When you are an emerging or even mid-career artist, putting together the required CV, artist statement, biography, and portfolio for many applications can be a daunting task. But it’s not as bad as it seems. Imagine that you are a smiling sloth: sloths may be slow, but they get the job done! Take your time with applications and check out these tips for making it easier.
1. Getting Started
When starting to pull together the different documents needed for an application, Google Docs or any Cloud-based program where you can make adjustments to your documents on any device are very helpful. Start one document for your CV and another one for your biography and artist statement. Have a brainstorming session by yourself or with others where you write down any words or concepts related to your art. Or, you could start by filling out a random basic exhibition application and seeing what kind of questions they ask. You don’t even have to send it in.
2. Have an Artist Statement and Biography Ready to Go
Start small, write one of each in paragraph format of 100 words or less. For the statement, you may want to search online for tips on what to cover. What mediums you use, what art you create and why, and why these mediums are relevant for this type of art is a good base.
For biography, introduce yourself with what type of artist you are and why you make art. Highlight a few shows, grants, art fairs, awards, or workshops you have attended. State what school you attended if it is relevant for art. If self-taught, explaining your beginnings and motivations can work instead.
The main goal in all of this is to have material ready for when you apply so that most of your work is done ahead of time. Then it is just a matter of copying it into the application, making adjustments where necessary.
3. Build your CV
Keep it simple in format, no need for flair in your layout. Your portfolio is meant to be artistic, but your CV is just to show details. List whatever education, exhibition history, grants, awards, residencies, or workshops you can remember. There likely won’t be much, if anything, if you are just getting started, and that’s okay.
4. Start a to-do list
Create a list on a Cloud-based or otherwise accessible document, this is where you can compile opportunities so you know what to prioritize. There are several art sites, like Res Artis or C4E (or artsUNITE’s Calls For Submissions board) where you can regularly find upcoming opportunities, but it is often easier to just follow some arts organizations/groups on social media or subscribe to their email lists (like Akimbo). Whenever you see an opportunity that seems like it would be a good fit, copy the link to your list in order of deadline along with a short description and due date. Chip away at these applications whenever you can, and when one is complete, cut it and add it to a completed list. This completed list can be helpful to reference at times and also provides positive reinforcement for the work you have done.
5. Build Your Application Materials Up Over Time
It is okay to start small because you are going to add to these basic documents over time. As you do more applications, you will get asked different questions, which will help you refine what you think about your art and how you present it to the world. Each time you fill out an application, copy some or all of your writing in it into your artist statement/bio document under a rough work section. Applications can vary greatly in their requirements, so as you progress you will have to have bios and artist statements of various lengths prepared; 100, 250, 500 words, etc. Your basic 100-word ones can be expanded upon a couple of times a year using your writing that you pulled in from other applications and as you can gain experience. The goal is to have a manageable amount of material ready when you start each application so that you aren’t writing each from scratch, as that can take a lot of energy and focus that you may not have to spare. Also, anytime you participate in any event, make sure to add it to your CV, so that keeps expanding.
Cultivate relationships with arts organizations, galleries, professionals, etc. This sounds more difficult than it has to be. If you get accepted to something, apply again for another show or opportunity. “Like”, share, or respond to something of theirs on social media, let them know you appreciate working with them through your actions and words. These people can become your most important advocates, as well as a professional reference you might need for some applications.
6. Get Organized!
If you can afford it, a program like Artwork Archive can be incredibly helpful for organizing your art and keeping track of scheduling, so you don’t overbook yourself. Ideally, you shouldn’t be applying to overlapping opportunities with the same art (if it is a physical object), in case you do get accepted. You don’t want to have to cancel something because you, or your work, aren’t available. Alternate what art you are using to apply to things at similar times, it can also be helpful as you never quite know what work might catch someone’s interest.
7. Pick & Choose What Applications Best Fit You
There is a huge benefit to getting your art out in the world, of being brave about rejection, as it is inevitable for every artist. But there is also a benefit about being smart about what you should be applying to, is it a good fit, is it practical, does it cost too much to apply or coordinate, or do you need more experience? Refining this approach will happen over time, for now, just get your art out there, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be appreciated.