Galleries often say to an artist, “I want to see a body of work from you.” By this they mean a few things: they want to see a consistent subject matter theme, they want to see visual consistency, and they want to sense that the artist has gone deep and done something meaningful. Their clear desires translate into three equally clear tips:
1. You want to be able to articulate for yourself your subject matter theme. It isn’t necessary to articulate it in a lot of words: your theme might sound like “Los Angeles light,” “hurricanes,” “abstractions that hint at violence,” “realistic drawing rooms,” etc. It doesn’t matter if you use a hundred words or one word to communicate your theme to yourself or even if you communicate it wordlessly and intuitively. The main thing is that you can communicate it to yourself: that is, that you actually know what theme holds a given body of work together.
2. A coherent theme doesn’t necessarily translate into a body of work with visual consistency. You might take as your theme “Los Angeles light” but then create a dozen paintings that look so different that a viewer can’t know, tell, or feel that “Los Angeles light” is the theme that connects the pieces. It isn’t that each painting must look like the next one but a certain visual coherence is vital. Picture ten paintings by any painter you can name: ten Rothko “meditations,” ten O’Keeffe flowers, ten Van Gogh portraits. Each of those bodies of work has a visual consistency that supports the artist’s thematic intentions.
3. Third, you want your body of work to reflect the fact that you have gone deep and returned with something meaningful to you. We can sense that authentic encounter in a Giacometti figure, a Goya painting, or a Turner watercolor. The subject matter can be a firing squad or the sea at sunset: an authentic encounter can produce any sort of subject matter. Whatever the subject matter, we need the residue of the artist’s encounter there on the canvas in front of us.
If you haven’t given the idea of a “body of work” much thought, you might want to take some time and think about it. It is one of the keys to making art that you yourself love and that others want.
Eric Maisel’s books for artists include The Van Gogh Blues, Coaching the Artist Within, Making Your Creative Mark, and many more. Visit Dr. Maisel’s Amazon author’s page at:
I have one body of work with the theme of Equine Heart & Soul that has a sub body of work within it based on the theme of Freedom and a consistent visual element. What’s the best way to promote something like that to galleries that use the term “body of work” in a traditional way?
I also have a body of work with the theme of Nature’s Metaphors that’s unrelated to horses. Do successful artists often build multiple, unrelated bodies of work simultaneously, or are they supposed to focus on one, and if so…why?