Friday, March 5, 2010

Showing Your Work: part 1 - the jury process

It takes a lot of courage to put your work in front of a judge or juror, or so I've been told. I've done it many a time and paid good money for the privilege. Why? Because I want people to see my work. Some artists might create their work entirely for their own pleasure, happy to let the art live in a closet forever, but I haven't met them yet. Most of us have a message to send with our art - even if that message is as simple as "smile."

Do I find it scary to submit to the jury process? No - but not because I think my art is great or because I always get into the show. This year I've been accepted to two out of four of the shows I've entered. Part of my "courage" is having seen enough jury processes that I know what is involved. Part of it is that I am able to emotionally let go of my work once it's done. Let me explain.

In a juried show artists submit either images or the actual artwork, and a juror chooses which out of all the submissions will be in the actual exhibit. Jurors are usually professionals in the art field; established artists, gallery owners, professors, curators.

You fill out a form, you pay a fee. It's not unreasonable. It costs money to advertise the show, to staff the exhibit, to pay the juror. Most of the shows I've worked with just barely break even.

What happens on the other end? Imaging receiving hundreds of files, some of which might actually have followed the guidelines in the prospectus. You've already answered what feels like hundreds of Email questions and helped people format their files or simply restated what is already written in the entry guidelines.

All of the entries are now organized into a slide presentation and you have prepared numbered sheets for the jurors. The most common process that I've seen goes like this: A full and detail image for each entry is shown on the screen either side by side or one after the other. Most of the time the jurors will be shown a quick run through of all of the entries so that they can get an idea of what they are looking at. If the show has a theme the jurors might be told what it is and to please try to find pieces that adhere in some way to that unifying idea. Sometimes the jurors are given free reign to choose whatever pieces they think will make a wonderful exhibit.

The next run through is usually silent but takes more time. Each juror looks carefully at each piece and simply writes down "yes" or "no." At the end of this run the jurors compare notes and any piece that has unanimous rejections are, well, rejected. Harsh? Not really. There are many, many reasons pieces are rejected that have nothing to do with the quality of that particular piece. 

I'm sure the most frustrating reason for rejection is poor photography. When the jurors cannot see the artwork clearly it is impossible to judge it. Having anything at all showing in the background of the photograph is distracting. I remember on photograph in particular where the piece was pinned to a piece of bright purple foam core set on an easel. You could see half the living room and the jurors couldn't tell if the purple was part of the quilt or not. Truly, if you present your work in the the most professional manner possible it will make a huge difference. Your work IS your best effort is it not?

Now things get difficult. After the rejected images are deleted from the pool the jurors once again view the pool, this time either meticulously rating each piece, or conversing with their colleagues to come to an agreement on the final selections. There is a good bit of cajoling, campaigning, and compromising that goes on here.

Reasons for rejection at this stage? Numerous. The theme could be "Trees" and they reject the artwork depicting fishes and candy canes. The pool of entries might lean towards abstract and one photo-realistic piece, no matter how spectacular, just isn't going to create a cohesive show. Perhaps these particular jurors love politically challenging pieces whereas another set of jurors might shy away from them.

You see, it really is simply the luck of the draw. There are so many factors that go in to the process that there really is no guarantee that you will be accepted into a show even if your work is truly wonderful. There are things you can do to raise your chances of being accepted.

1 - Research the show - what type of artwork has been exhibited in past shows?
2 - Research the juror - find out what other shows the juror has put together and what they look like. What kind of artwork does the juror make if he or she is an artist.
3 - Take the best possible photographs of your work possible. Neutral backgrounds. Good light. Focused!
4 - Follow the instructions on the prospectus to the letter! Do not expect the organizers to resize your images or accept late entries.

Here is a short list of articles and a book that can help you with the tasks above.

Shoot That Quilt by Andy Baird and Holly Knott
A wonderful tutorial on how to digitally photograph your quilt including plans for building your own nifty light stands. Yes, it can be done!

Digital Essentials by Gloria Hansen
This wonderful book clearly explains how to prepare your digital files for entry.

Judge and Jury: what to expect when entering art shows by Annie Strack
A very good overview of the entire process and a bit of a tutorial on how to choose your shows and maximize your chances of acceptance.

A list of art-quilt shows to enter compiled by yours truly
Listed by entry date, includes title, website/prospectus, show dates and shipping windows.

And finally - cut the apron strings. Let your babies grow up and venture out into the world on their own. Make enough work that all your hopes and dreams are not riding on one piece. Put your heart and soul into the work while you are creating it and then release it. A rejection of your work from a show is NOT the same as a rejection of you as an artist.

Look for more on this topic over the next month or two. I'd love to hear your experiences, opinions, and suggestions. Have you been involved in a jury process that worked differently? How do you think it can be improved?