How to Write an Artist’s CV When You Don’t Have Much (Or Any!) Professional Experience

notepadThe post How to Write an Artist CV in 10 Steps is the most popular in the history of The Practical Art World. Some of the most frequently asked questions people have after reading it are “What if I don’t have an exhibition history?” or “What if I didn’t go to school?”

For new and emerging artists, creating an artist’s CV can be a bit of a Catch 22. You don’t have much or any experience to put on your CV, but to apply for “experience” in the form of exhibitions, grants, and schooling, you are asked to provide a CV.

Fortunately, there are ways to tailor what relevant experience you have into an artist’s CV format. Just remember: don’t lie, and don’t make up anything that doesn’t exist. Just tell the truth, shaping it a little (creatively– it’s what you do best, right?) into the established CV format. If you haven’t already read How to Create an Artist’s CV in 10 Steps, start there. Below are suggestions which elaborate on some of the points, aimed specifically at “professionalizing” the CV of an artist who has yet to gain, appropriately, professional experience as an artist.

INTRODUCTORY SECTION: PERSONAL DETAILS

Refer to point 1 in the original article. As I mentioned, many established artists keep this section quite short. However, if you don’t have a lot of other material and experiences to add to the rest of the CV, this is a good opportunity to tell your reader about yourself. Adding a very brief bio / artist statement can be good if you would like to talk about experiences which don’t fit into the rest of the CV. If you are going to do this, just remember to keep it brief and concise.

DO have a website set up, and include the address
DO add where you live and work (and when you were born, if you want to)
DO add professional contact details where someone can actually contact you
DO add a short bio or artist statement, concisely and professionally describing your practice
DON’T use a non-professional or obscure email like metallicalover@saucy.com
DON’T use your office phone number or your Mom’s phone number

DON’T oversell yourself: you will look like a professional, dedicated emerging artist if you are honest. You will look desperate if you pretend to be something you are not.

Example of bad contact details:

Vincent van Gogh
~Sometimes called the world’s most famous artist~!!!

Email me! fancypants@yahoo.com<

Example of good contact details

Vincent van Gogh
Born March 30, 1853

Currently lives and works in Paris, France

vincent@vangogh.com | www.vangoghgallery.com
Vincent van Gogh is an emerging artist, working primarily in oils. He often employs bold colours and emotive tableaux in a post-impressionistic manner.

EDUCATION
Refer to point 2 in the original article. Many emerging as well as professional artists are self-taught, and yet for some reason the education section of a CV tends to be intimidating for all but those who have a Masters degree. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Despite what you may think looks professional or not, you can use the education section of your CV to highlight any casual mentorships, art classes, workshops, and schooling that you have had. If you feel that the institutions or situations of your art schooling are less than professional, the best way to present them is to highlight the teachers you have studied under, instead of the specific classes or institutions.
DO include any teacher or artist you’ve studied under

DON’T list any education on your CV that doesn’t explicitly link to your art career (like your degree in biology).

Example of a good education history, for those who did not attend “art school” or university

Education
Studied under:
Lynne McLaughlin
Tom Backlund
Geoff Parker

Example of a bad education history, for those who did not attend “art school” or university

Education
One hour workshop with Lynne McLaughlin
Informal classes with Tom Backlund
Has received feedback from Geoff Parker
Bachelor of Science, Biology major

EXHIBITIONS
Refer to point 3 from the original article.

One way to add exhibitions to your CV is to list any which are forthcoming. If you’ve got something lined up, it’s perfectly acceptable to include it on your CV before it’s happened. Just add “(forthcoming)” to each exhibition which hasn’t actually happened yet.

Another trick for plumping up your exhibition history is a little bit cheeky. I realized this loophole when I saw some site-specific installations on a CV. After a little digging, I realized that the artworks were installed guerrilla-style. In other words, someone made art and put it somewhere without invitation or the formal facets of a traditional exhibition. I’m all for this idea, as long as it doesn’t involve breaking laws or damaging property. It’s a great idea to show your artwork (though, you might not be able to get it back), and certainly an artistic project that can be added to your CV under your exhibition history. Just make sure you classify it properly, as to not mislead anyone!

