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.

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10 thoughts on “What is a body of work?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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  10. What I love about doing artwork is the freedom and creating without any kind of limitations or BS to clutter up my mind.

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