Friday, May 8, 2009

Juries and injuries

The Orgy, William Hogarth image

Juries meet not only to determine who gets into a show, but also who will win the prizes in a show . Once I was hired to judge a show, another artist and I winnowed down about 400 entries to about 100 . The 300 we rejected were deserving of their fate. So were about half of those we kept. But something had to hang in the show so we kept them. The art association that sponsored the show came to us with a list of prizes for us to bestow. There must have been $50,00 dollars worth of prize money, split up across 25 or so prizes!

The first five or six prizes were easy , there were some great things there. The second five or six were hard because we had to give prizes to things that we knew had obvious flaws. The last dozen or so prizes were ridiculous. We were giving out five hundred dollar prizes to art that wouldn't bring a hundred in the real world. We closed the doors of the big galleries where we were deliberating because we didn't want to be overheard laughing hysterically, as we gave big cash awards to really weak art. As I gave a couple of hundred dollar prize to a figure with both breasts on the front looking like coconuts on a tabletop, rather than on the side planes of the ribcage, I reflected on the really fine art out there that was in shows that would never win a prize. I also thought about some times I was living on popcorn and making better art than I was awarding a months worth of groceries to. Its a broken world.

Frank Zappa said "its not getting any smarter out there, you have to come to terms with stupidity and make it work for you".

So listen up, here's some advice on how to win more often in the jury lottery.
  • Know what sort of things are usually shown in the venue, if they don't show the kind of art you do, put your efforts elsewhere. If you are a traditional painter, look for shows judged by professional traditional painters. If the show is judged by art critics or academics, perhaps you should look for a different show. If it is a wild life show and you can't abide animals ( like me) don't pretend to like em and paint for the show. If you love sailing or figure drawing, or portraits, find places to show those. Even if your technical chops are a little weak, your love for the subject may show through and carry you.
  • If you are required to submit a group of paintings to be admitted to an art organization, make sure they are consistent. Don't submit three good landscapes and one horrid portrait. Better to have the good landscapes and a weaker one if you have to. The others may carry the"iffy" one.
  • Don't paint for the show. Paint what you want to paint. Life is too short to spend your time guessing the art preferences of people you have never met.
  • Frame all of them in a similar manner. You don't need to have 23 ct. frames for most art associations, but for some shows you might. Find out. You should have closed corner frames though, ( I will do about a months worth of posts on framing soon) This means no beat up plaster Victorian frames covered with writhing poisonous vegetables, no barn board frames with linen liners ( its not 1975 ) and no tacked on wood strips or metal frames unless you are showing in a "modern" exhibition"( it IS still 1975 there) even then a quality shadow box frame with a gilt lip is far better. No painting the sides of the stretchers black either. I can't believe you were thinking that!
  • Now and then you will do a piece that is far better than usual for you. That's a treasure. Campaign with it. Put a good frame on it and use it to win shows, Don't sell it right away, put it in several shows some geographical distance apart. Many shows require everything to be for sale, if they do, put a substantial, but not a ridiculous price on it. If someone buys it, that's good too, but get paid right for your best work.
  • You usually won't have to compete against the pros, for this reason. We are out trying to make a living and it isn't going to happen in shows. I don't put my work before juries very often, I mostly show in art galleries. Art association and other "one off" shows usually don't sell a lot of art. At least not in my price bracket. There's another reason the pros don't do a lot of these shows. Most of these shows want to see an image of the painting several months before the show, and if they take your painting, then you have to throw it in a closet until the exhibition. I want my inventory out in the galleries and working for me. I never have enough good paintings. So I don't like tying them up. I have on occasion been asked by the director of one of these organizations why I didn't submit to a particular show they were having. What I tell them is, " I have been around for a long time, you know what I do, if you want to show my art, I would be so flattered, if you would call me up and we can work together to do that".
  • Many times I have seen an artists resume and been impressed with a list of awards and prizes a whole page long. Then I see their work and it is awful. Here's how that happens. Like I said in the last post, there is a numbers game going on here. If you enter a lot of shows you will get into some and you will win prizes in some percentage of those. There are some people out there who enter LOTS of shows, just like there are people who sit around in their kitchens all day long entering sweepstakes, auditioning for game shows and trying to be the 6th caller.You want to build your abilities and perhaps a career or at least pay for your materials, to do that reliably you need to make sales, rather than gambling on winning shows. Its a good thing to have some shows and prizes in your resume, but its not everything. I know a few successful artists who don't do any shows. Most of the pros I know only show in a couple of organizations and that's it.
  • Remember there is an element of chaos in this whole jury thing, Its a blunt instrument and sometimes you get rejected whether you deserve it or not is irrelevant. Try not to take it personally. I know, that's hard. Sorry.
About twenty years ago I had a landscape shown in the biennial at the National Academy of Design in New York. That's an important show, at least it used to be I haven't thought about it in a long time. There was also a show near where I was living in Rockport , Maine in a seasonal art .. I was new to the area and submitted the painting after it came back from the show in New York at the suggestion of a friend, and it was rejected. I went to pick up my rejected painting and was able to walk around and see what was going into the show. For the most part it was what you see in the studios of every art school. What a clever friend of mine once called cuisinart fauve. All very cutting edge and innovative, and done part time as well. A painting that was good enough to be selected from an enormous field and hang in the National Academy of Design on 5th avenue, couldn't get into this amateurish summer show in Maine. I was furious, but then I sold the painting for many times what the top prize award was in the show and it gradually became a funny story for me. I have never walked into the place again. I do feel a little better now after telling you all about it.
Tomorrow, still more about juries and another story!


