August 15, 2010 | Alyson Stanfield

What is a body of work?

A body of work is comprised of multiple pieces that are cohesive in nature. It usually doesn’t represent an artist’s oeuvre, a word that most often refers to an artist’s lifetime of work.

Aljoscha, Object 106. Acrylics, 420 x 210 x 160 cm.

The definition of a body of work varies from artist to artist. For one artist, a body of work might be defined by size. For another artist, it might be color, media, or subject matter.

I can't give you a precise number of pieces that are within a body of work. I can't even give you a number on average.

The emerging artist is most concerned with producing a body of work defined by a recognizable style. This means that the emerging artist is looking for quantity as well as quality. A few pieces by a new artist won’t convince the art establishment of your capabilities. You need enough for a solid exhibition.

A more established artist might define a body of work by subject matter. Think of Claude Monet’s Waterlilies or photographer Larry Clark’s Tulsa series. (Note: To confuse things further, a series can be a body of work, but a body of work can also be made up of multiple series.)

Bodies of work are often clearly defined on artists' websites.

Plein-air painter Joellyn Duesberry defines her bodies of work by location.

Mixed-media artist Kesha Bruce does a great job defining (through text) how each of her series are different.

How will you know when you have a body of work?

I think you will know when you’ve hit upon a defined body of work. You feel confident in the quality, proud of the results, and ready to share it with the world. Until you feel this way, keep making art.

9 comments add a comment
  • Julie

    Thank you for the post! One of my goals is to someday create a body of work with a linking conception. I don’t think I’m there yet but this is a good reminder of the steps I need to take to get there.

  • Great post – as an emerging artist this is what I’ve been striving toward!
    I have a question about hanging a body of work – should they all be the same? That is, should they all have a cohesive frame style or size? I’ve been working in gouache on a body of work, and the size ranges from 4×6 to 16×20. Most are ready to be hung with a mat and frame. I do have a couple that were painted on aquabord instead of paper, so they can be varnished and hung with just a frame (no mat). I’ve also been experimenting with mounting the finished painting on board and varnishing it, eliminating the need for frames. Is this variety bad for hanging as a cohesive unit, or does the fact that the art “goes together” work just fine?

  • Debora L. Stewart

    I have finally reached this cohesive body of work goal. For years I tried this media and then that media and became proficient at the ones I tried. But at least 5 years ago I left representational behind and became an abstract pastel artist. I now have a consistent way of working, my process on all my pieces is the same process and I have become proficient with pastels and am getting the results that I am visualizing. I am the happiest with my work that I ever have been. And I think my “style” may now be recognizable (I hope). My previous painting leads to the next one instead of a whole new direction. Its finally “clicking” after alot of trial and error and throwing alot of things away.

  • Barbara Muir

    Hi Alyson,
    This is all very helpful information. You made me realize that I do indeed
    have a “body of work.” How encouraging.
    Thanks for the important work you do.

  • June Rollins

    Thanks, Alyson. This is a timely post for me. My main medium for the past 10 years has been watercolor, mostly representational, but with such a variety of subjects. I’ve repeatedly made the commitment to focus on one subject, but have lost interest after a few paintings. Yesterday, I just finished No.9 of the same subject and am more intrigued than before I began! And on top of that, it’s a subject I’ve avoided, because I thought it was too common!

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