Agora Gallery’s Glossary of Art Portfolio Terminology

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Whether you’re applying for an artist residency, submitting your portfolio to an art gallery, or entering a fine art competition, art portfolio terminology can be confusing.  You’ll be asked for various pieces of information and images presented in particular ways. Each opportunity will have different instructions and guidelines, and it is important to check their requirements carefully. If you send the wrong details, and your entry is therefore rejected or overlooked, you might never get the chance you deserve to impress them with your talent.

glossary of art portfolio terminology

Unfortunately, the fact that there is so much variation in the material you might be asked to submit means that many artists are confused about the terminology used, and can be left unsure what they’re really being asked to send. Most places will define unusual terms, or be willing to give an explanation if asked, but there are many phrases that you’ll simply be expected to know. Below is a list of the common terms you’re likely to come across, and an explanation of what they require from you. If you’re not sure what the difference is between an artist resume and an artist biography, or whether you should be saving as a JPEG or RAW file, then this is the article for you.

We’ve divided the glossary into three sections:

Text Terminology, which deals with the terms you might find confusing in the written material you’ll often be asked to include in your portfolio.

File Format Terminology, which explains the different sorts of file formats you might need to use to save your work and what the differences are between them.

Resolution Terminology, which explains what people mean when they talk about high resolution images and DPI or pixels.

Demystifying Text Terminology – Art Portfolio Terminology

  • The Artist Curriculum Vitae (or CV): An artist’s CV differs significantly from the standard CV that most of us are familiar with – something that can throw you if you’re not aware of it. An artist’s CV is meant to be a professional history identifying the artist’s accomplishments to date – meaning that it should highlight a number of areas that would not be present in a traditional CV. The artist’s CV is usually longer than a typical CV, where the golden rule is often to keep it to a single page if possible – an artist CV is normally up to four pages in length. The information should be divided into several sections in addition to the standard education, experience, honors and awards, and skills sections. The extra sections include: a bibliography referencing articles about your work, interviews, publications, and artist reviews; a detailed list of group, solo, and invitational exhibitions in which you have participated (citing the name of the exhibit, place, space, and so on); and a list of corporate, private, and permanent collections which feature your work. Art instruction experience (including teaching engagements, academic committees, and the like), when relevant, should also be included.
  • When to Use: The long artist CV is meant to be a framework that outlines your professional and academic history, and includes a great deal of detail. The artist CV is most often used in academic situations – for example, if you were applying for entrance into an art school or for a position as an art instructor or artist in residence. Occasionally, a gallery or dealer will request a CV, but most often they prefer an abbreviated document that’s easier and quicker to peruse, which is why it’s important to have an artist resume prepared and ready to go as well.
  • The Artist Resume: While similar to a CV, the artist resume is meant to be an abbreviated document that gives a brief account of your professional or work experience and qualifications, with the main emphasis focused on exhibitions, awards, collections, and personal bibliography (again, referencing articles and reviews of your work). These areas are usually tailored to the organization you are targeting, whether it’s a commercial gallery, museum, exhibition opportunity, or grant. The biggest key to writing a successful artist resume is to keep it as simple as possible. For the greatest impact, it should be uncomplicated and presented in a format that is short and easy to review.
    • When to Use: The artist resume is recommended for use when submitting a portfolio to professional venues, including commercial and non-profit galleries, museums, and art centers. A resume will also be your document of choice when applying for grants, residency programs, commissions, and other exhibition opportunities. You might need it for use online, as well – artist resumes are increasingly appearing on artist and gallery websites, as well as certain publications such as exhibition catalogues. You can see why – the resume is a great way for someone to quickly and easily get a rough idea of who you are as an artist.
  • The Biography: It’s important that your portfolio contain a brief narrative account of your background, career path, and current activities. The bio is different from a resume in that it is written in narrative, paragraph format and tends to be more descriptive, with a greater level of detail. The biography will also commonly include in list form any career highlights, including exhibitions, grants, awards, and publications.
    • When to Use: A brief biography is considered standard for most artist portfolios. However, it’s important to note that many dealers and others in the art world tend to use the terms “bio” and “resume” interchangeably. Thus, if there is a specific request for a bio as part of your portfolio, be sure to clarify whether they are expecting a narrative or a format that is easier to scan.
  • The Artist Statement: An artist statement is meant to provide a basic introduction to you as an artist. The focus is more on the work itself, and its influences and the intention or inspiration behind it, than on your background, experience, and artistic achievements. The artist statement should succinctly explain how and why you create your art, as well as your intention behind your artistic endeavors. This document should be short (no more than a page) and may pertain either to a particular work or series, or to your entire body of work, depending on which is appropriate for the context.
    • When to Use: Many artists commonly confuse the artist statement with the bio (described above). While both documents contain similar elements, the bio is meant to be more of a descriptive resume of career highlights and achievements, while the artist statement focuses more on the creative aspects of the artist’s style, process, goals, and the overall themes or meanings included in the work. Artist statements are often required for portfolio submissions to gallery owners, dealers, commission bids, and other venues where understanding the stylistic and symbolic components of the work will be of particular importance. It is therefore important that you include the right sort of material – if an artist statement is requested and you omit it, or send a biography by mistake, then you are depriving the receiver of an insight into your work that might be crucial in their decision of whether to follow up with you or not. Give your work the chance it deserves, and get it right.


