Sunday, January 27, 2013

You're In - or Not



Lately my mailbox is full of invitations. With a little bit of effort, they promise,  I can hang out with the cool crowd.

Or rather, with a small fee and a few slides of my work, I have the opportunity to have my artwork judged into - or out of - a very fine art exhibit. Not just anyone gets in. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

Having just entered yet another competitive art exhibit I will admit that I have really mixed feelings about these things.  Let me wade through my thoughts and perhaps come to a conclusion…

Most experienced artists, consultants, teachers and coaches encourage artists to enter juried (competitive) exhibits. It’s a resume builder. If you can list on your CV acceptance into several competitive exhibits then your stock as an artist goes up.  And if you can claim an award at these prestigious exhibits, well then, aren’t you something!


I’ve done my share of competitive exhibits. I have been honored with awards, and been denied entry into exhibits - even with the same painting.

Each time I sign my name on an exhibit prospectus  I wonder if I’m not undermining something precious. 

We as creative people reach deeply into our hearts and psyches to solve problems or to search for answers. We use words like resonance, memory, and perception.  A mark is made, then a pause for a response. We create our own vocabulary and hope the nuances and subtleties come through in a language that can be shared.  We are alone in a timeless place with no thoughts of how our creative energies measure up. Until the mail comes.

How does one grade something like that? How does one judge the validity of what comes from that place?

Okay, you say. A good jurist will evaluate technique, that is, whether or not the artist knows how to manipulate their medium of choice. 

That statement alone takes the creative act and dumps it squarely into the realm of…what? Cake decorating? Gymnastics?  Does the artist get 10 points for adequate brushwork and docked 2 points if the canvas shows through?    Add to that the fact that in a multi-media show, the judge may not be familiar with all types of processes. Can a watercolorist accurately judge ceramics?

Then there is the final caveat:  It is just one person’s opinion.  Virtually every jurist starts out their remarks saying just that. In fact, I just spent time surfing through several “how to” blogs on judging art shows. Regardless of what tricks and tips are shared, they all wrap it up the same way:   bottom line, it is just one person’s opinion. That statement is the balm of those who go unnoticed and the admission of the judge who knows there are no right answers to be had.

And yet we artists keep sending in slides and applications, tossing in $30 or $40 bucks per piece, begging to be approved by that one person who, admittedly, is an idiot if they don’t choose us.

I’ve been on both sides; I’ve been the judge awarding the ribbons and I’ve been the participant. It’s a joyful, painful experience either way. 

So why do it?

I’m not sure there’s an answer. We humans have a need to know our place in the crowd, to know that we’re better than X, or not quite as good as Z. 


There’s an underside to the lofty art world for sure.  Being juried into and out of exhibits surely takes the blush off the rose. If you can stick with it you grow some thicker skin and learn about yourself. You test your mettle, so to speak. Maybe that’s reason enough.

Chapter 2 comes next week. Does the emperor wear a paint smock? I've been pondering this subject for awhile and there are several facets to consider. Chime in please. 

Let’s open a conversation about this. Whaddya think? No, really, I'm interested.

6 comments:

Karine Swenson said...

Oh, good post, Patty! Tackling the juried art show system is so brave. All my career, I have had a love/hate relationship with those things. I tend to be rejected more than accepted. But the cherry comes out to top the cake when I sell a "rejected" piece. (HA! take THAT, judge!)

I must be a glutton for punishment, since I haven't entirely given up on them...yet.

Patty said...

That's exactly it!! Who's to say, and who cares? Well...we do. Drat.

www.dkboljat.com said...

Many years ago I was searching for a gallery to be in. I brought a painting I was sharing as an example of my work and was told I needed to keep painting, keep sharpening my skill. That was hard to hear because I thought it looked ok. The very next Spring that same painting won a ribbon and then sold not too long after that. I have since realized that not only is it opinion but also politics. I have shared that story many times to encourage artists who are turned down for something they wanted to be in one too many times.

Patty said...

I've heard that kind of story more than once. Do you still enter competitions then? So glad you stopped by to comment.

Hannah Hunter said...

Patty--you've offered us good food for thought. As Karina said, I've had a a conflictual relationship with the juried show beast. I've gone through years when I swear off of them, and then, just as easily, turned back to them to increase exposure for my work. They do offer a platform for a wide variety of work to be shown--although sieved through the eye of one or two beholders to be sure. Give me an invitational any day of the week!

Patty said...

Thanks for your thoughts Hannah. I wonder if the competitive element is just a part of the human condition; even in Invitational shows awards are given out.To be honest, I doubt I'd enter a show if there weren't the possibility of recognition...