Mentor Lyla Rye – www.mentorlylarye.com
Most application proposals are for work that does not yet exist, and you can only show images of finished work. On top of these challenges, you are often only allowed to submit very few images to make an impact. For example, the Toronto Arts Council’s Visual Artists Creation Grants allow a maximum of 10 images, or 5 minutes of video. Meanwhile, Ontario Arts Council Visual Artists Creation Projects allow just 8 images only. In these competitive contexts you need to represent your work in a way that stands out from what is a very large crowd.
This can leave many first-time applicants confused as to how to best use their visuals to support their planned project.
Good artwork documentation is just the start. The Ontario Arts Council has some great videos online demonstrating what good documentation looks like and the effects of lighting, clarity, alternate views, etc. (resources) The most critical and difficult aspect of choosing images is remembering that they need to represent your best work AND be the best photographs. This means that if you have a bad photograph of your favourite sculpture (or painting, drawing, installation….) you shouldn’t use it. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to resist doing or even to see when the documentation is not good enough. You know what the artwork looked like and so can see through a flawed image. This is when it is good to have another set of eyes, be it a friend, peer or mentor.
I always recommend writing first and then choosing images. Once you’ve clarified your proposal then you can decide what artwork best demonstrates the development of your ideas. If you mention a past work in your proposal, then you really must show it as one of your images.
My mentees often want help to select and order images. I emphasize that the goal is to create a story about the development of their ideas, technique and process. Unlike your CV, images are always ordered from oldest to newest. Your first image is important to grab the jury’s attention, while the last one is critical as often it is this last image that is left onscreen while jury members discuss your proposal.
Once you’ve selected the artwork that you feel relates to your written proposal, then you should order them chronologically. It is not uncommon to show up to 3 images of each artwork. As well as a full view this might include installation shots, details, show viewers for scale or to demonstrate how the work is engaged with. Even when the work is 2 dimensional, some details should always be presented. Remember that aspects of the work that are obvious to you are not always self-evident even in good documentation. Frequently artists first show a full view, then supplementary views, but it can be very seductive to occasionally put the detail first and after this, reveal the full work.
Photo Credit Scott Lee