“History proves that juries in art have been generally wrong.” (Robert Henri…an artist)
No matter your accomplishments, it still feels bad when you submit your work to a show and get back a thin envelop containing a short letter, which may say some nice things but mostly says your work was not accepted. Rejection letters rarely state reasons why your work was found wanting. This can make the whole jury process seem arbitrary and mysterious.
Earlier this year I served as a juror for the AFB Art Fair @ Woodland Park. This show is produced through a partnership of the Lexington Art League, American Founders Bank and the Lexington Parks and Recreation Department. There were nearly 600 entries that had to be narrowed down to 200 exhibitors. As a juror, I reviewed four images of work and one “booth shot” for each entry. Title, size and medium were provided as well as a short statement (about two lines) from the artist. I scored each entry on a five point scale. There were two other jurors, and our combined scores ranked the artists highest to lowest. On the first day of the show, we met, reviewed all 200 booths and selected award winners.
It was hard work that required long periods of intense focus. But it was rewarding and educational. And I think I picked up some clues to the mystery that I’d like to share.
Your work must stand out, because time is short and the competition is fierce. With just under 600 entries there were almost 3,000 images to look at. It took me about 12 hours to do an initial review and scoring of the entries. That means I was looking at each image for less than 15 seconds on average. As I looked at the artwork for each entry an initial score began to form. Those that looked good I labeled with a three. Those that seemed to lack something, a two. Those that caught my attention through exceptional execution or highly-original vision got a four. The exceptionally bad got a one (there were very few of those). To get a five, the entry had to completely capture my attention and give my creative soul an energizing twinge. The overall quality was very good. Most of the entries showed strong technical skills and a well-developed aesthetic. Those that got scores of four or five stood out because they were better than good and it showed.
A booth shot can help you a little, it can also hurt you a lot. By the time I looked at an applicant’s booth shot I already had a score in mind. If the score was a one or two, the booth shot had little influence on me. If it was a three or higher, I looked carefully to further refine my judgment. I wanted to see a well structured booth that was attractive and practical. If that’s what I saw I usually stuck with my initial score or, if the booth was exceptionally well-designed, increased it. If the booth looked poorly designed or if I couldn’t see it well in the photo, it made me question my initial score and often caused me to lower it. Sometimes the booth was filled with work that did not look like the images I had just reviewed. That made me think that the artist was trying to pull something. For example, submitting his or her best works for jurying and then exhibiting inferior works at the show. Those scores dropped considerably.
Don’t write subjective judgments of your work in your statement. After reviewing all the images I read the statement. In cases where there was still some question in my mind, the statement affected the score for better or worse. Artists with the most effective statements wrote something meaningful about the process they use to create their work. Those with the least effective statements passed judgment on their own work. As a juror, I don’t want an artist to tell me that his or her work is unique, beautiful or exceptional. That is up to me to judge.
I plan to dig into this subject further. If you have juried a show and would like to add your own insights or if you are an artist with questions about jurying, please chime in.
Craig Kittner, arts marketing program director
Photo courtesy of the Lexington Art League