Sunday, July 24, 2011

A thought about juries for exhibitions

Old print of trial by water

Several of the commenters on the last blog were very confused by the oblique stacking design stem I brought up in the last few posts. In order to explain that better, I have to make an illustration. Doing the blog is a time eater that I have to manage. I have done lots of illustrations already, but they are time consuming. The best posts I have done often had illustrations and they are worth the time, but they take about an entire day or more to generate. For someone posting every day, that quickly becomes unmanageable, I have to have them in the works for days as an addendum to my regular blog creation. Here I am doing that again. Someday there will be a pamphlet, and the illustrations will be useful then.

So as an aside I think I will talk about juries at exhibitions. I attended the Annual Metting of the Rockport Art Association the other night and much of the talk after the meeeting was about the juries. It often is. Virtually everyone rejected by a previous jury has a plan for re-doing the juries, a constituency of the rejected, calling for no juries, or juries from outside the organization. Maybe college professors, or newspaper critics or museum curators, REAL EXPERTS.

I have sat on dozens of juries, assembled more than a few and been the president of an art association where it was part of my duties to sit in on, and oversee, the juries to ensure that it was "straight". I have been an "out side juror many times. I have had a very good look at the system.

The other evening I was talking to a woman (or was it two? they were small) who told me that she (they?) thought an outside jury of experts from the REAL (official) art world should come in to separate the quick from the dead. Maybe an art critic from a newspaper. I disagreed gently , being 32 feet tall and weighing over 1,600 pounds. "No ", I said, waving a finger the size of a kids baseball bat at her, and beginning to puff up to a gargantuan size. I began flapping my arms and hunching over, as I hissed through clenched obsidian teeth the size of tombstones .
, I sez:

"This is a juried association of hopefully qualified members. They have been vetted by jury and allowed by the strength of their art to become an artist member. There are art associations that are open to all comers or have thousands of members that often operate on that system. But I think it is tyranny! ( As I said this I spit streams of red hot nails and brads out of my ears) I think that the member ship should govern itself, selecting that jury is part of governance. It is the aesthetic "conscience" of the members. The elected jury stands at the gate and says "This shall not fly! below certain levels of quality we will not go!"

Often there is only so much wall space and many paintings clamoring for that limited space. Some triage has to be done, they all can't hang. They must be sorted, graded. We may disagree on what quality in art is or "goodness" whatever, but it is the best way to put together an exhibition. Pick the "best paintings" and hang them, return the weaker ones to their creators who will now join the other exhibited, in planning the the installation of people who they believe WILL favor their own art.

The membership has a body of vetted artists from which to select a jury, they know those artists and will generally appoint those they think most qualified either by reputation, ability or judgement. They know the nominees and are generally aware of their attributes. Over the course of years they have probably rotated through juries and sat next to them at judgement time.

The members have the right to decide for themselves who will jury them. Bringing in an unknown stranger, usually one who doesn't even paint, to manage this for you, is likng inviting the guy down the street to mange your personal life. For an art association, what gets shown in the exhibitions is important. Exhibiting the art of its members is it's primary mission. A membership needs to summon from its own numbers artist who can represent them on that jury. Like a democracy, not everyone gets to vote in the senate, but you certainly want to a say in choosing who does and have a number of nominees from which to choose rejecting some and approving others.

The membership needs to decide for itself what it wants on its walls their decisions may be erratic, but they will be their own arrived at in the fairest most democratic way. Self governance and not governance by unknown experts from the worlds of journalism, philosophy or writing but practitioners of the craft. Very few are great judges of crafts they themselves do not practice.

An outside jury is usually imposed from above, by the board, or the director. Generally when a membership is informed of the outside juror it is as a yes- no vote (like in 3rd world dictatorships) or the next juror is simply announced to them ( like in the time of Dirk Van Assaerts) by a newsletter from the staff or the board or the exhibition committee or who knows who. Often it is convenient that a member knows so and so at the college and that seemed as an easy way for the board to deal with the jury problem. Everybody is always upset about it (remember jurying automatically produces a noisy tribe of the disgruntled carrying torches and at the gates).


There are definitely mistakes and preferences in jurying, it is an imperfect system. Sometimes an artist is rejected and you wonder why? "Looked good to me, well established artist too". But the greatest number of the rejected, were rejected for very good reason and almost any jury would have eliminated them. There is a wide range of quality in the paintings presented to a jury, with usually about half being very amateurish indeed. Its like the first shows of a season of American Idol, mostly train wrecks that make you ask "what made them think they could do this?" interspersed with the very occasional diamond".
Thats enough for today, more tomorrow.


Kristen Dukat Art said...

