Saturday, May 9, 2009

Juries again

Leon Gerome, Duel after a Masked Ball image

I will talk some about being on a jury. I am doing another on Monday in Marshfield Massachusetts. This is the time of year when the seasonal art associations are hanging their first summer shows.
I get the call routinely because I have been around a while and I guess people know I will do it. Here are some points about being on a jury;
  • Often you are chosen because you are known in, but don't live where the show is taking place. That theoretically means that you won't know the entrants and when you upset the people who are juried out you won't have to see them at the grocery store every week.
  • It is important to be very polite and very professional, sometimes with people who are angry with you. But I never explain, and I never defend the choices I have made, they just are.
  • If I am paired with another juror who doesn't agree with my take on things, I will try to "broker" decisions. OK , I will agree on a prize for the steaming oxen droppings , if you will go with me on the nude of Scarlett Johanson.
  • A little skill I bring to bear that few people think about is that I have seen a lot of paintings and I remember most if not all of them. That means that I can spot the copies of obscure 19th century Australian impressionists or know when a piece is totally an Illya Shiskin ripoff. I don't give prizes to those, I always cringe when I go into a show and see that one.
  • I judge a painting the same way I buy furniture, I pull out the drawers to see if it is well made. So I look at all of the things we have been discussing that go into making a fine painting.
  • If there are a bunch of "modern" paintings I will choose some that look the best to me, rather than jury them all out. I think that's rude, and I don' like it when they do it to me. Which incidentally is ALWAYS.
  • Sometimes there will be a large group of paintings that look like they are all the students of the same teacher. I take a few of the best, but I won't give them the whole show. I also try to choose a few watercolors and pastels etc. if I can. I don't want to be jurying just one sort of thing into a show.
  • I will not admit to a show something that I think is sexually, or morally inappropriate. My standards are low, but I've got em. I am not interested in causing a scandal or outrage that will draw attention away from the fine works in the show that deserve to be seen rather than occluded by some deliberately shocking or provocative piece. Being shocking is easy, so I don't accord it much weight when I am judging.
  • Once after I judged a show I was attacked by an angry woman watercolorist who said I didn't put enough women's art into the exhibit. What I told her was, I went solely on the appearance of the paintings .
  • Only the jury says what hangs and what doesn't . The director or the board do not get a say.
  • One of you asked if when I am on a jury for a membership organization if I judge differently because it is a lifetime appointment. That is an extremely perceptive question. Many years ago I had to do some soul searching over that one. My initial take on it was as a purist. I am only judging what the art looks like and nothing else matters. But decided over the years that I was making a decision for the organization that would put someone into their midst who they would have to live with for a long time. It hasn't happened very often but several times over the years I have been in a position where I knew some one was so disruptive, nasty, angry or crazy that I did not vote for them to become a member of an organization. It has only happened a couple of times and I have been on many juries, but in the final analysis the good of the organization has to be placed ahead of the benefit to a particular individual.
  • I will try to avoid judging things I know little about. I know about painting, I am not an expert on Photography or sculpture or crafts. I try to avoid having to judge them, however I will if I am the only one on the jury or if not to do so would leave the organization in the lurch.
  • I am careful that a prize that says it is for a seascape, goes to a seascape etc. The donors of those prizes have a reasonable expectation that their wishes be carried out.
An art organization I know of, recently juried a work by an artist out of their show.The artist showed up furiously angry and demanded that his painting be hung, he actually got a board member to hang it against the wishes of the jury who were pressured heavily to allow it. Which they had the integrity not to do. In the argument that followed the painting was taken down . That evening at the opening reception that rejected artist stood with his painting in his hand and made an enormous scene in the middle of the gallery telling all who would listen loudly and angrily the injustice that had been done him and angrily threatening the jury who had rejected him. I would have taken him out with a wire guided rocket.

The next time you feel like you have been wronged by a jury, think of this fool who was so unable to control himself that he probably ruined any art career he might have had. He will never live that down. Every art environment, like an opening or sketch group, when he leaves, someone will say "he's the guy who....."


jeff f said...

I can not believe that someone would stand in the middle of an opening and act like a spoiled 5 year old.

Two things about this story came to mind after I read it. One was that this person is very well connected to the powers to be in the Art Organization. Two, that he was a nut case and well connected.

To make such a scene what a baby.
Someone should have told him to shut up, grow up and go home try to learn to paint better.

In the words of that great sage Bugs Bunny, what a maroon...

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think he was connected but I don't think that is at the deepest level why this sort of thing grows ever more common. I think we live in an age of relativism. In the past we would have all agreed it was absolutely the wrong thing for this artist to do. But today most people don,t believe in absolutes, and since we can't know for sure that he is absolutely wrong,we may only be inconvenienced by a behaviour we find unpleasant. The answer to that is to give him his way.The board member who caviled and hung up his work, may have wanted to avoid a confrontation. I would say that they either didn't have principles or were not willing to stand their ground. The outragous thing is that board member didn't see it as their responsibility to back the jury. In fact they may have thought they were doing the right thing by backing the "victim" who had been discriminated against,after all who is to say? Incidentally this went on for a long time,it was not a brief incident, there were many people present and he was allowed to do this unimpeded.

jeff f said...

I for one think that this kind of childish behavior should not be tolerated. How old was this guy?

The other issue, and I think this is the real can of worms, by placating this one person that board member has now given every other person license to demand the same treatment. They also shot themselves in the foot by undermining the jury.

I agree we live in Lake Wobegon (apologizes to Garrison Keillor) were everyone is great and wonderful.

Jeremy Elder said...

Wow, that guy did ruin his future. The same is true in the film/video production world. Every one knows everyone else by a few degrees of separation and news travels quickly. People don't like to work with jerks.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I am guessing our several degrees of separation begin with Baxter Elder who was my great Grandfather.

jeff f said...

How can a person who is not juried into a show be a "victim". Your also right in the actions of the board member were outrageous.

This kind of mentality is a sickness.
A cultural illness that champions mediocrity. The real victims were the poor people who had to witness this idiots behavior.

I hope this did not happen at certain society of art in the greater Boston area.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I did not happen in the Boston area. I will sometime post on boards of art organizations and what can sometimes happen when significant numbers of them are not artists.I could do a post on art organization horor stories,but I will have to figure out a way to keep from revealing which organizations and people were involved.