I went to the Broad Ripple Art Fair Open Jury in Indianapolis in February. I got to be a "fly on the wall," watching five judges as they decided the fate of 539 artists that had applied for the show.
Because I am a jewelry artist who participates in juried art shows, and because the jury process has always been dark and mysterious to me, I decided to attend. It was a show to which I had applied, located an hour from my home, and an invitation had been emailed to all applicants.
When I got there they were finishing up in the photography category. It was in a conference room with a large screen in the front, where the digital images were projected. The five judges sat at two long tables in the front row. Each judge had a laptop in front of them, seeing the same images that were being projected on the large screen. As they viewed the images - all three plus a booth image, the narrator read out loud the artist statement. There is very little interaction between the judges. The images would be up for about 30-40 seconds, the judges would mark their scores, and go on to the next artist.
I found it fascinating to see the artist entries for photography. They ran the gamut from traditional to contemporary and realism to abstract. Seeing exactly what the judges saw, and in the short time given for each entry, I started to gain an appreciation for the challenge of judging an art show.
It's all subjective, after all.
After photography there was a break for lunch and then the jewelry category began. The host briefly showed images from each entry in the category. Then he went back through them, giving 30-40 seconds per artist, while the narrator read the artist statement. Since jewelry is my category, I was especially attentive to the images presented, the booth image, and what the artist said about his or her work. With 128 entries, the highest number of any category, it can all start looking the same after a while.
"We should score down every time the term 'unique' or 'one of a kind' is used!" one of the judges jokingly said during a break.
I have done juried art shows for over 20 years, but in the last few years I have totally upgraded and streamlined my booth. I got great direction and advice from fellow artists on Art Fair Insiders. I realized my booth was preventing me from getting accepted to certain shows. Now my booth is completely simple and uncluttered. So in viewing the jury images I was very interested in seeing other booth shots. What I saw ran the gamut from the cheap craft fair variety of booth to gorgeous hand crafted booths that are the perfect reflection of the jewelry sold. The ones that stood out were those that quite simply, in an aesthetically pleasing way, told customers non-verbally "great jewelry here". A consistent theme I saw was "less is more". No clutter, no signs, just tastefully designed displays with fabric drops and large images of jewelry pieces. The art reflects the booth and the booth reflects the art.
Another element I saw in viewing the artist entries was that the pieces were consistent. It wasn't necessarily similar in color or size, but harmonious one to the next. It was obvious they were made by the same artist and with the same intent. The ones that showed visual harmony between the pieces made the strongest statement and, I'm sure, earned the highest scores.
I felt that my jury images had the level of harmony from one to the next. I have worked hard to present consistent images of originality and craftsmanship that look harmonious. I also knew that my booth image complements the art and is streamlined and aesthetic. It was gratifying, after all that I have invested, to see my projected images on the big screen. I really thought I had a good shot at acceptance to the show.
So it was with a good dose of disappointment that I read the email two days later, thanking me for my entry but regretfully being rejected. This morning I received another email, delineating the scores given to each entry. Mine was a 2.8, out of a possible 7. Ouch! That's not even high enough to get on the wait list!
So, it was a great learning for me. I have gained a valuable insight into what was before a dark and nebulous process. What will I take from this?
- The jury process is largely subjective. It is subject to the opinion /eye /mood of the individual judges.
- Each year the judges are different and therefore the chance to be accepted or rejected change, but the process will still be subjective.
- As an artist it is within my power alone to create my best art, represented by great photographs, and described by the most succinct and impactful artist statement.
- As an artist it is not within my power to decide what the judges will accept or reject.
- This is a competition and as artists who compete we push to be the best we can be.
- If you don't compete you will never win.