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