intentions, process and any themes you may have used. What, specifically, sets this group apart from others in its genre? From other works or exhibits you have displayed? How are you evolving creatively?

Mention why you use the medium (or media) of your choice. What is it that draws you to photography or sculpture? Does watercolor allow you to express certain ideas that oil painting doesn't? Alternatively, discuss why you are a landscape artist or only paint pictures of pink cats. Thinking about what draws you to your particular subject matter or medium will encourage your viewers to consider these points when looking at (and interpreting) your work.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be specific. Vague statements that could be true for many artists convey little about you personally; specificity can go a long way toward personalizing and professionalizing your artistic statement. Be confident. Author Caroll Michels advises against using phrases like "I am trying to..." and "I hope to..." as they can convey doubt or insecurity (see Resources). Instead, use direct wording. Avoid including personal details unless they relate specifically to your art or development as a visual artist.
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