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 gallery.
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 portfolio.What should my portfolio contain?
Once you locate a potential gallery, your artistís portfolio should always contain the following items:
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 convenience.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 or beliefs.
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.Additional information:
For additional information concerning portfolio development, contact NYFA Source at our toll-free number (800) 232-2789, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Books:
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 Art Fund.
This article originally appeared in the New York Foundation for the Arts' NYFA Quarterly (Summer 1999, Volume 15, No. 2)/website, NYFA Interactive: www.nyfa.org. †For additional information about NYFA and its programs, please visit the NYFA Interactive website at www.nyfa.org. For information on NYFA Source, a national directory of programs for artists in all disciplines, go to www.nyfa.org/source, or call live technical assistance for the visual and performing arts at 1-800-232-2789, or email for email@example.com (visual arts), or firstname.lastname@example.org (performing arts).