I agree with about 99% of your post on Juries and juried exhibitions, HOWEVER (grin, there's always one of those isnt there?) When I was a senior in college, an art education major, I won a significant scholarship out of many contenders for most outstanding portfolio. The scholarship was decided by "jurors", art instructors of the University. So I felt fairly confident when the annual student show came around that one if not all of my works would be selected for the show. When I arrived to check which of my works were chosen, It was with great dismay and embarrasment that I collected ALL of my rejected works and shuffled home. Incidently the jury was made up of artists OUTSIDE of the university. I stopped painting for 10 years after that, and picked outer ways to use my creative talent. I felt I must not have a whit of talent if I couldn't even get into the student show. Older and wiser now, I realized I'm not painting for any jury, I paint for myself. My customers are my jury, not anyone else. said...

I agree that membership organizations should govern themselves. It's nice to re charge everybody by inviting an outside juror in for a show or two. Membership should be juried by members. That makes sense to me.

I get into juried shows more often than not but I am neither surprised when I am in nor when I am out. C'est la vie.

Here is something that may get some people's knickers in a twist: In general, I find that women handle failure and rejection VERY different then men. This is also true in sciences. When a man gets his work rejected he typically responds by thinking " whats wrong with those people can't they see I am great. I'll show them." Women typically respond by saying " I guess I am not good enough and I wasn't meant to do this."

What do you say to yourself after what you feel is a big rejection? I am more of the "I'll -show- them- type. If I wasn't motivated by rejection, I couldn't be doing this.

My3Starz said...

A@ mariandioguardi: Yup. After Stapleton made mince meat of me at snow camp, I was inspired to excel (still working on it) also, not winning a juried show I was in made me work much harder the following year (working now) as well as inspired me to attend snowcamp in the first place to push myself in a different direction.
But aside from personal goals, I've seen many juries pick inferior work based on their own taste. In the end, you can't please a jury, only yourself. If you can do both-great.

Brady said...

I once told an instructor that juries are a crap shoot. He then asked me what that meant if I won?

I still don't have a complete answer for that, but I don't take rejection as hard as I once did.

I do agree that an association, versus a general show should choose jurors from its members as an association usually has a direction, or type of art it was founded on to promote. An outside juror most likely would not understand.

I believe that jurors have no choice but to choose art based on their experience and biases. So there is no real way to "fix" the problem.

My recent approach has been to follow the old zen saying.

If there is something you can do about it then why worry and if there is nothing you can do about it then why worry?

And paint better.

Plein Air Gal said...

No, no ... not the dreaded newspaper art critic - who may very well not have a clue beyond the research for this week's column! I was once told by one of those folks who was very enthusiastic and well meaning (but clueless) that my work reminded him of the works of Grandma Moses and Winslow Homer. Ummm ... their styles were no where near similar and my style resembles NEITHER of them! He just spit out the first names that popped into his head, intending to complement me. I certainly wouldn't want him as an outside juror for a show!
Great post, always. And I agree that there's likely no solution as the "outs" will always complain of injustice no matter what. The best jurors, if allowed to speak, are those who say "I wish there were more awards"

Anthony Sell said...

I think part of the problem with the jurying process is that it's so hard to get artists to agree upon a set of criteria that can be objectively and fairly debated. Most jurors are afraid of controversy and blow back, moreso of having an argument that will prolong the painful jurying process. But the fact remains, that if there is a standard for acceptance or for excellence, it should be definable in clear and uncertain terms. I wrote about this in a recent post [shameless plug], and discussed some of the issues involved, there are two parts to this.

Libby Fife said...

I live in a small town area and so there is a lot of, "Well, we know this person and so let's get them in the show" type of approach. There are also lots of straight open shows with really loose jurying (I imagine). There is something for everyone I guess. My approach is that there is a grain of truth in everything; something to be learned from every submission whether you are accepted or not. I prefer a jusry of my peers in the community in which I live and work. In the end that feels more representative to me.

Libby Fife said...


Robert J. Simone said...

A goal oriented artist, focused on success, simply cannot afford to let their ego be bruised by rejection from a juried show. You have to continue to work in the face of all odds continuing to improve your work and submit it to the market and other forms of scrutiny. That is the playing field. Some people my get political favors while you may not. You cannot afford to give that reality a moments lament. Keep your eyes on the prize.

I met a Florida novelist who told me she wrote countless short stories and books over a 13 year period. She submitted them to publisher after publisher, receiving rejection after rejection. Finally someone liked a manuscript she wrote. It was published and now she has several successful books on the market and makes a damn good living. To top it off this person was struggling with bi-polar disease, too!

So, yeah, juries will not always like what you submit. Move on. Next!

Noemí González said...

And what about the sulman art prize Stape?

: D

Antonin Passemard said...

Nice post Stape !
Reading that I could not stop thinking of the big cliche of the salon during the french impressionists ...
Also, how to judge a painting ??? man I would not like to judge. It is funny how people with less skill or technical knowledge will blow the pros sometimes or most of the times just because they have something to say and they know how to say it. Seems like good art should be a bumper sticker, it should have a statement.
What I cannot understand it is why those artists wants to be juried ? I mean you know if you do crap or good stuff.