DO list all of your exhibitions, even if they aren’t in a gallery
DO list all of your forthcoming exhibitions and projects

DON’T make anything up.

Example of a good exhibition list

2014  Group exhibition, Vancouver Art Gallery (forthcoming)
2012  Site-specific installation, “Alleyway”, Vancouver, BC
2010  Solo exhibition, Moon Cafe, Vancouver BC

Example of a bad exhibition list

2016  Planned gallery exhibition (forthcoming) <– if you don’t have any solid details, don’t include it
2012  Solo exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, NY <– you made that up!

COLLECTIONS
Refer to point 5 from the original article. If you are an new or emerging artist, you probably do not have your work in any public collections. Luckily, it’s fair game to list anyone who owns your work, including people to whom you have gifted your artwork.

Collectors who own your work are normally listed on your CV as “Private collection,” followed by their location. You should not actually name someone unless they have explicitly agreed to be listed as a collector of your work, and / or if you have some other reason to do so (for example, they are a very well-known collector).

DO make a list of people who own your work, even if they didn’t actually purchase it; most of these you can convert to “Private collection,” followed by location
DON’T put your Mom’s name on the list, or anyone with the same last name as you
DON’T list a city more than once if more than one person owns your work there

Example of a good collection list

Collections:
Private collection, Vancouver BC
Private collection, Winnipeg MB
Private collection, New York NY


Example of a bad collection list

Collections:
Anna van Gogh
Theodorus van Gogh
Elisabeth van Gogh
Theo van Gogh
Private collection, Paris France
Private collection, Paris France
Private collection, Paris France

FINALLY, IF YOU HAVE AN ESPECIALLY SHORT CV AND THINGS ARE LOOKING DESPERATE
You can think of some creative ways to visually enhance your CV:

  1. Include an image of your artwork (not usually recommended, but between that and the blank page, one image is better).
  2. Center your text with large margins. Yes, this is cheating when you’re writing an essay. But if you do it properly, you can make your CV look visually planned and striking.
  3. Include an artist statement and CV on one single page. Often these are asked for separately, but if you are able to combine them, it’s a great way to make your presentation look great.
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29 comments

  1. I just LOVE your informative post, Fantastic advice!! I’ll be coming to read this again for sure. Have a lovely day. God Bless

  2. Nice. Always a pleasure to read a well thought out post.

  3. Hello, I’m an emerging artist writing a CV. Your article has been very helpful, but I have one question. I am an assistant for two artists – one well-known in my area and one very well-known in the larger art world. I would like to include this work experience in my CV somewhere. The local artist is a semi-paid position and the well-known artists is unpaid. While they are not exactly my mentors, I did take on these positions in order to gain experience in the art world and learn about how to be a professional artist. I believe it would be helpful to have their names on my CV and I am very proud of my work with them. Where would you recommend putting these entries, if at all?

    • Hi Bekah, I think it’s a great idea to add these to your CV. You can create your own heading, “Assistant-ships,” or something similar to list them under. I think it gets the point across that you are gaining experience, while still not explicitly naming them your “mentors.”

      • Definitely include this! I would put it under the heading ‘Professional experience’ or even just a sentence saying something along the lines of:

        Assistant to: Damien Hirst (2004 – present), Anthony Gormley (2002)

        A lot of young and emerging artists do not have a lot of exhibitions to add to their CVs but it is worthwhile remembering art-related work (paid or unpaid) which was not directly related to your own practice, such as assisting other artists, or invigilation, volunteering etc.

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  5. matilda

    Hey thank you very much for this help, i really need it!
    Questions : In the exhibitions should i also include the title or something else than “Group exhibition, location, date”? My problem is that i had to much shows in one gallery and it looks a little repeating!! Thanks :D

  6. Very helpful for the self-taught emerging artist! Thank you!

  7. Sarah

    How should I include online features? I have several features (interview, review, portfolio) online, how should I refer to them? Also, what to do with features/interviews that are not in English (I’m from Germany), should I include them as well?