willek said...

Solid, substantial common sense that I have heard nowhere else. Thanks, WillEK

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Great advice.
I was looking at a show yesterday in an art center where I am teaching some classes. There were some nice paintings there, but it looked like they stuck the ribbons in a shot gun and pulled the trigger. The prizes made no sense at all, other than the fact that the only pastel won the pastel award- despite being terrible it at least fit the description.
This year much of the rejection was softened when I saw the winners. If they are not playing fair, why get upset.
I usually just leave a burning bag of dog poop on the step during the opening of the show, ring the bell, and hide behind a tree to enjoy the scene. That'll show em!

Jesse said...

On painting something to enter a show, it seems like half of the shows/contests around here are "themed". I would paint something for them, if a)it was something I would do anyway, or b)a really cool idea that gets my juices going. So far that hasn't happened.

As much as I liked Watership Down, I'm not going to paint an evil rabbit to get into the local "Rabbitual" show this summer.

Unknown said...

I should really just print out your blog and bind it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I always wonder if I am communicating clearly.When I recheck my posts every morning I always find typos in them that I missed the night before. It makes me wonder what else I may be missing

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is really informative to go back to a show from which you have been rejected and see what actually happened.I you don't get paid, or get a prize...then get a lesson.


Stapleton Kearns said...


Go to Staples and buy a big box of paper.You will need it. Do you know how big this blog is now? Some blogs write a paragraph every other day, I am spewing verbiage. I hope it will be a book someday. There are people who print it out incidentally.

JAMES A. COOK said...


My two books on EDWARD SEAGO came in today. Fantastic books. Big prints that show his brush work very clearly. Thank you for leading me to these books. With all that you have taught us through your blog I feel that I am much more able to study these pints and look for the lessons that you have taught us.
On the ORGY painting in todays blog by HOGARTH, I find the painting takes me everywhere around it and then I stop cold at the top when I noticed the young lady trying to burn a map on the wall with a candle flame. I laughed like hell. Because I completely forgot about the whole painting and just focused on " is she really burning that". I wounder if this was a purpose technique of his. I loved the painting.
Question, the judging that you are talking about in your blog today, is this judging different than if you were judging a painter trying to get into an association, like ROCKPORT or NORTH SHORE ASSOCIATION. Would you judge harder on PAINTERS who are trying to become a life long member?


Stapleton Kearns said...

James; I will write on that in my post this evening and it will publish tomorrow.I am glad you got the Seago books, what a great painter he was, and not a lot of Americans know about him.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I always find those annoying. A Gallery I show in is doing one coming up soon. They sent an e-mail describing some things we might submit. I called them and politely told them that all I do is paint landscapes,and I would be happy to send them one for the show. They said that would be fine and I am sending them one I think is rather nice. One of the things that you do get for having been around a while is the galleries generally see it as a good thing to have your art in their show. They know that lots of other galleries would like to have your art, if they want to do a show that can't be stretched to include you. If they had said no . I would have replied nicely, OK let me know when the next show you do that doesn't have a theme, comes up and I will see if I can get you something for that. No big deal. I certainly don't pull out of the gallery or complain, I will get dealt into the next game. They then think of me as someone who is flexible and look forward to working with me again in the future.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

I was thinking about printing these out too.
But then I thought, "well, I'll wait for the book."

Now I am thinking I will wait till it is turned into a movie.
Who will play Stapleton Kearns in the film?

Stapleton Kearns said...


I was hoping for Meryl Streep. Vincent Price would have been my first choice, particularly as he was an art collector . But he will not be down for breakfast