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What Art Dealers Expect From Your Artist Resume: Part 3 - your short biography

by Brian Sherwin on 3/1/2012 10:17:43 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 17,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

As mentioned in the first two articles of this artist resume advice series -- your artist resume will be 'broken down' by several headings that help to categorize your information. Some art dealers will provide specific guidelines when requesting an artist resume -- others won't. The goal of this series is to give you -- the artist -- some ideas of what art dealers may expect. (Note: A lot of my suggestions are based on conversations I've had with art dealers over the years). In Part 1 I offered advice about the 'Name' header. In Part 2 I offered advice about 'Contact Information'. In the following article I will discuss the 'Short Biography' header. (Note: this is one of the sections that can get 'ugly' fast discussion-wise. If you choose to comment -- keep it civil).


Some art dealers will request that you include a short biography within the context of your artist resume. Your short biography should generally be placed under 'Contact Information' -- if it is requested by an art dealer. That said, if the art dealer does not offer specific artist resume guidelines you may have to go with your 'gut' as to how to approach this section. The art dealers I've asked tend to agree that a short biography should be included on your artist resume in some form.


Keep in mind that artist resumes tend to be a tad more carefree compared to a resume you would use for the purpose of seeking employment. (Note: That does not mean that typos are acceptable). In other words, art dealers -- at least those I've spoken with -- are not going to automatically throw your artist resume aside just because you included an unexpected header. That said, they may toss it aside if something desired is left out (more on that later). Thus, in this context it does not hurt to include a short biography. However, remember that the idea is to keep your artist resume as brief as possible.


As implied earlier, there are different ways to approach the short biography header of your artist resume if you choose to include it (I, for one, think you should include it). I have offered two suggestions below:


Suggestion #1: You can break your short biography down into sub-categories. For example, you will want to have a category under Short Biography for Born (include year, city and country), Age (you already listed the year -- you might as well be upfront about your age.), Current Location (city and country)... and so on. This option is rather straight forward -- and maintains the overall structure of the artist resume from one heading to the next.


Suggestion #2: You can offer an extremely brief paragraph that includes general biographical information about who you are as an artist. In other words, you will include the same information provided in Suggestion #1 -- but present it in paragraph form along with other information about who you. If you are not 'big' on writing you may want to stick with Suggestion #1.


An alternative: Some artists will combine Suggestion #1 with Suggestion #2. In other words, you can list a few categories -- such as Born and Age -- followed by additional biographical information presented within the context of a sentence or two. Remember -- keep it brief.


I must stress that most of the art dealers I've spoken with prefer Suggestion #1 simply because it makes for an easy read. It also offers specific information that may help the art dealer decide if you are a good 'fit' for his or her art gallery (Note: This is where this section can get 'ugly' comment-wise... but it must be discussed). Like it or not... some art dealers have specific conditions in mind pertaining to what their clients desire. Point blank, some collectors/clients may only be interested in collecting art created by artists from within a specific age range OR from a specific country. That may not be "fair" depending on your view of it -- but keep in mind that the art dealer knows the collecting habits/traits of his or her clients... and most WILL cater to them without a second thought.


The art dealer may not be upfront about these specifics -- especially if it is an open call. That is not to say that he or she is intentionally wasting your time. After all, in researching the art gallery (and you should do a lot of research before submitting an artist resume) you will likely be able to tell if age and country will be a factor in exhibit/representation consideration. Point blank -- if you are 25 years old you may not want to get your hopes up if all of the exhibited/represented artists associated with the art gallery are over 40 years of age. Furthermore, if the majority of the artists associated with the art gallery are originally from China... well... it is probably a good bet that the art dealer prefers artists from China. (Note: I'm not saying that is always the case... but it is what it is).


I can hear it now -- "Age (or where the artist is from originally) should have nothing to do with it if the art is great...". On a personal level I agree (and I'm certain that most art dealers would agree as well on a personal level)... as for business -- and remember that most art galleries are a private business -- the art dealer knows his or her clientele better than you. For some art collectors the age of the artist -- or where the artist is from -- is an important factor. That is not to suggest that those art collectors loathe art created by artists outside of those requirements -- but for their art collections... they know what they want AND the art dealer wants to keep his or her gallery doors open.


It is best to be upfront about said information from the get-go within the context of your artist resume just incase the art dealer does, for example, consider age and country. After all, the art dealer will likely find out anyway if the information is crucial for his or her client base -- not to mention that he or she (or gallery staff) may toss your artist resume aside if those factors -- missing from your artist resume -- are considered important.


