I’m writing this letter in the full knowledge that I may be giving totally the wrong advice. While I was still in Cuba Sonja Strausz asked, “I am having trouble writing a CV. Is there perhaps a guideline as to what one should contain?”
Thanks, Sonja. I’m one of those artists who don’t believe in bothering much with “Curricula Vitae.” Credentials don’t mean much in our business. I know one chap who anchors his CV with “Private collection — HRH Queen Elizabeth II.” This is ludicrous. The painting in question was one of the 45000 self-aggrandizing gifts the Queen of England tries not to accept each year. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of someone bursting into an art gallery and asking: “Do you have any work by an MFA?” Fact is, you’re only as good or as important as your last work. It’s been my experience that some of the most outstanding, happy, highly realized and successful artists don’t have much worth mentioning in their CVs. Nevertheless, there are some in our world who are believers. Some employ staff to look for and build credentials. It’s also been my observation that CVs are most often asked for by persons with CVs. Now that I’m out of Cuba I can mention the CV of (Dr.) Eusebio Leal Spengler. If you’ve got the time his CV is at http://www.ohch.cu/p_hist_eusebio.htm It’s in Spanish but you’ll get the idea.
Sonja, you might go and have a look at: http://st-ives.net/selected-art/cobbenhagen/cv/index.htm This, in my opinion, is a well-organized CV that shows simply and clearly what the Amsterdam sculptor Wien Cobbenhagen has done with his life so far. Not many artists will have this much to show. If you’re backtracking, it may be difficult to remember everything. If you’re like me you may not have bothered to keep track. Come to think of it the Queen has one of mine too — a gift from a former politician, not me. Bully. And all is given in the full knowledge that this may be totally the wrong advice.
PS: “Two or three short tests are more valuable than a suitcase full of testimonials.” (Joseph P Blodgett)
Esoterica: In a Utopia, people would bring art into their lives because it moved their hearts. Because it made them laugh, cry, think better of their fellow man, or gave them joy, or understanding, or simply flooded their souls with magic. But ours is not a Utopia. Hence we have CVs.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
CV backs up their choice
It seems to me that the real value in a CV, Resume, Bio, etc is that it gives new collectors who have little confidence in their ability to select “Good Art” or have been scared silly by a lot of reference to “Bad Art” something to back up their choice of buying something that they love. This can be the beginning of new groups of collectors. Something that we all need.
CV defines commitment
Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA
Wasn’t it you, Robert, who said that collectors and/or galleries prefer artists who are seriously committed, who are “lifers”? If so, I suppose a CV could be seen as a document proving an artist’s commitment. Wien Cobbenhagen’s excellent example of a CV might be seen as proof that he’s been committed to his artwork since 1981. I like how it’s pretty much a list, and not much more. Anyways, a practical reason to have a resume as it’s known here in Texas, would be that it is required by a gallery or a show that one wants to be in. I don’t have my resume on my website, but there is one somewhere on my hard drive in case I ever need it. I’ve been adding to it since 1974.
Bonfire of the vanities
Bryan Dunleavy, Southampton, UK
The real chuckle about your anecdote about an artist who donated one of his paintings to the Queen of England is that most of them get rubbished in one way or another. There was a minor scandal here before Christmas in the wake of the “Butler trials” when it became evident that a lot of these gifts are passed on to servants to supplement their meagre wages and they in turn take them off to dealers and get what they can. There are also stories about periodic bonfires of the less valuable items. One of my humbling connections with reality came about three years ago when a customer in my gallery let on that he had bought one of my watercolours in a flea market. And I’m not even dead yet!
CV a useful document
Robert, shame on you for putting down CVs without explaining their use. All commercial galleries and public galleries require an artist CV if one is submitting to become a gallery artist or for an exhibition. Juried exhibitions also require artist CVs as well as call for art proposals for Public Art Projects. The CV is to be one page long listing your most recent exhibitions first and going backwards in time to your last one. That means editing, of course. Other pertinent information with regards to the intended project, art show etc. can be included including newspaper articles etc. The CV shows the committee or gallery receiving the artist proposal that the person is capable (in theory) of doing what they are requesting due to past experiences. There are items to be left off a CV. For example that donated painting to Queen Elizabeth is a fine example and the art card bought by prince whoever. Oh yes and the paintings mum and dad have. A long CV won’t get read by the jurors and the artist will have less of a chance of being taken seriously by someone the artist is trying to gain a favor from. Because that is exactly what the artist is trying to do by submitting an exhibition proposal or asking to be considered for a project or to be included as a gallery artist. CVs have their place but yes I agree that they should not be pretentious.
