December 11, 2019 | Alyson Stanfield

Is Your Artist Statement Written in First or Third Person?

There is no overseer of the perfect artist statement and bio that is going to come get you for not adhering to rules that never existed. Breathe a sigh of relief.

You can’t go wrong unless you have a bunch of typos, use poor grammar, or don't align your tenses.

[The Successful Artist's Guide to Writing Your Artist Statement]

Here are some guidelines for which tenses to use and when when you're writing your artist statement and bio.

©Emily Stedman, Cattle Coming Home/Costa Rica. Watercolor on paper, 18 x 14 inches. Used with permission.

Your Artist Bio

Your bio is about you and your artistic accomplishments. It is not your life story.

It is written in the third person (otherwise, it would be an autobiography). It helps to think of it as your résumé in paragraph form.

Write it in reverse chronological order, acknowledging that your most important accomplishments are those that are most recent. You can open a bio with a short paragraph summarizing your current work. This can be taken from your statement and reworked for the bio format.

Your Artist Statement

In contrast to your bio, which is about your accomplishments, your statement is about your work—the current direction of your work, not the history of how you got to this point. It’s your opportunity to define a body of work before others respond to the work and define it for you.

Your statement—because it is a statement—is written in first person. It is not the definitive statement about your work forever and ever because your work changes. You must allow your statement to get better and to grow along with your art.

My litmus test for a good statement is that it makes me want to quit reading and look at the artist’s work again. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of words.

Exception for Websites

I believe, however, that there is an exception to the “bio in the 3rd person” rule. And that’s when the information is on your website.

It's perfectly okay to combine your statement with your bio on an About the Artist page and write everything in 3rd person. If you separate them, don’t call your statement a statement because a statement should be in 1st person. Statements come from an individual’s lips, pens, or fingertips.

It’s also perfectly okay to do the same and write everything in 1st person. In fact I kind of prefer that About pages for artists are written in 1st person because, let's face it, everyone knows you wrote it anyway. It's weird to talk about yourself in 3rd person. I’m kind of a stickler (or try to learn and get better) about correct grammar.

I prefer that a bio in 1st person is called About Me. As I said, though, no one is going to lock you up for breaking my guidelines. Praise the lord!

This article was first published on October 9, 2007. It has been updated with original comments left intact.

 

8 comments add a comment
  • Thank you for this article. After reading it I went to my blog and realized I had only a one line bio! I’m having such a hard time trying to write about myself.

  • “You can’t go wrong unless you have a bunch of type-os, use poor grammar, or are otherwise sloppy.” Alyson, you forgot spelling!. Typos, sloppy writing and poor grammar are red flags for me whether on blogs or websites yet I sometimes reread my own writing with a great big “Aarggh!” There may not be a great overseer, but your info will be less effective for your readers. I do agree that bios can be either first or third person if care is taken not to mix them and that the statement should be first person. However, for a combination, the ‘third person’ biographer can easily ‘quote’ the first person artist’s statement.

  • I wrote my online bio in the first person, but I titled it “About Daniel Sroka”: http://www.danielsroka.com/biography.php I agree, the grammar makes me cringe. But I did it for the kids.. I mean, the search engines. As the title for the page (in an H1 tag) I wanted to make sure that the search engines scanned the concept “About Daniel Sroka” instead of the more generic, but grammatically-correct “About me”. Does it really make a difference? I’m not sure, but it was worth a try.

  • Alyson B. Stanfield

    Judy K: Read the book BRAG! It’s linked in my left column and is wonderful in helping you tell your story. Annette: Good point. Dan: Never hurts!

  • Hi Alyson, I was writing my first ever grant application and had finished the resume (first I had written since my ’20s) – using your guidelines for help. Then I turned to tweak my bio and artist statement – which I have had and been making changes on for years … took a deep breath, and – oh, let’s check the email again before I dive in. Lo and behold .. an marketing newsletter from you titled “writing your bio and artist statement”! Pretty cool … so I read what you wrote before I tweaked. Thank you! ~ Diane Clancy http://www.dianeclancy.com/blog

  • Thanks for providing this information. I am writing an article for the newsletter of our local art league about writing a bio. I have been doing research to make sure I have my facts straight. First person or third person has been confusing to me in the past. This clears things up. I am constantly revising my husbands bio. I am now trying to add statements about each work to make his website more interesting and informative to visitors. http://www.PaulKeysar.com

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