Artists briefs

The artist brief is a written document that provides relevant information on the commission. The brief should set the vision, direction and scope of the commission and can function as a discursive document, so that possibilities are not limited and fixed from the start. Different parties may be involved in inputting into thinking around the brief - the commissioners, artists, curators and other professional backgrounds - architects, librarians, the community, etc all inputting and who will have something to contribute to creating parameters for a commission or a project. The brief has generally considered a formal document and contents might includes some or all of the following:

  • The context - the place/site, architectural context, geographic or social dimensions and the commissioning organisations ethos and values
  • The brief - nature of artwork; the emphasis of the commission (if it can be open); the budget; project management; time frame; point of contact
  • The selection process - adjudication process; selection criteria and sometimes the names of  the selection panel
  • Submission - closing dates, address and contacts
  • Contact names - for addressing queries
  • Appendices - maps, drawings, photographs and other useful material for artists. In some cases these might be included in the body of the brief

Increasingly the emphasis is on a more fluid briefing document that can be the basis of a discussion with artists. The brief might be considered only as a starting point in which to develop ideas further and support ambition. What is worth considering is that while the brief should provide useful information and not mislead, it might also try not preempt outcomes. The challenge is to support focus, but not limit ambition. In general, it is good to issue a brief that gives scope and does not limit artistic ambition and where there is the potential to write or adapt the brief with an artist, after an invitation or selection process.

Types of Briefs

There are many different kinds of briefs that can be written to suit and address the focus of a commission and to ensure support for contemporary artistic ambition. A brief can be tightly focused and seek a specific response, such as a site-specific permanent sculpture or memorial landmark, or focus on a specific medium such as sound, digital media or film. It sometimes places a greater emphasis on community engagement and process-based interaction rather than on a finished product.

Other briefs allow for a more open response, giving greater scope for artists to respond in ways that are of interest to their practice. A brief may also be tied into an overall curatorial framework where a conceptual or philosophical framework is offered for consideration. In some instances artists have been invited to write their own brief. Or there is no brief issued and instead an approach document is written jointly by artists and commissioners. The best quality artworks and projects are most likely to be achieved by artists who do not have to comprise their artistic ambition and practice. Briefing documents should not be misleading, and over expecting of artists - who will one way or the other be working within budget allocations.



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