I want to stress that I'm not suggesting that all art dealers want to know your age, country and so on for the reasons mentioned above. That said, some do. That is a reality of the gallery world -- and it is a fact that some art collectors seek artists based on age or where the artist is from. Art dealers WILL cater to the preferences of their regular clientele (business is business... and the art dealer has bills to pay) -- thus, if the art gallery collector base is looking for specific requirements based on age and location... you can guarantee that the art dealer will be thinking on those same terms regardless if he or she is upfront about it or not.


Again, it is best to be upfront from the get-go. If age and country doesn't matter to the art dealer (or his or her clientele) it won't matter if you list said information -- and if it does matter to the art dealer (and his or her clientele)... he or she WILL find out OR simply toss your artist resume aside if the information is missing. My words may seem harsh... but remember that this is all based on what art dealers have told me over the years. Art collectors will always have preferences... be it style of art, age of artist, whatever… and art dealers -- in general -- will do everything they can to keep regular buyers happy.


In addition to the above, I want to stress that I realize that many older artists are extremely wary of ageism within the art world (I'm not fond of it either) -- and that there are younger artists who want to appear older out of concern that they will be viewed as 'too young' by art dealers. Young or old -- writing your artist resume is NOT the time to be concerned about your age. Just be upfront. Refer to what I said above if needed -- and repeat. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier -- you will have an idea of what you may be getting into simply by researching the art gallery in advance... which is something you SHOULD have done before submitting an artist resume in the first place.


Next on the artist resume chopping-block... my suggestions for listing Education.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

What Art Dealers Expect From Your Artist Resume: Part 1 - your name

What Art Dealers Expect From Your Artist Resume: Part 2 - your contact information

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art gallery tips | artist resume advice | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction 

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Kenn Jensen
just a question, Is there, in your experiance an age that that gallery owners like and if so what is the range? If a person is older like I am is that a drawback as it is in looking for a job in the job market?

Brian Sherwin
Kenn -- It can be a drawback depending on the area and other factors. For example, prior to 2008 there was a huge push by galleries -- specifically in big scenes like NY -- to snatch younger artists up. That said, when the bubble popped -- so did that attitude... and dealers -- in general -- started to embrace a more mature set of artists, if you will.

The best advice I can give is to research the galleries in your area. Look at each gallery -- then look at the ages of the artists represented by the gallery. That will give you an idea for each gallery that you are interested in.

If the gallery artists are all twenty something... one can assume the dealer is looking for younger artists (and the gallery most likely brands itself as a space for emerging art). If the gallery artists are 40 and up... one can assume the dealer is looking for older artists (and likely with decades of experience behind them -- but that is not always the case).

There are also differences depending on the direction of art. For example, I've found that with contemporary art there is more concern about age closing doors compared to galleries that cater to more traditional forms of art. Though I'm sure someone will disagree with me on that.

I'm not saying that I agree with it on a personal level... but there will always be art dealers who are interested in younger artists -- just as there will always be art dealers who like to focus on older artists. The same can be said of art collectors.

I don't want to 'paint' a bad image here. After all, there are many art dealers who clearly don't care about age -- representing artists from several age groups. If you find a gallery that has living artists from ages 25 to 60, for example, you can be fairly certain that the art dealer (and the gallery collector base) does not care so much about age.

Ageism is a problem in the art world overall. That said, we also have to remember that art galleries -- in general -- are a private business. They will show what they want. Art museums and the like... that is an entirely different situation...

Brian Sherwin
Kenn -- I forgot to say... based on my experience of visiting art galleries in general. It often seems that artists between 25 and 53 are the most likely to be present. A lot of them -- at least out of the galleries I've visited -- tend to focus on artists 35 and up. Now if the gallery has branded itself as an 'emerging space' -- you can almost bet money that the represented artists will be approx. 33 and younger.

Keep in mind that these are just numbers I'm throwing out while reflecting on my experiences -- hardly scientific. Again, when researching a gallery... look at the age range. That will give you a jumping point.

Nina Allen Freeman
Now I am discouraged - I am in my 60's and somehow thought galleries chose artists based on the quality of their art. I might as well give up thinking I might find a gallery to carry my work and just keep showing my work locally as I have been and in competitions.
I am well aware of ageism in the work place - fear that the worker will not be able to keep up the quality because of illness and infirmity. Unfair but it happens. Some of the best and most prolific artists I know are in their 80's.
Thanks for your insights Brian.