In the meantime I need a CV
Loraine Wellman, Richmond, B.C., Canada
A CV is just another hurdle for artists working on developing a reputation and gallery contacts. Some public galleries even give a seminar on how to do the whole application thing. Sometimes the general public seem to like them – they like to have their choice confirmed by seeing that you had actual training, or have been accepted into shows or whatever. And I think you probably know you have “made it” when you don’t need any of the papers any more! I was talking to one of my former teachers (big reputation, book about him, major shows etc), and said I was working on an “Artist’s Statement.” He said, “I wouldn’t know anything about that.” I said, “Of course you wouldn’t, nobody would dream of asking you for such a thing.” So, I look forward to no longer needing one, but in the meantime, I’m keeping my CV up to date.
Museums require a resume
Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
While many people don’t read a resume, collectors will want and appreciate knowing all about the art background of the artist whose work he/she has acquired. This is especially true of any museum that may acquire work of a particular artist. And they also ask for updates. I keep my resume to one page, putting only the most prestigious information on it. Where and with whom the artist has studied is also of interest.
Mention of grants poisons a CV
I have had two Arts Foundation grants, which I included in my CV. Until I realized that this puts people off. When Joe Public sees government grants in the CV they are inclined to say “This woman is already ripping off my tax dollars and she certainly doesn’t deserve anything from me.” I took those references out. My advice now is never ever put grant activities on your CV if you are trying to work within the gallery system, as I am.
A poet is anyone who calls himself one
Bill Cannon, California, USA
Robert, speaking of CVs, I once tested my older sister, a staunch academician and a PhD. psychologist, the self-righteous kind. With our elderly parents around the kitchen table at some holiday reunion, I asked her “Marilyn, how do you define a poet?” She hemmed and hawed and in a near stentorian voice replied, “Well, it depends on what degrees one has gotten and how and where he has been published…and…hmphh…” “No, Marilyn, I replied, it’s very simple. Anyone declaring that he is a poet, is a poet.” Her grown children were there at the table too, and she could not find a ready answer. She could never be embarrassed, but this came as close as it ever could. Finally, I had gotten her. As great as some poets are, and as poor as some others may be, anyone claiming to be a poet is, in my humble estimation, a poet.
CVs in teaching art
Having worked on the 3 Americas! project for several years (it’s over now), I have had the opportunity to see many CVs from noted and un-noted artists. I notice that the Latin American artists do a lot more with their literature packet than most Western Hemisphere folk farther north. It evidently makes a big difference to them to get a “certificate” showing they have had work in an exhibition. Some of the dossiers go into ten or fifteen pages or so. They are sometimes works of art in themselves. Artists of “a certain age” seem to like them, too — I had two born in the ’40s who really piled it on thick.
I think a lot of how you present yourself depends on what your art is aimed at doing. In the artist’s mind there can be so many shades of gray in the difference between art as a commodity and art as an act of love. Also, I note that if you wish to teach as an adjunct of your art, aspiring students will put a lot of thought into checking your credentials — especially if they are bound and determined to “succeed.” I had one very young but well traveled and credentialed artist in my group whose first efforts at teaching yielded almost $100/hour! And her work was not extraordinary either!
Painting the most important thing
Barbara J. Alderman, Mulberry, Florida, USA
I love painting what I call “the real Florida.” The Florida I remember as a child before development and phosphate mining destroyed so much native land. I love to paint the pine trees, cabbage trees, palmettos and cypress swamps as well as the wildlife that live here. We still have working cattle ranches that are also good subjects for painting the subtle beauty of Florida. I am striving to be a more prolific painter. I painted sixteen paintings last year and had aimed for 24. May be I will reach 24 this year. My time is limited as is everybody’s. My husband is retired and helps me setup for the two to three outdoor shows I do each year. My 89 year old Mother is in a Nursing Home and I have to keep a check on her and our 16 year old grandson lives with us. There are days when I just have to get up and act as if nothing else is going on in my world and go to my room and paint. I let the answering machine (or my husband) catch the phone. I return calls later. I am striving toward the time I can discipline myself enough to paint a certain number of hours per day. My Painting is Important. If I don’t treat it as if it is important, nobody else will.
A matter of letters
Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada
Re CVs: Bravo and bravissimo Robert! As in the quality of the paintings speak louder than the words about them or their creator. Bit like letters after your name — have they ever produced an emotional response in a prospective purchaser? As in, “I simply must have that painting; its alphabet overwhelms my heart… ?
A simple CV
Warren Cullar, Austin, Texas, USA
My Curriculum vitae is very simple. Twenty-seven years making my full time living as an artist. That’s it. I also sell all my art. No galleries. When a person is standing in front of my art, they do not ask for references. They either buy it or they don’t.
Me and My Art
William Saroza, Trinidad, Cuba
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002. That includes Peter Leckett who wrote, “I’ve been working on my CV for years. Instead of paper and type, mine uses canvas and color.”