    • Online features are great to include. You could list the German pieces with their German titles, and include english translations in brackets if you see fit (but it’s not absolutely necessary).
      Cheers!

      • Sarah

        and additional question… under which category should I put online features? bibliography, publications or something like ‘selected press’? thanks for your help.

  8. f

    so glad i found this!! :)

    just a question though what do you think of the more creative resumes/cvs? the ones where it practically looks like an artwork itself?

    thanks!

  9. Nicole

    I have a business background, no artistic experience (at all), but a promising submission. What should I do?

  10. Very good.
    I enter a lot of juried online art shows.
    How does one show these on a CV.
    Checking my blog kenben.org will give you examples in my about me.

  11. bobjheath

    Thank you for the great ideas for us beginners. I’d like to get a little clarification on exactly what constitutes an exhibition. I have had work for sale in several different galleries over the course of several years, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what is meant to be included under the EXHIBITIONS heading. I have had my work in a few short term shows (not in galleries), and I’ve also just been juried in to show my work at an important gallery.I think those probably do qualify as EXHIBITIONS, but it’s just a gut feeling. Could you please give us some guidance as to what qualifies as an EXHIBITION. For example, does it have to be in a “gallery” or does a bunch of artists getting together to put on a show count? Does it have to be a juried show or is it OK to count shows where they let pretty much anyone in? Does it need to be short term in nature, like a week or a month, or does having your work in a gallery for five years count, and if so, what do you list for the date of the exhibition?

    • Whenever your work is exhibited, that is an exhibition. I don’t know if there is one true definition, but that’s what I think! I also think it is an acceptable rule of thumb for your CV.

      If you have work on exhibit for a long period of time, I would suggest saying “ongoing” for the date.

      Cheer :)

  12. Thank you for such awesome and informative articles! I was invited to apply for an artist in residence program (it was invitation only), and I was a finalist but I did not get the residency. I feel proud to be invited, should I add this to my resume?

  13. This is super helpful, thank you!
    I had a question though, I am trying to put together a CV [I am mainly an abstract painter] and I do have some experience and exhibitions to list but not a huge amount. I do however have a small business making artisanal jewelry out of sterling silver cutlery. Through this I have had some press and many juried shows. Should I include some of that in my CV as well? Or just focus on the painting side?

    • Hi Katelyn,
      I would include this on your CV, as it is part of your artistic experience. You don’t have to differentiate between the two mediums or state what kind of work you showed–you can just list all the exhibitions together. Likewise with press.
      Cheers!

  14. Yeul

    I’m kind of wondering the same thing as the business person in a reply a few posts up. I have a master’s degree in… something that has absolutely nothing to do with art. I never took any formal art classes beyond high school, either. What I’ve learned about art is from (lots of) reading and doing. I feel like I’m creating a body of work that is relevant and has plenty to say, but my only meaningful exposure is a reasonably active Instagram account that is slowly, but steadily gaining followers. (I have a dA account, too, but that one’s not getting much action.) Moreover, for personal reasons that I’d rather not get into here, I want to remain as anonymous as possible for now, and I would really like my work to just speak for itself. Am I just screwed, or do you have any ideas on how I should go about this?

  15. JLW

    Thanks very much. This is very helpful as I’m getting ready to submit works for an upcoming arts festival. I’m using your ideas of naming instructors and private collections,
    A question – I am self-taught, however, I grew up in a family of artists and writers, such that being around paint and other materials is second nature to me. I also plan on enrolling in school with the goal of obtaining a studio art degree from a local college. Should I somehow note these points on the bio/CV? Thanks.
    JLW

  16. Hey… Thank you for this great article. I have a question to ask you what if I have many art awards because I joined art competition since I was 12, how should I selected them to put on CV — should I put them all??– or only the award I got recently??– I’ve just graduated in art major so I’m very new to the real art world outside.
    Thanks again.

  17. This is extremely helpful. Thank you.

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