Brian Sherwin
Nina -- Don't be discouraged. That was not my intention. I suppose one could say that research is important here. I don't want to make it sound like all art dealers are looking for specific age groups -- but some do based on their collector base. That is just a reality of the market.

As for my gallery experiences and the trends I've noticed age-wise... do keep in mind that the majority of galleries I've visited are located in Chicago, New York City and St. Louis... all three are unique beasts within the gallery world -- just as all three share some rather annoying trends gallery-wise.

Again, not all art dealers consider age. That said, business-wise if the dealer attracts collectors that are looking for a specific age-range... he or she will likely cater to it. That issue is worth considering when researching galleries -- and debating overall.

Brian Sherwin
Nina -- I'll also point out that when I collect art I don't consider age, country or other factors like that. I consider what speaks to me -- and that is all that matters. That said, I do understand why some collectors have specific desires.

I know others who do look for specific requirements when collecting art. They are still looking for art that calls to them -- but include other factors that may -- or may not -- increase the impact/value of their collection. Again, I don't think it is necessarily wrong that some collectors have specific desires when collecting art.

For example, one friend -- though she enjoys a wide range of art -- only collects examples of Pop Surrealism... and only examples from the United States by artists in their twenties.

Part of her choice is pure economics -- the artwork tends to be more affordable compared to other more established artists. Part of her choice is the desire to have a collection that focuses on something from the 'here and now' -- a little slice of history displayed on her walls... a collection of artists from a movement she enjoys involving artists from her generation.

Nina Allen Freeman
I have always felt that if I continue to work toward making good art then the sales will follow. So far, my patrons have found me when they like what I do, but I am interested in finding ways to get it out in the public more.
Can't do anything about my age - not willing to change my style or subjects, and not sure yet whether a gallery is the way to go or not. I have been in them before, usually with poor sales and representation. I think I may be picking the wrong ones to be in.

Barbara J Carter
Thank you for these articles, Brian. This is very helpful information!

But I do have one concern. The city you were born in is a security question on some websites. I'm not sure I'm willing to put that in a public document. State, OK, that's no secret, but not city.

Thank you for not sugarcoating this Brian. It is part of the business. Art folks forget that commercial galleries are a business. They are not cultural centers. Arguments that work well against museums won't work against a private business.

The owner of the gallery should have the right to decide who is shown. If gallery patrons want art from people born in Spain the owner should not be expected to show just as many from other places to fit some politically correct box.

Kay Hale
well it is a harsh reality that ageism exists in the workplace. I spent over 2 years looking for a little job to help pay the studio rent and my own bills and figured I was never going to work again! I have worked since I was 12. Quit one job 2 years ago because the young man who managed the store was a beast. Figured I was better off not working than putting up with ridicule. Little did I know that I had aged out of the work force at 56! Last year I managed to land the very best job I have ever had. It doesn't pay well but the job is fun and the co-workers are a great bunch. (I work as a bookstore lady at a National Monument). It is seasonal but they wanted an older person who was reliable and wouldn't spend all day doing her nails, siting on the counters and flirting with the visitors!!!
I figure that there must be some galleries out there that also want the serious older emerging artist!! That could be a whole new genre..older emerging artist gallery....hmmm

Marian Fortunati
More great information, Brian. Thanks, also for the links so we can again refer to your previous ideas!!
I'm bookmarking this one for when I really have time to sit down, absorb this and get to work!!!

Bill Harrison
This is the official bio on my website. My work speaks for itself... if anyone wants/needs more info, they're welcome to talk to one of my galleries.

Bill Harrison is a fat, balding, bearded and incredibly handsome artist of international repute. As every schoolchild knows, his seminal 1912 work “Nude Descending Staircase with Cheeseburger” is credited with starting both the Cubist movement and modern-day advertising. His giant white “St Louis Arch” still welcomes travelers to the Gateway of the West, though few people know that it's constructed entirely of Silly String and the filling from Hostess Twinkies, and weighs only 42 pounds.

His connection to the arts goes back to his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, where he grew up in the same neighborhood as Titian, Rembrandt and Picasso. And although history books make no note of it, as a young apprentice he actually held the ladder for Michelangelo during the painting of the Sistine Chapel. "Beel!' Michelangelo would yell, "You queeta shakin' de damn ladder, eh?!!"

