CV stands for Curriculum Vitae. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? It’s Latin for “course of life,” and it’s what the art world likes to call your resume. It’s typically an academic thing, but because it’s a standard term used among galleries and such, you don’t really need an academic background to use “CV” instead of “resume.” Whatever you prefer really.
If you don’t have anything (or very little) to stick on your CV, then your Artist’s statement and bio will suffice for the time being. Eventually, over time, you’ll have so many items to add to your CV that you’ll be picking and choosing what to use and what to nix. You’ll use the more impressive bits over the others. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way now, but trust me, it will come to be.
CVs are generally laid out with your name at the top. Sometimes with your contact info. Then the line underneath can have the year and place you were born, like so:
b. 1968, Los Angeles, CA
The next section has a heading for EDUCATION (where you went to college and what degree you earned). If you’re self-taught, or you have no degrees, skip this section altogether and move on to your exhibition history. If you have any SOLO SHOWS, that’s the next section, if you’ve only had group shows, you can just make a section that says EXHIBITION HISTORY or separate SOLO SHOWS from GROUP SHOWS. You can see mine as an example.
But aside from the layout, that’s not what you want to know, is it? You want to know how to get the experience to put the shit on there, right?
Normally, a solo show comes after you’ve been doing group shows for a while. That’s the norm. Some get lucky and are offered a solo show from a gallery, but don’t count on that. You want to publicly show your work first, somewhere. Maybe anywhere. But how?
Well, you can start by applying to juried shows. This is always a good start. I started in coffee houses and restaurants before I started applying to juried shows. I didn’t even know about juried shows because I wasn’t connected to anything. I didn’t even know about the opportunities out there. Now, there are tons of resources for these. They are all over the internet and on Instagram too. I found my first few in the back of art magazines.
There’s Call For Entry for one thing. There’s also ArtShow and ArtDeadline. Or you can Google it and research it yourself. There are local ones and ones all over the country, but you usually have to pay for your own shipping—both ways.
And usually, there are fees to get into shows like these, unfortunately. They range anywhere from $20 to $45 or so. Sometimes more. That doesn’t even guarantee you into the show either, so it’s like gambling your money away. It sucks. However, the juror or curator is most often only looking at your visuals, and these “contests” are not requiring you to have any past experience. You probably don’t need a CV at all. Just good art. Sometimes, they offer a little cash for First Place (Best in Show), and even second and third place. They give “honorable mentions,” too, all of which should be placed on your resume if you receive them.
Another smart thing to do, and I highly recommend this, is to apply to get into a local artist’s association, preferably a well-established one with a strong membership. Once you get into a pool like this, they offer better chances of getting into their exhibitions without ongoing fees (because there will be annual dues to be in the organization). But it is worth the price of admission. These organizations should offer more than exhibition opportunities, like lectures, workshops, and critique groups. If they don’t offer things like this, maybe don’t join. They should be well connected to the local art scene.
I joined the LA Art Association years ago, and I may have mentioned before that it was one of the greatest things I ever did, hands down. Not just for the exhibitions but for my involvement in the organization, everything they had to offer, and the invaluable networking opportunities. But it is what you make of it. You need to get involved as much as possible. Get your ass out there.
Networking is everything. I don’t mean participating on Instagram, “liking” and commenting on everything you see. That won’t get you all that far. I mean in-person, good old-fashioned networking with real people. It’s about true connection. Your art needs to connect with others, and so do you.
Are you as shy in person as I am? Because I have mad social anxiety. I really, really do. I hate social gatherings and parties with a passion. But I bet you have an artist friend who is more extroverted than you are. They need to be your “wingman” (wing-person). Bring them with you to art shows and galleries around town. It’s okay to be shy, but you can still meet some people. It’s okay to be awkward. You’re an artist, and other people expect you to be weird! Sometimes the other person standing before you will see you are feeling uncomfortable, have compassion for you, and help the conversation along. You can do it. It just takes a little effort on your part, and your friend can be a buffer.
Also, here’s where I want you to do your research. Homework, homework, homework! Do your fucking homework, please! This is for when you decide to target galleries.
Find galleries that are a good match for your work. Not necessarily just galleries you think are “cool.” You can look on the internet and skim their websites, sure, but really investigate their artist roster and their entire program before deciding they might be a place you think your work might belong one day. It probably won’t be immediately, but until then, start going to their openings with other artist friends. Engage in the work they are showing. Get to know what is actually happening there. Do this several times before you even think about approaching them, especially since they are probably not taking any unsolicited artwork. Most galleries don’t, and you must respect their policies about that.
Truthfully, the way it usually works (getting into a gallery) is by an introduction from another one of the gallery’s artists. This is why networking with other artists can be important. However, asking a gallery’s artist to make an introduction for you is tacky as shit. That stuff should be a pretty organic thing. You should feel damn confident that artist thinks your work is amazing because they would be putting their neck on the line for you. It would be a risky move for them, so be careful who you put in that position! It’s not very fair of you to just ask a favor like that. See if they bring it up to you if you tell them you desire to be in the same gallery instead.
