At some point in their careers, most artists want to see where they stack up next to other artists. Competition seems to be a common human trait. One way for artists to do that is to enter juried shows. Some artists do this to add another line to their resume, some to win prize money, and some just for the spirit of the thing.
I have been on both sides of that fence, from entering shows across the nation to judging shows individually or as part of my job as Director of the Jasper Arts Center and have reviewed thousands of slides and photographs. (No one uses slides anymore so that’s how old I am.)
So here is some of the best advice I can give you for getting into a juried exhibit.
1. Read the prospectus carefully. Does your work fit the guidelines? Are they looking for abstract expressionists and you paint landscapes with puppies? Is it a watercolor exhibit and you only do oils? How about the size and weight limitations? Did you check the schedule for entry, delivery, exhibit and return? Will your work be available for that period of time? A small oversight in paying attention to the details will cost you money and time as well as being just plain aggravating to both you and the show organizers.
2. Check out the jurors. Will the show be selected by one person or a panel? Will the images be projected or reviewed online? Can the judge be impartial enough to select work based on its merits and not just because it is in the same style as his/her own? It is an unfortunate fact that I have seen some exhibits selected all in the same style as the judge (shame on them). Most of the judges we have had here at the gallery spend quite a bit of time going through the images, usually reviewing them several times before winnowing the show down. They take great pains to have a mixed variety of media and subject matter and are especially pained at the final rounds when they have to cut out some really great pieces. They care.
3. Review your work with an objective eye. (Don’t listen to your family and friends because they love everything you do.) Is the work you are planning to submit the best you have? Is it cohesive? Will it stand out against the competition? What is the quality of workmanship? Would someone notice it across the room? Is it your own work and not copied from someone else’s design? What makes your work special? (Please, no more barns, flying ducks or Norman Rockwell look-alikes!)
4. Will the work be judged on site or by photos? This can really make a difference for some pieces, especially those involving texture or size. If you’ve ever seen a real Van Gogh in person, you realize that he “carved” the paint on the canvas and that texture is as important as the subject matter. All work looks the same size when projected which may cause advantages or disadvantages. A wall-sized impact piece will appear the same size as a miniature even though the sizes are stated; it’s still the first perception that counts.
If you are taking photos, make sure that your painting is level, no hot spots, no glares or reflections, no frames, no hands holding the piece. With today’s digital cameras and easy-to-use software, there is absolutely no excuse for sending bad images. This is the most important thing you will submit with your application so it had better be the best you can make it.
5. Finally, relax. After you send your application and images off, it is out of your hands. Any two jurors will choose a different show from the same selection of work. Not getting into a show is not the end of the world. You are creating for yourself, right? That’s what is really important. Keep creating!