How to write a CV

10

Dear Artist,

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?”

Bull , 1985 Bronze 30.5 cm by Wien Cobbenhagen (b. 1950)

Bull, 1985
Bronze
30.5 cm
by Wien Cobbenhagen (b. 1950)

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.

Little Smoke, (n.d.) Bronze 30 sm by Wien Cobbenhagen

Little Smoke, (n.d.)
Bronze
30 cm
by Wien Cobbenhagen

Sonja, you might go and have a look at the CV of Wien Cobbenhagen. This, in my opinion, is a well-organized CV that shows simply and clearly what the Amsterdam sculptor 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.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Two or three short tests are more valuable than a suitcase full of testimonials.” (Joseph P Blodgett)

 

Kiem, 1982 Bronze  by Wien Cobbenhagen

Kiem, 1982
Bronze
by Wien Cobbenhagen

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.

This letter was originally published as “How to write a CV” on January 14, 2003.

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“I can’t give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma.” (L. Frank Baum)


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10 Comments

  1. I love Robert’s perspective on CVs and his statement that “you’re only as good or as important as your last work.” It is not that I find art degrees or juried shows and having work in museum collections irrelevant. I just do not think that they necessarily hold as much success weight as we would like to think they do. Art study is extremely useful in advancing an artist’s skills and helps develop their understanding of where their work fits into the historic evolution of art . Juried shows are an interesting way to expand your reach of viewers and possibly connect with galleries and serious art collectors. But, at the end of the day, artwork must stand on its own merit, in front of each viewer, one work at a time. I have included the link to my “about” page on my website in the profile for this comment. If a reader browses down far enough, there is CV content. But I sure do not lead with this and no art collector has ever asked for a copy of my CV to take home with their painting purchase- ever! A photo of me with them and the painting or just me and the painting for their social media profile? Yes. Several times. Who could have guessed? Not me.

    • Agree with Terrill and Robert on this one! People love the colors, the passion, the story behind each piece of art I create. I’ve never been asked for a CV, or even who I have studied with or who mentored me. The energy and craft put into each piece, however, says volumes.

  2. It completely depends on what you want it for. To prove you’re an artist? Of course not. To get a teaching job? It’s an absolute imperative.

  3. Agree totally with Robert on this; however, there are certain grants, residencies, etc., that put way more stock in CVs than they should. CVs can help land those plums, even if the CV is bogus or full of Queen-Elizabeth’s-collection-type exaggerations. I was recommended for two teaching positions by people who knew me and my work, but turned down because my CV wasn’t inflated enough … i.e., not BFA, even though neither position was with a college or university or accredited school. I know many good artists with great CVs who are lousy at teaching, too. Just because an artist has the credentials, doesn’t mean they have the desire, organization or people skills to teach.

    • Hello, Jeanne,

      I could not agree more. Having had several HORRIBLE teachers when I tried to learn watercolor, I quickly realized that teaching and creating art are two entirely different skill sets: artists are primarily visual, teachers are (or need to be) primarily verbal, so as to explain in ways their students can understand. It’s rare to find both in one person. I find it frustrating that prestigious organizations like the Cooper Union and the Art Students League hire only working professional artists to teach there. Their talent is inspiring, to be sure, but many of them do not have a clue about how to bring out the best in their students.

  4. I love Robert’s practical way of looking at these demands we as artists struggle with. I recall years ago being told I MUST write a professional bio and CV before I considered putting myself out there calling myself an artist. If the artwork isn’t enough to say who we are and what we are able to do, best to stay in our rooms and figure that out first. Now, I suppose I could sit and list all my achievements and successes along the past 30 plus years, but I still prefer to let the paintings speak for themselves.

  5. Galleries like you to have a CV. Art sites like them as well. If you have a history why not display it. It tells your story. And in today’s internet world, they are essential. I get great pleasure adding a few items to mine every year. But, remember to add at the top, not the bottom. A new line with each entry, start with Month and then day. Group each para under a year as the heading.

  6. What a breath of fresh air, I am breathing it in, and out, deeply. What a relief we are not the only ones either, Daniel et al. The saddest thing I learned at art school was how to write/create my ‘very necessary’ CV etc.! I lacked the knowledge, at the time, that it was the last thing I, personally, would want, or need! Now, where is that darned thing? I need to fish it out and get rid of it, outdated & sparse as it is! It has gnawed at me for years, and done nothing but cause me to quietly doubt, & stress. Too much. Maybe a bonfire. I believe it will be quite therapeutic!

    • Hey Judith~ I just looked at your website, your work is gorgeous, so sorry to hear you were so troubled by a thing that has nothing to do with making art. All the best, daniel

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Adhesions-Live-Oak-1-wpcf_300x300.jpgAdhesions (Live Oak), 2021
24 x 24 inches
Fluid acrylic on canvas

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