What Makes a Good CV?

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'Yes, I suppose certain narrow-minded people would call it a ‘pack of lies' - I prefer to think of it as creative up-selling.'Dear BURNAWAY,
First off, I love this column, it’s informative and inspiring, so thank you! I’ve got something to add to the question pool. I’m trying to get my professional act together and am finally setting up a website, complete with pictures and statements and, of course, a CV. Which is where my question comes in. What is the ideal CV? Is it just a resume? What should go on it? I know this may be a no-brainer, but I’m wondering for my sake and anyone else out there trying to make one.
—Doctor Lost
Thanks for the love, Doctor Lost.
First off, good for you for getting yourself together. I applaud you; it’s a hard thing to do. Especially considering how fast the whole world moves these days and the fact that, well, everything in life is just tremendously up in the air and unpredictable and beautiful and daunting. You’re fighting the good fight, soldier.
Whenever I broach the topic of CVs and resumes, I can’t help but think of that skit Kanye did on College Dropout, where he’s basically just making fun of people who go to college and get a degree and work at the Gap and then move up to working as a secretary’s secretary and who are pretty lame and never get laid and then it ends with a girl hypothetically asking “Hey, you know what’s sexy?” And the narrator responds “No, I don’t know what it is, but I bet I can count up the change in your purse very fast.”

It’s hilarious. Mostly because it’s true. Resumes and CVs are, in some ways, the lamest, most impersonal way to present oneself; however, they are a necessary evil. When you’re making one, it’s hard to look at it, no matter how impressive or pitiful it is—this weird text-portrait of yourself, the laid-out trajectory of your dreams and aspirations. It can leave you staring into the bathroom mirror wondering, Is this me?! Is this what I boil down to?! And then you collapse on your bed like a weeping willow.
But here’s the thing, once you get it done, you’ll feel a lot better about everything, I promise. For starters, you just need one that’s up-to-date and accurate, no matter how long or short it is. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re an emerging artist and your CV is not as beefed up as you’d like. You’ll get there, it takes a lot of work, but everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right? The earlier you start focusing on building it, the better you’ll be for it. Because, just as a writer needs to publish things to get more writing gigs, and an electrician has to electrify things to get more electrification gigs (?), an artist needs an exhibition history to get more exhibitions.
So let’s get down to details.
The difference between a CV and a resume is essentially length and scope. A resume is usually 1-2 pages and summarizes your skills, education, and experiences. It focuses on the more recent aspects of yourself and your career, whittles it all down to an overview of what you’ve been up to lately. A CV—which stands for curriculum vitae (rough translation, life work)—is longer and more comprehensive than a resume. It’s basically a complete index of your artistic career. So show thyself! Editors and writers rely a great deal on artists’ CVs, so get detailed and be precise.
Near the top, list the year and city in which you were born, along with where you live now.
You’ll want to include your contact info, website, solo and group exhibitions, professional experience (e.g., teaching and curating), and a bibliography if you have one. Also, list any awards you’ve won, collections you’re in, or publications you’ve done as well. The most recent items should be listed first in all categories.
Your CV needs to be an honest reflection of what you’ve done in your career. Don’t try to stretch the truth on this. Meaning, don’t try to bulk up your CV by listing art fairs or benefit art auctions you participated in under “exhibitions.” Those don’t count. And if you hung some work in some schmancy corporate office for a few months, that doesn’t either. Only include the legit, curated shows you’ve been a part of. The art world is a small place, so let us not deceive one another! Most galleries and curators would rather see five decent gallery shows listed than ten that include entries like a solo show in a café or at “Donna’s Gallery,” which really means you hung two reindeer paintings in the foyer of your coworker Donna’s house for her annual Christmas party. Doesn’t count, sugar.
Next, get a friend to look over it for you and check for typos. Your CV may get passed around, viewed a lot, and you’ll probably build upon the same document for a while, so make sure everything is correct. Remember that Friends episode where Rachel realizes she put “excellent compuper skills” on all her resumes? Yeah, avoid that.

Finally, if your CV is done right, you’ll be able to update it easily—it’ll practically do the work for you! But don’t forget to update it—as in, all the time. You never know who’s checking your website and when.
If you need some visual guides and ideas for which categories to include, here are some CV’s that are pretty excellent, sleek examples to model yours after: Craig Drennen, Maysey Craddock, Nikita Gale, and for more expansive examples, take a look at Berkeley-based photographer and videographer Katy Grannan’s CV or Minneapolis photographer Alec Soth’s.
Okay. Soldier on, soldier.

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