Monday, November 25, 2013

More About Juried Shows

I recently received an email from an artists who is part of a 4 person art support group.  The group had compiled a list of juried exhibitions they felt were important for your career.  The woman mentioned that the group had been represented in all of these shows but that she had not yet "broken the code" for being accepted into any of them.  She asked if I had any advice.

My response was hopefully honest and helpful.  I suggested that you just have to keep working, make the best work you can make, do the unexpected but do it well, only seek advice (or criticism) from people you deem make much better work than you and people who have your best interest in mind.

I think those are honest suggestions but something did occur to me that is important concerning juried shows that I haven't really thought about before.  People talk about shows being "a lottery" or worse and I do think it's true that you can never be sure or overly confident about what a particular juror will choose to recognize but if there is a show that you are repeatedly rejected from you might consider who is selecting the jurors?  If the same person selects the jurors for a particular show year after year, or if a show seems to always have a particular type of work (a type you don't do) it may be because the person inviting the jurors is expressing their tastes and their preferences through who they choose for this important job.  This could be true and very intentional or it could be true without being intentional.

In my opinion shows that are sponsored by museums and galleries are perhaps more likely to have this issue.  The director or staff may be in charge of choosing jurors while shows sponsored by membership organizations have committees which are ever changing thus allowing more opinions and ideas about jurors.  This is just another factor you might consider when making your show entries.

I want to add one other thought which is a little off topic but related to juried shows.  Just recently I read a thread online about the issue of work being damaged while on display in a juried show.  One person commented that they only show in galleries or museums and questioned why anyone would even bother to enter juried shows.  I found that very interesting.

So why do we enter juried shows?  They are expensive.  We often don't even get to see the shows.  I don't think there are huge sales in these shows.  So why?

1.  People just starting out don't have galleries and museum's often aren't interested.

2.  Fiber work (especially quilts) are often not shown in galleries and museums unless there is some extenuation aura....Gees Bend Quilters.

3.  College and University galleries might show your work if you can get someone's attention but they often prefer that you have credentials.....BFA, MFA

4.  It's a good way to introduce yourself to your peers outside of your local area.  Networking can get you invitations to places you never even knew existed!

5.  Many juried shows produce catalogs which are purchased not only at the show but online thus widening the area of those who might see your work.

6.  Prize money.  OK, this is only for a few of the entrants but it's fun when it happens.

7.  Acknowledgement.  Having your work reviewed by a panel of quality jurors can be supportive when your work is accepted and give you pause to review what you are doing if you are rejected.  (doesn't mean you need to change anything but at least you get a different opinion)

8.  It's fun also but I do think there is a limit to the number of times you can be in a show and still be thrilled by the experience.  Trying new shows is a good thing.

So thank you to the artists who wrote me and thanks to her small group for giving one another support.

Happy Thanksgiving and pass the cranberry sauce.


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Comments are always welcome.


  1. Terry, this is avery good topic for discussion. Most people will have some comment having to do with juried shows. If you are not in a gallery you may want to enter for the satisfaction of knowing that someone thinks enough of your work to include it with others. Oftentimes, unless it is a local show, you never get to hear what the juror thought of your work, but it may be enough to be included and maybe you might win prize money ( hooray! ).
    You also make a very good point about whether the same person is always selecting the juror or whether it is done by committee. For a fact, I have entered the same show several times in which the director of the museum has selected the juror and I have yet to get in that show...just saying.
    The best advice is to keep entering shows if that is your cup of tea and when you get accepted be pleased that you are among a select group of people that have the eye of someone, hopefully, with some esteem. And this is very gratifying.

    1. Thank you Tom. For those who don't know, Tom is my husband and he has entered and been selected for hundreds of shows. He has also curated numerous shows as well so he knows a things or two about this topic. Thanks you for adding your thoughts.

  2. I wonder if the reason that the questioner has not "broken the code" is because there isn't one. I've assisted at the jurying for my guild's show a couple of times. What has often happened is that there comes a point when there are two or three quilts vying for a particular ribbon. The quilts are equally worthy but the jurors can only pick one and so they do.

    There is a lot of work out there that falls within the spectrum of good, very good, excellent, and frankly breathtaking. When it comes down to "this one or this one?" the criteria moves out of the worth of any particular piece and into what will make an effective and/or cohesive show.

    I'm frankly a little befuddled about the question. If the group has a goal of getting into a particular suite of shows and has been doing that, what more do they need to know?

    1. Thank you for a very thoughtful response and question. Perhaps I didn't state clearly enough regarding what the group had been doing. The group was trying to determine the relative importance of being accepted into some of the well known exhibitions. The individual was questioning why she had not been accepted into any of these shows.

      You are correct that the jury process is never as clear as we would all like to imagine. All of the many points we could list for accepting work or rejecting work must usually be dealt with in a very brief time frame. I do think that if your work is never selected then there is much work to be done on your part or you are trying for the wrong venues. There is work being done in fiber that would never be shown in most textile shows but is easily accepted into open media shows. In the end you just have to decide how important it is to you to be in juried shows and to always make your best work. Thank you M.

    2. Ah. More a "you have to find your tribe" issue than a "why not me?" issue. There was a panel at Fiber Philadelphia 2012 about jurying and one of the panelists said that while she Very Often has people ask why their work wasn't selected she has rarely, possibly never, been asked why a piece was. Maybe there's work to be done on that front, although that runs the danger of aiming for what has passed rather than developing your own voice and vision.

      On a personal and possibly irrelevant note, I fairly quickly lost interest in contests etc. because I felt I was just churning, making things for the theme or challenge, and not finding my way toward what is truly meaningful for me. I was building skills and some little bit of discipline, certainly, but not finding a reason to deploy them.


    3. I think there is something to the idea of "finding your tribe" but even within a tribe or an avenue of exploration there is always good, better, best or something along those lines. I don't generally do "theme" shows if I have to make new work. If I have work that fits the theme that's another story. You are right on the button with the idea of establishing your own voice.

  3. Good topic Terry. I have been involved in the same conversation in another online group. There were varying points of view on the topic but many of the seasoned and gallery represented artists said they do not participate in juried shows and see them primarily for emerging artists. I do continue to enter juried shows BUT, I do my research and I weigh the evidence for the final decision. My criteria are: venue, juror, prize $$ and entry fees. You mentioned exhibition catalogues and that is always an added bonus. Early in my career I entered most any significant national and major regional competition I could find. I was probably entering between 10 and 20 juried shows per year. I had decent results over the years getting my work into national venues and getting a few cash awards. That has been nice to lay a foundation to my CV. Now my attention is more on where and who will see the work. I am also more interested in shows that would allow me to exhibit more than one individual piece. I do see that as a downside of juried shows that are made up of singles from a varied group of artists when I would like to see a thread that connects an individuals work.

    1. Thank you Jane. Your points are well taken. As a person develops a body of work that is mature and co-hesive, there just isn't anything better than a solo show to present the work. I am often surprised to see nationally known artists in certain juried shows but I suspect it is a way to keep their names out there with artists new to their medium and, if they teach workshops, it's a way to attract students.