Visual Artist Information Hotline
Everything in the art world slows down during the summer months. The
number of exhibitions and openings dwindle as many galleries close for
vacation. The summer is therefore the perfect time for artists to rethink
their presentation materials. With that in mind, the Hotlineís first column
is a refresher course on one of the basics: the artistís portfolio. Here
are some answers to questions concerning your portfolio.
What role does my portfolio play in applying to a gallery?
When first applying to a gallery, your purpose is not to immediately
get an exhibition, but to introduce them to your work. Hopefully your
work will incite them to schedule a studio visit. Following your studio
visit, you may then be included in a group show or two at the gallery.
Group shows are good testing grounds for galleries to see how critics
and collectors respond to your work. Only after first developing a solid
relationship, will you later be considered for a solo exhibition at the
Make sure that the gallery you are applying to exhibits artwork in your
style and/or medium. If you are an abstract painter, for example, you
should never submit your portfolio to a gallery that shows only representational
photography. Artists should also keep in mind the real purpose of your
What should my portfolio contain?
Once you locate a potential gallery, your artistís portfolio should always
contain the following items:
What should I say in my cover letter?
- A cover letter
- An artist resume (also known as a Curriculum Vitae)
- An artist statement
- Visual materials (such as slides, photographs, videotapes, etc.)
- A press packet (your reviews, catalogue excerpts, etc.)
- A self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with enough return postage.
Every time you apply for gallery representation, you must submit a cover
letter. It is a good way to briefly introduce yourself and your work to
the gallery. There is a certain format for writing an effective cover
letter. The letter begins with an introductory paragraph in which you
describe who you are (i.e. a photographer from Buffalo) and the purpose
of the portfolio (i.e. "to introduce you to my recent series of photographs").
The second paragraph highlights a few of your recent achievements from
your artist resume. The third paragraph gives a brief description of your
work, possibly highlighting excerpts from your artist statement. The final
paragraph should conclude with an open invitation either to send additional
materials if needed, or to arrange a studio visit at the curatorís earliest
What is the purpose of my artist resume?
The purpose of your artist resume is to impress others in the arts -
anyone who can help you forward your career. This includes people like
gallerists, dealers, curators, jurors, collectors, etc. A resume should
give the reader a sense of who you are, where you are from, where you
studied, where you have exhibited your work, what awards you have won,
who has collected your work, and what has been written about your work.
It should be straightforward and comprehensive, free of any personal theories
An artist resume is not used to find employment and it is not necessarily
limited to one page in length. It should list only your art achievements.
On your artist resume, do not include any career or employment related
experience unless it is absolutely pertinent to your artwork. If you are
an emerging artist, you may want to list your achievements as a student.
Artists who have had no formal training and no exhibition history may
want to write a personal narrative statement instead of an artist resume.
What should my artist statement say?
An artist statement is a written description of your work that gives
your audience deeper insight into it. It may include your personal history,
the symbolism you give your materials, or the issues you address. Your
statement should include whatever is most important to you and your work.
What about my slides?
Your visual materials, slides and/or color prints of your work, are the
most important part of your portfolio and most artists underestimate their
importance. Whenever you submit your slides, whether to a gallery or for
a grant, they must accurately describe how your work looks to the viewer.
Slides that are too light, too dark, or are out of focus should never
be submitted. Detailed slides of work should also be taken if a single
overview is not descriptive enough. The Hotline also recommends taking
slides showing installation views of several pieces at a time to create
a sense of context for the work.
Submit anywhere from ten to twenty slides, but never more than a full
sheet as an introduction to your work. Use current work only - never submit
a survey of your work over the past ten years.
For additional information concerning portfolio development, contact
NYFA Source at our toll-free number (800) 232-2789,
or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Special Thanks To The Hotline's Consortium
- How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without
Selling Your Soul, by Caroll Michels. Fourth Edition, Published by Henry
Holt and Co., New York, 1997, $14.95.
- Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist, by Cay Lang.
Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999, $16.95.
A project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Visual Artist
Information Hotline is made possible by the generous support by the following
Consortium of organizations and individuals: Albert A. List Foundation;
The Alice Baber Art Fund; Basil H. Alkazzi; The Andy Warhol Foundation
for the Visual Arts; The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts; Fleishhacker
Foundation; Virginia Gilder; The Joan Mitchell Foundation; The Judith
Rothschild Foundation; Lannan Foundation; Lily Auchincloss Foundation;
The Liman Foundation; The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation; National
Endowment for the Arts; The Peter Norton Family Foundation; Pew Fellowships
in the Arts; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; and the Richard A. Florsheim