Thursday, May 28, 2009

The art business waltz, lesson 2

Continuing with our theme of fashionable 18th century portrait painters, tonights post will be illustrated with the work of Englishman, George Romney. 1734-1802.
For some of you this old art is quite familiar and for others it it not. If it is not I hope to kindle within you an interest in our wonderful legacy of great art . Images of course provided by

As I mentioned yesterday there are some things you will need to have before you are ready to call on a gallery. The first was a business card and I have discussed that. The second thing you will need is a bio. Actually you are going to need three of them!

  • The first is what I call the short form. This is a two or three paragraph description of who you are and what you do. It should be no longer than a third to a half a sheet of normal paper.You will use this routinely ,whenever you are asked for some short information on yourself this is what you will present. If you are in a show or a paintout event etc. the sponsors should be able to use the short form in their literature, or after your name to describe you. It should also have a picture of you on it, either a headshot or a picture of you working at your easel
  • .Now I am going to tell you something that I think is an error many artists make on their bios. I know you like Sargent and Sorolla and Anders Zorn, but don't put them on your bio. Routinely I see the work of a very average painter reproduced and the text tells me about their love for Sargent (or whomever ) I look at the art and if it isn't pretty damn good , my next thought is, how pretentious to be dropping names of that caliber. Most people who will read your bio don't know who these artists are, so they feel like something just went over their heads when they read that. Those who DO know who Sargent, Zorn and whoever else you admire are, will not see what the relationship you have to those guys, that puts them on your resume. So unless you studied with an artist, don't list him on your bio. Ask yourself what you would hope to accomplish by dropping these names. Make your bio about you.
  • I know you studied with a great teacher, but I would soft pedal that in your bio. People are funny about that. Many of them don't like to think that an artist has to learn how to do what they do, they want to believe it is pure feeling and expression. Your bio is not a good place to tell them they are wrong. Many of them recoil from the word student, they may not want an artist who was ever a student, they want a natural, an original. Most of the buyers and the public know nothing about art. Its too bad but its true. I am sometimes referred to as a member of the Boston school, I never say that in a short form bio, some people think it means I am still in school. Maybe not all of them, but more than I can afford to lose. So mention your training very early in the bio and keep it short. Even if you studied with Emile Gruppe, 99% of the people out there wouldn't know who he was, you might as well tell them you studied with Benjamin Bathurst
  • Do talk about what moves you to paint and use evocative words that create an image in peoples minds of art. Use words like color, light, feeling, expression and nature. Rather than trying to appeal to them with a laundry list of achievements or attempting to link yourself to your artist heroes you want to get them to think of you as the real thing. Don't look like you have something to prove, be interesting and believable as an artist. That's one of the reasons why it is good to show a picture of you at your easel.
  • Sell today, educate tomorrow! The purpose of your sales literature (which is what a bio is) is to sell yourself and your art. Don't try to teach people anything at this point, don't try to bring them "up to speed" on the art world or tell them about art history or deep art theory. Do that later if you must, but after you sell them. This has been hard for me to do myself, as I suppose you can imagine.
  • The short form bio should leave the reader with a feeling that you are a real artist, there's no point in trying to tell them you are a good artist, they will make up their minds for themselves when they see your art.
Notice how restrained the color is in this portrait . We have less and less in our culture which is formal . One of the characteristics of formality is understatement. There's a diagonal movement in her collar and hair that gives a lively look. She looks like she might just turn her head and look at you.

The next of the three bios you will need is what is sometimes called a CV. For a beginning artist that can be a problem. You will have to muddle through as best you can. A C.V. is a list of all your accomplishments in art. Where you studied, shows you have been in. awards you have won, boards of art organizations you have been on, magazine articles about you etc. These are usually arrayed in chronological order. Usually a dealer wants this one. They put it in a binder and wave it at clients who will seldom bother to read it. When asked for a C.V. I bury them in paper. I have been doing this for almost 40 years so I can give them six pages of bulleted facts stacked up year by year back to the 70's.

If you are just starting out you will have to finesse this one. In fact the purpose of a C.V. is to distinguish the long time established players. Put down what you can and hope for the best.Try to emphasize the short form if you can, if they don't specify what kind of resume they want from you, send em the short form, till you have built up your C.V. In a future post I will talk about resume building but that is outside of the topic for tonight.

The last of the three bios is the long form, this is like a short magazine article. Perhaps three or four pages long. This should be your personal story and an exposition of what you are up to in your art. If you can throw in an illustrative or humorous story that's good. The idea is for people to read this and know who you is. A picture of yourself working and a picture of one of your best paintings should probably be on here as well. If you don't have the computer savvy to do this yourself, ask the nearest 10th grader.

If you get into a gallery that has 30 other artists, and on three days of the week that gallery is run by an employee, they ought to be able to read the long form and have enough of a feel for you and your art to talk to customers about you . If you get a call from the local newspaper or a publication the long form is what they get. Journalists love it when you do their job for them. Sometimes an artist will include a copy of the long form in an envelope on the back of a sold painting.

You should be able to make these three forms of your bio on your home computer and store them in your documents, ready to be updated if necessary and then printed out as you need them. print them in Helvetica or Verdana or some other contemporary and neutral typeface. Keep them uncluttered and clean looking and in plastic sleeves if you are going to be leaving them where they will be displayed in the gallery. print them out on quality paper, I like a linen color better than a bright white, I think its looks elegant.

At the bottom or somewhere on each of these documents must be a block of text that gives your address, phone number and e-mail so that people know how to reach you. When you get into a gallery they may want copies of all of these bios with all of these addresses stripped out, so their customers don't go around them and contact you personally. So don't go to the printer and have 1000 of these made. Print out a few at home and print more when you need them to allow you to doctor them for various situations.

Well I hear the anteaters softly whimpering for their kibble, and I want to get up in the morning and finish this picture I am all excited about, so I will end this post here. Tomorrow I will continue with the waltz of commerce.


Unknown said...

Now I know why this is all so hard.
I grew up in Texas, where good little Baptist girls did NOT dance.
So no wonder art business waltz has given me so much trouble.
dang... if I'd only known....

Stapleton Kearns said...

My experience has been that although all of the good little Baptist girls insisted they would not dance, eventually most of them did.

JAMES A. COOK said...

Thanks for the good advise. You give some confordence where I had none. I guess if I don't open my mouth and start banging on some doors , nobody will know who I am. I have to take the leap and have faith in my brush. Thanks . You help me so much.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. If you don't take it as a life and death struggle, but just something you are learning to do, you will be fine no matter what happens. You will get some wins and some losses. You have to remember it is something you are doing and it is new to you. It is not who you are, its just something you are doing!