Jurying, Judging and Being Judged


I’ll be spending the latter of part of today at the Door Prize for Portraiture, judging the awards and then attending the reception. Though I have not yet seen the show, I’ve seen the list of exhibiting artists and know it will be a tough one to judge; there will be a lot of good work in the show.  The show takes place in a beautiful, very summery setting and promises to make for a fun afternoon and evening.  

This show is an invitational, rather than juried, show and I’ll only be judging the awards.  I have, however, also been on my share of jury panels.  I’ve been on both sides of the coin, having also entered juried exhibitions (and had work both accepted and rejected).  Juried shows appear different from each perspective.  As an entrant, the process seems kind of opaque; you enter and wait to hear back, having no idea what goes on behind the scenes. Being a juror has reinforced for me the subjective nature of judging art. Each time I’ve left a jury panel I’ve thought that the show would be completely different if each member of the panel had juried it solo.  

Though awards judging is often done by one person, jurying work into a show is usually done by a panel. In my experience, there are all sorts of jurying processes, usually organized by the hosting institution. I’ve had the following experiences as a juror:

  1. We sit at a table and look at images of the work, deciding through discussion what should be included.  There is usually a round of definite “outs” and “ins” followed by discussion, sometimes with intense differences of opinions, about the “maybes.”
  2. Each juror has a clipboard and privately marks pieces as “in” or “out”.  Results are tallied by a moderator.
  3. Each juror sits in front of a separate computer ranking the work.  Results are tallied by a moderator.
  4. Advisory jury panel: this is a group that makes suggestions, rather than final decisions, for an invitational exhibitions.  Final decisions are made by the show’s curator or institution’s staff.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Image quality matters!!!  Images should be professional, clear and have high resolution. Good work represented by a bad image won’t get into a show.
  2. Sometimes good work doesn’t get into a show (even with good images).
  3. Sometimes mediocre work gets into a show.
  4. Sometimes the group think of a jury panel makes a show stronger.
  5. Sometimes it waters it down.
  6. Just like in other group meetings, there is sometimes a dominant voice in the room, whose vision, for better or works, guides the process.

Should artists enter juried shows?

I know artists who won’t enter shows that charge fees and I completely respect this; it does seem odd that we pay to have our work judged.  That said, I also know that most art institutions have small budgets and need the fees to make these shows happen. Juried shows can be a nice way for an emerging artist to establish an exhibition record.  The costs can add up though.  On top of fees, there is also the cost of framing and shipping work to and from a show, most often that artist’s responsibility.

I prefer seeing the curatorial choices behind an invitational exhibition and look forward to seeing Cheryl’s tonight. Only so many artists can be invited to an invitational though and juried shows do provide opportunities for entry other shows cannot.

If you enter a juried show and get rejected, try to check out the show once it’s installed and open to the public.  You might find that the juror has a strong preference for abstraction, when you paint landscapes.

Anyhow, try again. Sometimes a work gets rejected from one show and wins an award in another.  Art is subjective.

Wouldn’t it be boring if it wasn’t?