Although his fame as an artist is worldwide, many people are unaware that he is also a prodigious inventor. Among his more notable creations are the cathode ray tube, the Hubble Orbiting Telescope, Daylight Savings Time, and cheese.

Because of the widespread publicity that resulted from his heroic victory over the last Ice Age, he has adopted a somewhat lower profile; while he appreciated the popular movement to have him bronzed, he considered it somewhat premature. And he is still the only man ever to have painted a self-portrait for the cover of Time Magazine's “Person of the Year” issue.

He now lives in his hidden mountaintop fortress in the remotest regions of Naperville, Illinois with his gorgeous wife Joan, the former “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” and his two boxers; “Hank, The Wonder Dog,” and “Sonny, The Other Wonder Dog.” He is currently worshipped as a god on several islands in the South Pacific, and in our opinion, justifiably so.

Donn Robillard
I appreciate so much the information you share. It is truly a help.

Some of these comments come off bitter. Several reflect ageism against younger people. A young artist can be serious. I don't think younger people have it any easier with galleries.

Ageism at the workplace is not acceptable. Some of you are forgetting that a commercial gallery is not a workplace. Do you think art collectors are prejudice if they prefer work by a younger generation??? I don't think a dealer is prejudice for knowing what his/her clients want.

Brian Sherwin
Everyone -- The big question... can art collector preference be considered prejudice? Imagine that I'm an art dealer... and it just so happens that my clients prefer artists from a specific generation. If I cater to that -- and I probably should if I want to keep my gallery doors open -- is it really ageism... or just good business practice? Thoughts?

Remember -- as others have pointed out -- we are talking about commercial galleries here... not cultural centers. Should the owner of a private business -- in this context -- be held to specific standards no matter what he or she knows is best for his or her business? Discuss.

Brian Sherwin
Bill -- you just made my day. :P

Kay Hale
Thanks Jack. And Yes I think gallery owners should do what is best for their business and the artists they represent. I was commenting on ageism because it stings..but I do believe you move on and find that gallery that wants your art..even if you are old as dirt!!!

jack white
I like to teach artist to write a sizzling bio. Make the reader want to have dinner with you. Make your life seem interesting.

K. Henderson
Interesting. I never mention my age and it has never occurred to me that I should or shouldn't. I guess the fact that my resume covers 30 years (or does it? I keep getting rid of Older shows and awards as new ones come along) I assume galleries know I'm not 20 years old. I also don't know that galleries actually care about your resume. They just want good work that they can sell. They are more interested in a steady worker than award.

And Brian, think about galleries that only carry art work by American Indians or other groups. Racist? You bet. Galleries that only carry women artists. Sexist. Yep. So why would some galleries/collectors not be Age-ists?

Carol Wontkowski
Your recent articles on "What Art Dealers Expect From Your Artist Resume" are terrific. I'm fairly new to the art world and find this series particularly helpful. I've had some success with galleries but didn't realize some of the information I may be omitting or revealing may be detrimental to me in the art dealer's decision. Thank you very much for sharing, Brian. I look forward to the subsequent articles.

jack white
K. Henderson,
There are no galleries that just carry women's work. There are a few galleries that only sell men's art. Women get the short stick in art.

The Native American Galleries are to protect those buying to not get fakes. Having sold in Santa Fe and Taos for 40 years I understand the Native American market. People who collect want to be assured they are getting the real thing. It has nothing to do with them being racist.

There are very few African Artist in art galleries. Is that racist or do they not enter the field in large numbers. No more than 1 percent of African art is shown in U.S. Galleries. Whose fault is that?

Nina, I'm 80 and I don't feel shunned by galleries. My dear friend and master artist A. D. Greer was selling strong when he was 97. The Maak's are 87 or older and they still do gallery shows. Galleries love doing business with mature artist, because they know we will work with them, supply them our best work and not complain when things are slow.

To ALL...having a nice short bio that gives a lot of information is essential. Galleries need to have something to give interested parties. DO NOT say, International Known, Famous, Well Known, those are puffery words and turn people off. Clients are not interested in your blue ribbons. They want to know about you. As I said earlier, write a sizzling bio that after folks read they think I'd like to get to know this person.

Women, be honest about your age and don't use your college photo if you are 50 years old. Keep your photos current. We take several photos of Mikki each year so her client base can see her mature. Age is a fact, botox can't change the truth. (smile) Age is part of who we are.