As for curated, juried shows, look for ones where the curator is someone of note. A museum curator, a well-known gallerist, an art critic, etc. This, too, can be mentioned on your CV when you are in the show.
Other opportunities are residencies and grants. Try to apply for those too. All the time. Remember, if you don’t try for these, you can never get them! You must keep trying. I tried seven times before I got the Pollock-Krasner Fellowship. I know other artists that got it in one try. The judges that sit on those panels change out constantly, so you never know.
Try for publications too. Getting your visuals into any and all printed publications that you can is a great way to get your work into the public eye, and that too goes onto a section on your CV as well. I have tried every year to get into New American Paintings and have never made it, but I keep trying. Many people I know have been in there. There are other publications I have been in, but not that one. The other ones are on my CV and always will be. Remember that all your accomplishments stay on your CV forever.
Keep track of who you solicit to. These days, we have email and computers. I used to keep track with paper and pen in a manila folder when I sent out SLIDES in a big portfolio! You’re so lucky to be able to do it all digitally, you little whippersnappers. You don’t know how good you all have it. All that nonsense was so expensive too.
I still keep the same system, however, only it’s now in a folder on my computer: exactly what images and other materials I send—to whom and when, and HOW they respond, if at all. How they respond is important. It gets put into a response folder, depending on what they said. Sometimes they like the work and want to keep it on file, which is not an outright rejection. That’s a gallery I can try again later when I have a new body of work. Not every rejection is the same. Remember that. Keep an open communication with a gallery that has expressed some interest in you and check back with them from time to time. If they’ve expressed any interest, ask if you can put them on your mailing list, or send them an image of new work every few months or so. Don’t bombard them with long emails, though. Keep it simple and cool.
The “policy” of my whole system is connection and communication. That’s more the goal than asking for a show or representation. Maybe you can’t put that on your resume, but these things eventually can turn into future opportunities, sometimes many years down the road. People you know now can later get different jobs as gallery directors, curators, art writers, or anything you cannot predict. Stay in contact! This is also the importance of your mailing list.
Once a gallery expresses interest in your work, the next common step is a studio visit. You want to get them to come see your work in person and meet with you. If they haven’t initiated this, you can ask them if you feel that it’s likely they might respond in kind. But it can be tricky because you don’t want to be pushy about this. If they aren’t up to it yet, or at all, you’ll have to back off. Maybe not forever, just ease off because they could just have a lot on their plate. It might not be anything personal to you. Timing plays a huge factor (right time, right place, remember?).
It’s a bit of a courting phase because, ultimately, when you hook up with a gallery, it is a kind of marriage. A partnership. It’s a true relationship of give and take, and trust. You have to trust each other. A lot of your business will be in writing, yes, but there will be a fair amount of handshakes and unstated mutual trust too. It’s just the way of the business—some galleries more than others. That always depends too.
They may first invite you into a group show to see how your work does with their clientele. It might not even be a show. Maybe they just want your work in their inventory first. Every situation is different. A gallery could offer you a solo show straight away from the gate. You never know. It always depends on you, and them. They might have exclusive contracts they want you to sign. Everyone is unique in that sense, and everything is always negotiable! You never have to sign anything with uncomfortable terms.
Let’s see, what else? If you don’t know this, commercial art galleries take 50% of commissions. If that’s something you aren’t used to, you’ll have to adjust to it. Adjust your prices accordingly. This is off the retail price. And if they exclusively represent you, that means they get that commission if you sell in the gallery or out of your studio. There are some technical exceptions here, but this is the standard operating procedure. If your gallery is in Los Angeles and so is your studio, that’s the rule. Even if you live out of the territory, if the work was shown in the gallery within the last year or so, and you’re selling it out of the studio, you should be paying your gallery half of the profits. That’s the etiquette.
Some people think 50% is too high. Well, maybe it is (for certain galleries), but for a well-established gallery that can move your work, it’s not. If they can get your work into their pool of art collectors, museum collections, corporate collections, and the like, this bolsters your career and increases the value of your work in the market. If they have a long-standing, good reputation and a prestigious name, they’re earning their cut. They’re working hard for their artists, trying to get them press, setting up the shows, promoting them, paying high rents, paying their staff and other overhead…there’s more that goes into it than artists think, despite their complaining.
Other great places to exhibit before you get into gallery representation (and even during) is to show in non-profit spaces. They take less of a commission (sometimes way less or none), and they often come with built-in patrons. Municipal galleries, artist-run galleries, or any non-profits are excellent places to look into. You can often pitch a show proposal, curate your own exhibitions, get in on a group show, and much more. Every city in the country has at least a few spaces like this. My first solo show was at a non-profit LGBTQ+ space in Santa Monica, CA, and I’m forever thankful to them. Here’s a short list of some non-profit galleries in California for ya.
Remember, once you do start putting things on your CV, they stay there for life. They are an accomplishment you can look at over and over, especially when you are feeling down when things are running dry, as they most definitely will. Stay strong, keep trying, and you will persevere! I believe in you!