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Demystifying Digital File Format – Art Portfolio Terminology

When saving your digital photography, you have several file format options to choose from. There are good things and bad things about each format, so there’s no single clear answer about which you should always use. For this reason, you may be asked for any of these common file formats when submitting your images, and it is important to check what is being asked for and send the right one. If you send your work in a format that is different to the one that has been requested, the person receiving it may be unable to open it or incorporate it into their system, or may be forced to view the images in non-ideal conditions. In the best case, they might ask you to resend in the correct file format. In the worst case, they might simply give up, or decide to print or pass along your image even though the quality is poor. Either way, you’d have been better off checking what was required at the start.

choosing the right digital format

Here are the advantages and disadvantages offered by each image file format:

  • TIFFs (Tagged Image File Format): Tiffs are considered a universal digital image standard that is particularly prevalent in print publishing. Significantly, TIFF is a type of lossless format, which means that the image data is stored whole and nothing is thrown away. This results in larger file sizes but also translates to a higher level of quality when it comes to photographs. It is also considered the most versatile of the file formats (enabling you to work with 1-bit to 48-bit color, RGB, CMYK, LAB, or indexed color). There is an exception, however – although great for print, web pages don’t show TIFF files.
    • TIFF Pros: high quality image, versatile.
    • TIFF Cons: larger file sizes (compared to JPEG), not recognized in web formats.
    • When to Use: If the images are for print, then TIFF is a good option. Keep in mind that since TIFF is lossless, it is generally considered the highest quality format for commercial work (and supports most color options). TIFF is also ideal if you are looking for maximum compatibility (across PC, Mac, and UNIX hardware). This file format is best for portfolio, contest, and other types of submissions, as it affords the greatest level of detail for your photographs.
  • JPEGs (Joint Photographic Experts Group): JPEG is the most common file format used in digital photography, and its popularity is partly due to the fact that it uses a compression process which keeps file size down and enables more images to be stored on a memory card, or in a database, as well as making them easier to transfer via email and on the web. JPEGs are often requested for competitions or submissions that are run online, for this reason. On the other hand, it is considered a type of lossy file format. This means that when the image is saved, the camera strips out some of the image data. This is generally of the sort which the human eye would most likely not notice anyway, but JPEG files can be made up to 20 times smaller than the original uncompressed image, and the level of compression will affect image quality. In addition, more quality is lost every time you save your JPG images, with the addition of added JPEG artifacts such as inaccurate colors and pixelated images.
    • JPEG Pros: smaller file size, ideal for image mobility (via email and the web).
    • JPEG Cons: compression reduces image quality, added JPEG artifacts.
    • When to Use: If you need a smaller file size, JPEG will be your best bet. As long as the compression is minimized, the quality of the image can be decently preserved. Since the image can be compromised, it’s only recommended that you use this format for portfolio and other submissions if the gallery or organization requests it. However, JPEG files are an excellent option for online submissions, website postings, and for use on social media.
  • PNGs (Portable Network Graphic): As online art venues become more popular, this type of format is becoming more and more common. PNG files can offer lossless compression with a smaller file size than TIFF and, unlike TIFF, are compatible with web browsers. PNG offers additional options such as RGB color modes, 16 bits, and transparency for 24 bit RGB images.
    • PNG Pros: excellent image quality, fully supported on web, smaller file size than TIFF, color and transparency options.
    • PNG Cons: while PNG quality is good, TIFF file formats are still considered the undisputed leader when it comes to quality.
    • When to Use: This file format is best when you need a small file size with no loss in quality (PNG files are usually smaller than TIFFs). Since PNG was originally developed to be a web graphics replacement for GIF, it supports such features as alpha transparency (soft edges). For online forums (such as websites, email, and social media), a PNG image file will be your best option. Here, you will get the best image quality with maximum portability.
  • RAWs (Unprocessed Digital Images/Digital Negatives): RAW files are what they sound like – they contain the actual data that’s taken directly from the digital camera’s image sensor, with zero processing. What this means is that RAW files are the purest possible image file in the digital photography world and thus allow for more flexibility and options in post processing. Unlike JPEG and other files that can be viewed on any computer, RAW files require specific software. Also note that RAW files tend to take longer to write to the memory card and will occupy more space than other image formats. Industry experts predict that this file format is likely to become more prevalent in the future due to the flexibility it offers.
    • RAW Pros: purest possible image, most processing options.
    • RAW Cons: requires specific software, uses more memory.
    • When to Use: RAW files are best if you are looking for maximum control and versatility throughout the processing phase. In addition, the RAW data has a wider range than formats like JPEG are able to offer. In most cases, RAW files won’t be submitted but rather used during the shooting and editing phase. Once you have the image just right, you can convert to another format.
  • PSDs (Photoshop Document): If you plan to edit in Photoshop or another Adobe application, then PSD is going to be your file format of choice. When you save in this format, you are able to retain adjustment layers and maintain transparency if desired. Keep in mind, however, that this file format is large in size (particularly if you edit with many layers) and can only be viewed and printed by Adobe and certain other graphics programs. And, like TIFF files, this format cannot be displayed on the web.
    • PSD Pros: ideal for layer editing, compatible with Photoshop, enables transparency.
    • PSD Cons: files are large in size and only compatible with Photoshop, Adobe products, and limited other graphics programs.
    • When to Use: This image file format is ideal if you have many layers of the image that you want to preserve, as it will enable you to retain all of your adjustment layers, layers styles, and blending modes. Like RAW files, this is a file format used for editing. For submissions, your image should be converted to a different file format.
  • EPSs (Encapsulated PostScript): An EPS file format is really a collection of several other image files generated from several sources, and produces both a preview image and high resolution image data. This type of file is most often used for sending or exporting files for print, when the graphics are only meant to be read but not edited by the receiver. You must have specific software to create an EPS file, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe illustrator, or QuarkXpress.
    • EPS Pros: preserves the integrity of the image, enables exporting.
    • EPS Cons: requires specific software, files tend to be larger.
    • When to Use: This file format is a good option if you need to send a copy of your images for print and you don’t want the image edited. However, make sure the recipient is able to receive and open this type of file format.
Claude MacBurnie in his studio
Claude MacBurnie in his studio

