Thursday, July 28, 2011

Elected juries

Trial by combat, man vs. woman.

In my last post I discussed using previous winners as the next jury. Tonight I think I will lay out the moist conventional system for art juries, those elected by the membership.

The strongest argument for an elected membership is....well, they are elected. The artists who will be in the show decide who will be the judge. What could be fairer than that? Here is the usual process.

Most all art associations are governed by an elected board, who hire a director to actually run daily operations. Every year there is an annual meeting and the nominees for the juries are voted on by the membership at that meeting. But the process starts before that. The president, somebody on the board, or the director is detailed to call individual members and ask them if they would accept the nomination to the exhibition jury. If you intend to have a jury of, say, seven you need eight to ten nominees. If you don't have more nominees than positions on the jury it is hardly an election. That's third world dictatorship stuff. You simply have to have some nominees for the members to reject. Getting ten people to pledge their time, that are actually qualified, can be a lot of work. Many people turn down the responsibility, or served the year before and should are often eliminated from the jury pool. So being the guy who has to secure the nominees can be a big job, besides having to ask people to give up their time and possibly make a few enemies.

This system is not immune to being captured by a subgroup either, but it is less likely, unless that subgroup has critical mass at the annual meeting to outvote the rest of membership. Remember though, every year some people are going to be juried out. They will form a disgruntled cadre of rejected artists working to change or control the system. Sinced that seems to be automatic, when I hear that a jury is corrupt incompetent or blind I always remember that this is a constant in the system. Maybe the jury was corrupt and blind, maybe not. Every jury is accused of that
I have sat on many juries and overseen a lot of them. I have never seen a corrupt jury.

I have seen juries deliberately balanced between devotees of the traditional and acolytes of the avant-garde, to be "fair". Those juries often work this way, Real modern art won't pull vote from the traditionalists and extremely traditional work won't pull the needed votes from the moderns. You get a show full of Cuisinart fauve, things that straddle the boundaries of both schools without really exemplifying either one. Often these juries are flabbergasted at the shows their voting produced. No individual on the jury would have chosen that show.

Many organizations prohibit or at least discourage conversation about the pieces being juried. The work is placed before the jury, they vote and the next work is displayed to them. Very seldom have I seen an argument or anger during a jury. When I have, it was by a juror who was characterized by such behavior. Juries show up, and try to do a good job, generally. They are proud to be on the jury, it is an honor, so they want to pick out as good a show as possible. They will be judged by that. Most jurors try to select a broad range of work besides what they do themselves , believing they can reward quality in different sorts of painting. They almost never have it "in" for a particular artist. If you were juried out of a show, it truly happened because they thought your painting was weak. Maybe you should have a look at how you can improve your art by the next exhibition, instead of jiving yourself that the jury is blind or biased.


Meera Rao said...

Most of the impressionist artists were not juried into the 'official' salons in Paris and had to showcase their own art . Now their paintings are in museums and collections and worth millions. Please do not label art work that was not juried as 'weak.' Art has always been looked at in a subjective way. said...

Hi Stapleton,
I agree that jurors are always subjective but do attempt to pick wide ranges of work with the juror's preferred criteria.

There was the juror who picked one of my pieces in a show. It was a quick gouache study on brown paper. There were some spectacular pieces in that show but I walked away with the first prize. HUH? I have had a piece juried into a museum show only to be rejected by an art association show. And it's not just's is others too.

SO I will stand by statement that it is a crap shoot and doesn't always speak to weak or strong art.

I do agree that jurors do their best job for picking a show but what they pick isn't always the best or the strings in any formal sense.

Libby Fife said...

Great post again so thank you. I tend to view a juried show as an opportunity to find out what someone else "thinks" about your work. If you don't get in you might conclude that your work sucks. Maybe yes and maybe no. Without a written/verbal evaluation or short feedback it is tough to know. You are just guessing at why you got rejected. Viewing the subsequent show might tell you something or talking to other people who were rejected might be revealing...or not. No matter, it is an opportunity to examine what you are doing, just as you said at the end of the post. Not to be pollyannish about things but most times there is something to be learned. My opinion is that self examination is tough (many people don't do it)and taking advantage of the jury process is part and parcel of learning.

Bob Carter said...

I've had similar experiences as Marian describes. So I agree, it's a crap shoot. I think I know enough to recognize which of my pieces are the strongest, and it annoys me to waste the time and money (entry fees) to be bounced. Sometimes it is the weaker of two submitted pieces that gets picked, and I've had the surprise of that going on to get a prize. C'est la vie!

When I was juried into my art association, it was only painters and sculptors. Nowadays they admit photographers, and paintings and photographs hang in the same shows. I think it is unfair for painters to be judged by jurors who are photographers, and vice versa. There are different standards of judgement, both technically and aesthetically, for these very different media. There ought to be separate jurors. Maybe that's what should happen with the modern vs. traditional division among painters.

willek said...

You go through the rejected room and in my mind there is a lot of work that is exceptional. Sometimes, it just did not go with what the juror had in mind for an assemblage. So I have often wondered if a refusees tent across the street or some such arrangement might be a worth while idea. The refusees would be the jury and they would have to cast votes for 5 pieces, and not vote for their own work.

Deborah Paris said...

