A Wikipedia article is a great way for artists to show up in an internet search, not to mention the professional credibility it can add to your name recognition. There are hundreds of articles on individual artists on Wikipedia, and chances are you can be included too. In fact, anyone can essentially create and edit Wikipedia pages. However, the criteria for an acceptable Wikipedia entry are unwavering, and it is important that whoever is writing the article about you is experienced with the platform’s specific stylistic and formal guidelines. In this post I’ll introduce you to the ins and outs of commissioning and writing your own page.
Wikipedia is an open-sourced online encyclopedia, which is entirely supported by volunteers throughout the world who devote their time to creating and revising articles. This means that in order to keep the platform legitimate and relevant, new and existing articles generally go through a fairly rigorous peer review. In some ways, this process is not dissimilar from how academic publishing works: in both instances the author or editor needs to adhere to a specific style guide and endure a system of checks and balances to confirm that there is no implicit or explicit bias and that the information presented is factual.
So who can get a wiki page?
For a Wikipedia article about an artist to be published, they need to have somewhat of a significant level of notoriety and exposure. They don’t have to be a household name, or even a part of the art-world illuminati, but their work should be established enough that it is supported by numerous citations from reputable sources (i.e., books, newspapers, journals, and magazines, all of which have editorial processes that ensure journalistic integrity). The tone and context for any article on Wikipedia, especially one for a living person, must be neutral and verifiable. Wikipedia articles about artists are akin to biographies, not artist statements, press releases, or sales pitches. Therefore they should address the subject impartially and follow a standard structure.
Who should write your wiki?
The main issue that arises from Wikipedia being an open-sourced platform is conflict of interest. Anyone with a personal or financial relationship (i.e., an employee of a gallery or an artist’s assistant) to the subject is generally discouraged from writing or editing anything about that subject. However, you can still hire someone to write one for you. Those who are involved in the development of an article who have personal or fiscal connections just need to be completely transparent in disclosing the extent of their relationship.
Because of these stipulations, artists and galleries often turn to academically trained writers and editors who specialize in using discrete language and research methods that corroborate career narratives, artistic descriptions, and reliable bibliographies, which ensure a good Wikipedia article. Furthermore, academic writers and editors are able to scrutinize articles in a strictly empirical perspective, advise on the quality of the content, and determine whether it has merit for publication. While all articles are subject to future edits by virtually anyone with access to the internet, well-written, well-sourced, and unbiased entries are less likely to be overhauled with changes to their form, content, and context.
Above all else, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource that has grown in terms of its breadth of informative material and its validity as a source for learning about various disciplines and histories. One of the benefits of Wikipedia being sourced by a community of volunteers is that we get a myriad of subjects that reflect more than just the traditional canon of cultural history. In fact, the global Wikipedia community is committed to expanding diversity by hosting Edit-a-thons and putting out calls for articles that are more inclusive of intersectional voices and representation.
If you believe that your artistic career is ready for an entry among the many other published pieces on the site (see the checklist below), then you might consider consulting with an editor who can maintain an objective stance on your work and prepare your article in a manner that honors Wikipedia’s guidelines, while memorably representing your art practice.
Checklist for an artist’s biography on Wikipedia
The following information is helpful for creating a basic Wikipedia entry about an artist. Wikipedia does provide a template, where you can get a sense of how this information is laid out. After you have assessed your art career in relation to this checklist, it’s a good idea to consult with someone who has experience working on Wikipedia articles in order to keep with best practices and adhere to Wikipedia’s regulations for getting an article published.
– Short introduction: Start with your name (and any alias you go by) and date of birth in parentheses. Then answer the following questions in one brief sentence: What kind of artist are you (e.g., painter, sculptor, performance artist, environmental artist, etc.)? What are you known for specifically (e.g., outdoor installations, abstract paintings, activism, etc.)?
– Biographical background information: Your formal years prior to, leading up to, and during your current history as an artist.
– Career narrative: An impartial overview of the artwork you make, including notable and selected exhibitions, collections, commissions, and awards. If you teach or work in another profession that relates to your studio practice, this is a good place to mention that as well. Some writers will synthesize this section into subheadings for exhibitions, collections, awards, and notable works.
– Bibliography: Here’s the section that can make or break an article. You need to include reliable sources, as inline citations and endnotes, for every definitive statement or quotation that appears in the text. Reliable sources can be in print or online, but they must be from reputable secondary sources that can vouch for your artistic notability. Quality over quantity is advised; however it is recommended that you have at least five to ten different sources.
Your page on Wikipedia is a living legacy for your work as an artist. Therefore, it is important that you take the right steps and utilize the best available resources, such as working with an established arts editor, in order to nurture it as your career grows.