Professional art practices: What you should already have pt. 1
After last week’s article about making introductions as a creative practitioner, it slowly dawned on me that I probably should’ve listed the most important things every artist should have before making that introduction. But we all know what they say about hindsight. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled a list of seven items that, in my opinion, should be in everyone’s starter kit.
Chances are that if you have completed any level of art education in Guyana, you probably would not have been given all the tools you need to get your art career started. The reality of art education here is that students are never adequately prepared for the business of art. For whatever reason they are not taught that art is structured in much the same way as any business model. While most art institutions focus on mastering a skill, it is unlikely that they will teach you how to use that skill to create a sustainable long-term creative practice. Very often, students are left to figure out how to navigate the art world on their own, with the vast majority falling through the cracks and giving up on art altogether. Whether you’re still in school, recently graduated or haven’t received any formal art training at all, pay keen attention to the following items you will need to help you along the way. Please note that while these may not be earth-shattering tips for some, there are persons who have requested this information and I am simply making it available to everyone.
Your first order of business as a creative practitioner should be to work on your Curriculum Vitae (CV). According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the literal translation of the two Latin words is “course of (one’s) life.” This means that you are presenting your reader with a complete list of your professional accomplishments and experiences in reverse chronological order (most recent accomplishment listed first). Reverse chronological order is used for every section except those sections without dates, in which case they would be listed in alphabetical order.
It is important to note that there are several ways to structure your CV and more than likely the structure will be determined by its purpose. For example, if you are applying for a job that relates more to business than it does art but you have experience in both fields, then the focus of your CV should be your business-related accomplishments and experiences. So although you will have one master copy of your CV with everything listed, you may be required to omit unrelated sections resulting in multiple versions of the same document in some cases.
Your CV should be simple and easy to read. Pick a standard font and be consistent with it. Avoid the use of fancy flourishes, images and coloured or scented paper. The most common mistake young creatives make is to “fluff” their CV. It might not seem noticeable to you, but for the person who has reviewed hundreds of CVs stretching out sections unnecessarily is the oldest and most tired trick. Another common mistake is incorrectly or inappropriately naming the document before sending it online. When emailing copies of your CV ensure that the file is saved as your full name and that you send the PDF version, unless otherwise specified. Also keep in mind that your CV, like all the other documents in your portfolio, is not a finished document. Remember to make the necessary adjustments after each new undertaking in your career.
It is important to note that a biography is not the same as a CV or resume, although it contains a lot of the same information. In addition to your education, training and experience, your biography should include your family history (only if you come from a family of creative practitioners and it is relevant to your decision to pursue art), influences, a summary of your concept(s), insights about your technique and medium, your exhibition history, reviews and publications about your work, and where you live and work. A good biography is basically a narrative version of your CV with additional information that can range anywhere from 100 to 300 words in length. However, it should be noted that the length of the biography varies according to application specifications so pay close attention to what is being asked of you.
There are also a few things you should avoid when working on your biography including divulging personal information that isn’t related to your artistic practice, writing in the first person, and listing every single accomplishment. Instead, select only your biggest moments in your career and let those be your selling points.
This is perhaps the hardest thing you will ever have to write in your entire life. And the fantastic news is that you will never stop rewriting it for as long as you’re actively producing and exhibiting work. At this point I will accept my failure to inspire enthusiasm. Personally, I don’t look forward to writing artist statements any more than the next reluctant artist. But it’s a necessary evil that is impossible to out-maneuver.
A few persons may argue that it’s not important for a successful practice, and even cite themselves as success stories. In fact, I’ve had “veterans” in the art scene tell me that “the art should speak for itself.” This attitude will get you at the top of the pile of unsuccessful residency applications in a flash. The idea that the work should speak for itself reinforces the stereotype that artists are brainless robots who churn out work factory-style and are unable to articulate the theories that inform their work. These people fail to understand that their reluctance to write this document limits their own understanding of their work as well as the public’s reading of it.
It’s not enough to just make the work and put it out there for persons to view. Every art professional will ask you to submit a statement about your work, and you would be smart to have an updated version handy at all times. It makes you relatable as an individual and goes a long way to destroy the public’s perception of artists as “crazy, tormented souls” (unless you are a crazy, tormented soul, in which case you should carry on). But more importantly, you should have one for the sake of your own progress. Writing a statement helps to establish the parameters of your work and iron out the uncertainties of your concepts. This can also be very helpful for John Public who has no idea how to interpret a work of art.
Dominique Hunter is an independent visual artist who recently graduated from the Barbados Community College with a Bachelor of Fine Art (First Class Honours).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on January 31, 2016.