Sorry meera, but that old meme just isn't true. Most of the Impressionist painters WERE in fact in the Salon at one time or the other- Manet, Degas, Monet, Pisarro, etc. True, they did elect to show work outside the Salon in the years they were rejected, but so did hundreds of other now nameless artists who had been rejected by the jury that particular year. Quality, like truth, will out.

Manatee Writers said...

I think it's a crap shoot too. It can also be valuable to go to a show you were rejected from. I did that with one and there were few paintings there I liked. I thought if that's what you have to paint like to be in that show, it's not for me. Of course there are also ones that I know I need to do better to get into so you have to understand what level the jurying is at.

Philip Koch said...

This discussion of jurying art got me thinking...

Perhaps one of the talents artists need that is almost never discussed in art school is the simple ability to survive rejection. If you put your work out there- entering juried shows, approaching galleries, etc.- you will likely be rejected most of the time. It's largely a numbers game- many artists competing for far fewer opportunities. Bottom line is your feelings will get hurt.

I had a friend in my graduate school painting program who everyone thought was a star- he was extremely talented and very hard working. Everyone, including both me and my talented friend, thought he'd rise to the top and quickly.

As soon as grad school was over and he started senting his portfolios to galleries. Much to my surprise when he received his first few rejections he somehow lost his nerve. He stopped trying to exhibit and pretty much spent the rest of his career in isolation. He painted less and less and produced work that wasn't as good as what he'd done in his earlier years. I was shocked watching his swift descent.

We get a skewed view of the lives of great artists of the past- usually they have been rejected plenty of times by juries, dealers, collectors, and curators but haven't shared that in telling their story.

Maybe even more intriguing than how an art jury is consitituted is how artists who have been told "no" by juries react to that message.

armandcabrera said...

When I enter juried shows I check out the work of the judges before committing my money or time. If they share the same aesthetic values I do, I enter. This saves me much frustration because even if I don't win I usually agree with the choices. I have no interest in what non-objective painters or photographers, celebrities or public officials think of my work.

I have judged a quite few shows and the committee juries are the toughest.
Luckily I can't be pushed or intimidated but I do think the show suffers by awarding the things the way Stapleton says.

I now inquire if there will be another judge besides myself when asked and do not jury if there is.

Garin Baker said...

Good series Stape! Enjoyed very much and all the comments as well.
In large part juries are a crap shoot and at the end of the day many juried shows and exhibitions are money makers for the organizations and initial artists involved. Take for instance ACOPAL and ARC and all the online entries with plein air mag now joining the fray. Do the math @ $35-$75 per entry, who wouldn't consider inviting a few known artists do a "call for entry" for those wanting to show alongside, to pay the freight. A small amount for an opening, wine & cheese, a wee bit of publicity and money in the bank to build on. I'm not saying it easy running these organization, but we as artist need to get real and not worry about rejection since it not about us or our work.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

I belong to a semi large art organization that used to jury in work anonymously, which is hard to do. A lot of artist's styles are self-evident, which blows the whole deal. That said, I still believe it is the only way to go as far as the entry jury part of the equation. At least it gives the up and coming new artists a ghost of a chance. This aforementioned organization is now rampant with cronyism, sad.

The actual judging of a competition is another matter entirely. I like Stape’s idea of a rotating elected panel of judges. That task requires the wisdom and tact of Solomon. It is however, extremely educational and something each of us should have to do every now and then to gain a bit of perspective. said...

Philip- rejection. I am more surprised when it doesn't happen than when it does. I don't get mad...I get better.

Brady said...

@Phillip Koch - That's sad that he gave up, but I can understand how that can happen.

When I had critiques in school, often times my art was the best or among the best in the class, and when it was my time to be critiqued the other class members didn't know what to say.

This wasn't because my art didn't have flaws, it was simply because my classmates hadn't grown artistically to the point where they could see those flaws.

I found in school that the long time teachers eventually come to have low expectations for their students, so those who show a bit of a spark are often praised, or get an easy time of the critiques.

I think a good teacher should fill in on the critiques where the class members fail to help build that thick skin that artists eventually require.

Bonnie Hamlin said...

I can't imagine the judging of any subjective activity being easy. The Olympic figure skating and gymnastics have a carefully monitored system for picking judges and an elaborate scoring system for the competitors, etc. And still there is controversy.

Philip Koch said...

For Brady:

That's a real problem (what you describe of art instructors getting so used to under-performing students that they begin to praise even the most modest of successes). In an art school, people have paid a hefty tuition to enroll. Some want badly to be pushed by their instructors, others don't. It's far from perfect, but I do think the good the art schools do outweighs the bad. And I especially think so about my own classes, naturally.

tomweinkle said...

I think you have summed up the realities very well.

I have come to believe that no art judging system is without this additional reality...that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

A judge elected, bought or otherwise will only do what they believe. That may be the majority opinion, or minority. It is what it is. Excellence does exists, can be recognized and awarded, but that doesn't mean everyone will like it.

Shows are very much about quality and revenue. All viewers think and see things differently and so you win some and you lose some. I've have experience on both sides in art and advertising. And that is not to say we shouldn't enter. Winning is about much more than validation of skill or talent.

The artist has to be happy with the work, the rest cannot matter or one will go crazy.

VickiRossArt said...

I can't imagine the luxury of having a membership large enough to choose from! Most local groups are down to a few dozen people, many of whom do many jobs.

Count your blessings if you are active in a large group :)