Brian, thanks for this vital topic.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Good conversation... and great to have these informative bits about an artist resume.

I think a gallery should be able to carry the work that they can sell. Period! An artist should do the research and find the right fit no matter age, race, location, etc.

K. Henderson
I have participated in shows at the gallery run by the NAWA. This is a women only gallery. I'm sure there are more out there. There are certainly dealer, organizations and museums that are for women only.
Racism = a policy based upon doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement. Any gallery that picks their artists but race is BY DEFENITION rascist.

I'm not making a judgment, good or bad, on these. I'm just saying that just like the rest of the world, there are galleries that choose not on the merit of your work, but other factors.

K. Henderson
I have participated in shows at the gallery run by the NAWA. This is a women only gallery. I'm sure there are more out there. There are certainly dealer, organizations and museums that are for women only.
Racism = a policy based upon doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement. Any gallery that picks their artists but race is BY DEFINITION racist.

I'm not making a judgment, good or bad, on these. I'm just saying that just like the rest of the world, there are galleries that choose not on the merit of your work, but other factors.

Susan Roux
You make a very good point. Galleries are often specific about what they carry due to their collectors. Whether it's age or country or medium or subject matter. Artists should keep this in mind when rejections come. They tend to take it so hard, that their work is unacceptable, when in fact it could be another matter all together. A rejection from a gallery is not a slam on your art. More often it is a matter of specifics like the above mentioned age, country etc.

Brian Sherwin
K. Henderson -- The article about listing exhibits will be posted soon. It is not necessarily a bad thing, as you imply, to focus on recent exhibits (and awards for that matter) if you have been exhibiting for decades. Again, more on that soon.

Brian Sherwin
Jack -- I agree about making the bio sizzle... depending on the context. Obviously the biography on your artist website is going to be lengthy -- and written differently -- than the short bio in this context. The artist resume should be brief and to the point.

Carol -- I'm glad that you are enjoying the series. I should have the series wrapped up this week... so keep your eyes open. :)

Brian Sherwin
K. Henderson -- I, for one, don't enjoy racial descriptors/labels, if you will, when it comes to art and artists (Obviously it depends on the context). For example, if an artist is black -- and lives in the US -- he or she will most likely be stamped as 'African American Artist' by the majority of art writers (whether he or she wants that label or not).

Why can't the artist just be stamped with 'artist'? I think the same thing when I see 'Hispanic Artist'. These labels, if you will, tend to lump artists together based on race alone. That is not necessarily a bad thing -- but it can have a downside as well.

For example, when we think of the 'Hispanic artist' most of us probably already have an image in mind of what to expect within the context of the artwork based on how 'Hispanic Art' has been branded by high profile galleries / museums. We have an image in our head based on that history / those traditions. We expect to see it in the work... even though the work in question may have little to do with the label stamped upon it, if you will.

With the above in mind, the artist in question may be distant from that history / those traditions... either by choice, how he or she was raised, and so on. In that sense, the lumping is not exactly fair... and it does open some ethical questions.

Those are authoritative words in my opinion -- describing what we should see in the artwork before we have had a chance to view it. It is a form of racial profiling if you think about it -- and how those labels are used in the wider art world.

Donald Fox
Personally, I think racial descriptors have no place anywhere - the same for religious affiliation, political persuasion, or sexual orientation. None of these has anything to do with making art unless the artist chooses to make the work about those specific issues. If an artist should choose to include any of this information, then he/she is making a public statement which, as you say Brian, may carry unintended weight and/or consequences. Labels, once applied, are often more limiting than beneficial.

Brian Sherwin
Donald -- Exactly. I'll add that the downside of embracing labels is something artists -- especially those just starting out -- should really think about. After all, the twenty-something artist may not have the same political mentality, if you will, five years down the road. Social / political attitudes change. You don't want to be boxed in by labels.

Bill ... I think I love you :-)

Prejudice is everywhere. You can't avoid it. There will always be someone who has certain feelings towards you because of your age, nationality, skin color, accent, clothes style, musical tastes, food preferences ... just about everything.

We are old English hippies in America, a bit tree-huggy and vegetarian. We tend not to be very conventional. Some people think we're downright weird :) Fine. We are who we are and don't want to change. We'll adapt, but not fundamentally change. The only way to deal with any sort of prejudice is to ignore it.


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