I will never forget my first art show. I was a young painter taking classes at the local community college. At the end of the semester of my first college painting class, my instructor held an exhibition for students. I do recall my eager anticipation and hours spent preparing. I had painted two pieces in an abstract genre. My classmates were not overly complimentary of my style. At that time photo realism was in vogue and abstraction was still receiving some skeptical judgments even though it had been around a while. My wonderful teacher was encouraging even though he could paint anything so realistically it jumped off the canvas. I later figured out that he was trained using a variation of the curriculum of the great teacher Joseph Albers, a German artist and Professor who fled the Nazis to Black Mountain College. It was great to have this experience as my first college painting class and I have used many of the lessons in my own teaching through the years.
My instructor was a firm believer that all aspiring painters should do everything, from constructing stretchers that supported canvases from scratch to building frames. I spent an evening making 2 frames with a miter box and picture frame molding. What a job! I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. No prizes were given at this student show, but my two entries were the only paintings that sold! If I recall, I made about $35 and was thrilled and felt a bit of vindication!
Even today, after many exhibitions under my belt, I still get that knot of anticipation before a show. It is a mix of fear, excitement and eagerness. I know I am not alone in wondering if anyone will like my work. All artists wonder if anyone will anyone even look. Will something sell? Could a prize be won when the show has so many excellent works? When the show is juried, it is even more nerve wracking. The first hurdle is to be accepted into the show. Oh, the despair one feels if the work is not chosen. And no matter which works win the prizes, there is always criticism over the judge’s choices. While most artists are confirmed introverts, they are also very competitive. It is a crazy mix of contrasts and how we keep doing what we do.
Today, I have also had the privilege of serving as a juror for numerous shows in the WNC region and Eastern TN. Having been on the other side of the situation as both an artist and a juror, it makes me very empathetic to the emotional roller coaster artists experience each and every time they enter a show and what a difficult job being a juror is. It is hard to reject work and harder still to pick the winners.
Sometimes very good work is eliminated for reasons that are more about the show than the work itself. One concern of a juror is whether or not the work fits the theme of the show. If there is no designated theme, the juror must look at all the entries, and formulate a look from the work submitted. It might be that an excellent work will not make the cut because it cannot be grouped with other work in an artful way. While a juror is not a curator, it is important that the exhibition is a cohesive as possible and has a point of view. (A later blog post will discuss what a curator really is.)
Also the juror must consider if the work properly prepared for display (wires, etc put on in a professional manner)? Is the presentation, things such as frame choices, fitting for the work? I once saw a very good small painting drowned in a huge fancy frame, and surrounded with a triple mat in Navy blue, red and white. The artwork was barely visible! And worst of all, if the judging is done by computer images, poor images immediately will eliminate work. Images that are blurry, not cropped or taken with a large house plant in the corner of the photo are the first to be eliminated. It is a cruel world, but this is usually the first step in eliminating work from consideration.