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updated fri 9 nov 01


Snail Scott on thu 8 nov 01


I certainly sympathize. The level of professionalism can
vary quite a bit in local shows. I've seen shows where
although the prospectus said 'any media', they apparently
were thinking of that wide range from pastel to watercolor;
no provisions at all for showing 3-D work of any sort. I
once entered a local show in an area I'd just moved to -
they accepted my entry (a 3-D figural wall piece) but
displayed it on a tabletop. It looked like roadkill in that
position. They said, "Oh, we didn't realize..." (?) (I got
a hammer and nail out of my truck and rehung it on the
spot, right there during the opening reception...quivers of
indignation among the beehive-haired weekend watercolorists
who'd hung the show! I'm sure their lack of admiration has
damaged my self-esteem for all time.) ;-)
I've seen shows where the tags were inaccurate, illegible,
or missing altogether. Shows where the available lighting
was insufficient, leaving an entire corner of the show in
the dark. Shows where a lack of sculpture pedestals was
supplemented by cardboard boxes and short filing cabinets.
Shows where things were damaged or lost outright. Shows
where they charged admission fees just to see it!

Standards for professionalism vary quite a bit, too. Some
shows actually don't specify 'all-original work'. I viewed
a show here which had been heavily promoted, but which I
hadn't entered. Good thing, too. ALL the ceramic works
were purchased slipcastings, glazed and painted. One
artist had done original drawings, apparently, but what
he showed were photocopies of the actual drawings, labelled
'original prints'(!) And, it's not just the show sponsors
to blame sometimes. I've seen paintings copied from
posters, textile works from kits, and more, all entered
by people claiming it as their original work. In some
shows, a single piece which stands out as exceptional is
bound to inspire a few doubts in the juror, thanks to all
the people in the past who've tried to 'slip one by'.
Blame them. The juror, however misguided or discourteous
in his assumptions, was trying to do the right thing by
all the artists involved who did do their own work.
(including you, in a sense.) It was unfortunate that the
work in question was done in a medium which is especially
prone to 'undetectable kits'.

Many local shows are sponsored by local organizations, and
although entry to the shows may be open to all (to increase
the money collected from entry fees), the judging (for
entry and for prizes) may be less than fair. A reputable
show will hire an outside juror with no personal
affiliation. Many club-sponsored shows, though, will jury
the work themselves, and with the best of intentions say
things like "Oh, Mary had such a tough year, wouldn't it
be nice for her to get a prize", or "Fred has worked so
hard to help out, he should get some recognition", or,
"Who is this person we don't even know; why should they
get our prizes?"

Most good shows will refuse work which is unfinished (wet),
badly mounted, not 'ready to hang', etc. But again, many
local-club sponsored shows will cut some slack (or a lot)
to members and friends, or simply not want to confront the

As for the style of work preferred by the jurors, that can
be hard to predict. Some artists will 'read up' on the
juror, trying to guess what they will favor. "Oh, this guy
does impressionist landscapes; I'd better enter work with
loose brushy surfaces and lots of color." Sometimes this
works. More often, the things the juror likes will not
resemble their own work in any superficial way. The
similarities may be as subtle as a sense of composition,
or use of shadow, which even the juror is unaware of
consciously. Also, in my experience, most jurors are more
critical of work similar to their own. The issues of such
work are things they've spent a whole career considering,
and even if the work being judged is good, the juror may
disagree with some aspect of the artist's decisions,
because they wouldn't have done it that way themselves.
The juror is sometimes more likely to admire work in an
unfamiliar medium or style, through lack of acquaintance
with the internal standards and history of that medium.
(A Soldner knockoff might look pretty good to a juror
who'd never seen Soldner's work. It would just look
derivative to anyone who had. And would a painter recognize
bad glaze fit? Would a weaver consider a spiral crack in
the foot of a bowl to be a bad thing? Would a photographer
even think to pick up a pot?)

Creating categories according to style (abstraction, or
whatever) makes about as much sense as dividing work by
medium, I suppose. Either way, though you get distinctions
which are pretty artificial. Categories can help offset
some biases the juror may have, by requiring prizes in
multiple types of work. It's still possible for bias to
show in the choice of works within each category, no matter
what the categories are. That's called judging, and one
can only hope that the bias of the judge is for the things
that you also value. What the criteria might be is very
much up to the judge. 'Quality'? 'Originality'? 'Skill'?
'Vision'? 'Effort'? Whatever. I once helped hang a show,
and got to watch the juror make her selections. Her
criteron? 'Sincerity'. It was apparently preeminent to
her as the most important standard for art. It also meant
a lot of ineptly made, naive, clunky art was chosen. But
that's my judgement, and I wasn't the juror. Her standards
were not mine. Were they wrong? Well, they may not have
been what some of the entrants were hoping for, but they
were her standards, and she worked hard to apply them
fairly by her terms. It was a different show than it would
have been if judged by someone else, but that's the nature
of juried shows. And do we really want one identical
dispassionate standard applied to all art? Whose standard?
(Thomas Kinkade might win by majority vote.) I prefer a
world where people differ in their opinions, and that means
I have to put up with some that I think are dumb-ass stupid

Unless you know the sponsor of the show, and their
reputation, all you can do is hope for the best when you
enter. Good shows change jurors every year, so don't give
up based on what you thought of the judging. But, if the
show seemed badly organized, cliqueish, or unlikely to
provide a good venue for your work, skip it next time.
There are other shows. Lots of them. And some of them
don't suck.