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Creating a “Body of Work”

July 1, 2010
body-of-workThe art world is full of frustratingly vague terms. Let’s dispel a little of this ambiguity!

What the heck is a “body of work” anyways??

Simply put, it is a collection of art that (and here’s the clincher!) has a common theme throughout.

It’s not enough to collect every drawing/sketch/collage you’ve done in the past ten years and declare that you have a body of work! A true body of work needs to have a thread of commonality running through it, whether that thread is a colour, a process, or a subject matter.

Think of Picasso’s Blue Period. That is a body of work! A series of paintings with a common theme and colour palette.

Why is this important?

Art galleries want to see a body of work. This gives them a deeper understanding of your art practice, the confidence that you can see a project through, and a theme to build an exhibition around. If you submit a collection of random works to a curator, he/she  will think (probably rightly so!) that you have no idea who you are as an artist.

If you want to exhibit your art, therefore, it is extremely important to develop a body of work.

But how?

You need to create a series of work that has a common theme, which can be harder than it sounds!

When you hit upon an idea that is particularly exciting to you, tell yourself to stick with it for another ten or so pieces. This doesn’t mean that you do the same thing over and over ten times. It means that you work with the same ideas, developing and refining them as you go. As well as giving you a body of work, this will allow you to explore your ideas in great depth.

Here are a few (of many) possible themes:

1. Similar Subject Matter

Choose a subject that you feel passionate about, that you’d really like to explore in depth. Just off the top of my head, this could be something like “the castles of Wales,” or “the beaches of Australia.” It could also be something like “lines” or “squares.” If you love beaches, challenge yourself to paint as many beaches as possible. Expand your focus within the beach theme, paintinng beaches at different times of the day or in different seasons. Try a close-up view. Try a panoramic shot.

2. A Single Subject

Picking a single subject allows you a lot of freedom when it comes to materials and techniques. Love the look of that tea pot? Now render it in as many different ways as you can. You can even start to abstract the image, as Cezanne did with his still life paintings.

3. A Colour

Sticking to a colour palette or a single colour also allows you the freedom of subject matter and materials. Whatever you’re interested in, challenge yourself to use only a certain colour(s), but let yourself explore that colour in different ways.

The trick to developing a body of work is that you need to provide yourself with interesting challenges. You need to keep each piece fresh and new, all the while working within your selected theme. Some themes develop naturally as you grow as an artist, but other themes are limitations deliberately employed by the artist to stretch themselves creatively.

When to Lay the Body to Rest

Whether you’ve been working with the same theme for weeks or years, there will come a time when it stops being meaningful to you. As an artist, you need to be sensitive to and aware of this. When you sense yourself becoming bored with a series, it’s time to either discard it and start something new, or introduce a new element to bring the excitement and uncertainty back.
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