Image Resolution Terminology: Navigating DPIs and Pixels to Create the Perfect Image

Whether you work with photography for your art, or you’re an artist who needs to take an image of your artwork to show others, getting the right resolution is key. In order to ensure that your finished photograph is of the highest quality, it’s important to understand digital resolution and use it to your advantage. First, let’s clarify some terms:

  • Pixel: When you create a digital representation of your work, the camera is breaking down the image into little pieces, or blocks, which are assigned a color and then stored in the memory. Each of these blocks is called a pixel.
  • DPI (Dots per Inch): DPI describes the resolution of the image, or the number of pixels per inch. Basically, the higher the DPI, the more detailed and crisp the image will be.
  • So in order to produce a quality, high resolution image (if that is your intent), you need to have as high a DPI as possible. To achieve this, you need to start with a camera that has a high pixel count (at least in the nine megapixel range). SLR (single lens reflex) cameras are better for this type of work than point and shoot cameras, and a high quality lens is critical. Before shooting, be sure to set your camera to the highest resolution available, and if you can save the image to a RAW file format, that is best.
  • The key to getting the shot right resolution-wise is to remember that while you can download the image to a lower resolution on the computer, you can’t increase the resolution of the original image because the computer won’t have the information needed to fill the image in (or to add more pixels). Thus, proper resolution when the shot is first taken is imperative to getting the result you want. The shot you take is what you’ll have to work with when it comes to manipulating the image or showing it to others.

Understanding art portfolio terminology is essential in being able to navigate the complex world of art. Being aware of the distinctions between the terms described in this article can help you on many levels of your career, from talking knowledgeably with art professionals to submitting successful art portfolios. If you’re unsure of terms that you come across as an artist, take the time to check what they mean. It will give you the confidence to move forward, knowing that you’re on the right track.

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