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Juries, Jurors and Scores of "1" - an option to consider

The jury system is bad - fundamentally flawed.  Each year it is the primary influence on our show year and our careers. Here it is again subject of a blog post.

Posts here and elsewhere bring up the same points.  Our fates are determined by jurors. Bad scenario. Art experts?  I think not.  They may have art backgrounds, they may work in musueums, the may be gallery owners.  They may teach "art".  So what?  Does their background make them qualified to choose?  Are they really "art experts"?  What defines art?  What relevance to defining art (undefinable IMO) have to what people wish to buy?  Does the alleged "art expert" background really serve the purpose of setting a palette of artwork the public wishes to purchase?  To compare: are movie critics correct? Do you care more about what a critic says, or the public says?  Same with books, do you only read a book that a critic gives their blessing to?  Do you only eat at restaurants given two thumbs up by a food critic?  And in the case brought before us here in the blog posts on the Krasl jurors, how can they be "art experts" and one give you a 7, one give you a 1?  Or one a "6" and one a "2"? How does that make any sense whatsoever?  It simply does not. 

And .... in this screwed up system, the voice of the public isn't listened to. You could be the top seller in your medium at a show and short of it being a commission-based show, no one knows that.  No one cares except you and your buyers but that does't mean squat, because the show doesn't care nor do the jurors.  Next year your fate will be determined by what?  Jurors, their biases and the process rather than the art-buying public that came and purchased art.  The "different set of eyes" line is meaningless for the most part ... the concept is flawed. The Krasl Scenario can and likely will happen again next year, and the year after.

So here's a suggestion.  Simplify.  Make the process "Juror Free" (ah, what a concept!  To be used in show advertising!), less biased, less expensive. Heck, maybe jury fees will go down accordingly (yes, and the earth will stop spinning on its axis and war will end ...... right).

Have the show management go through and elimate from each medium those submissions that do not meet the show rules as written in the prospectus.  Remove work that is buy-sell, work that is not creative, copies that of others, displays that are poor and not up to your standards - whatever your rules dictate. But no rating of the artwork.

Then everyone that passes that threshold and is deemed "eligible" is put into a lottery.  Their names in essence put into a "hat" and names drawn until the show spots are filled.  A few more to create a wait-list.  No judging, no rating.  Why would that be bad? Think how that might open doors for artists to be in shows that have never been in?  For the public to see work they have never seen BECAUSE OF jurors, juror biases and the jury process?  No need to "cheat" the system with Photoshop, no need to try and figure out what jurors will look at, mixing black-and-white with color, different subject matter, different color palettes, horizontals and vertical, the concept of "consistent body of work" versus "breadth of the work".  All gone.  You submit what you perceeive to be your best work representing you. Resulting in the scenario that the public that comes may have an opportunity to see and purchase your work that previously jurors and juror biases kept out.  Randomness let you in.  

Option #2 if you don't like that - choose jurors from the art-buying public in the community.  Worst case scenario is they will choose art they want to come purchase.  And that would be bad because .................................. ?

Views: 1832

Comment by Reid Watts on March 6, 2018 at 9:36am

Ron: I don’t have any problems with your rant. You express the observations and frustrations that many of us have. As I recall, you have been involved in the running of shows yourself. Perhaps you still are. So why don’t you try out your solutions. If they work, and you can attract a good buying audeince, I will certainly apply.

As you know, there is already a large variety of approaches to arts and crafts shows. Some promoters believe that their target audience will not attend a show that has not been pre-screened by experts. Other promoters believe that their target audience wants to make up its own mind and does not value pre-screening. In the latter case, using their own understanding of their audience, they decide themselves whom to accept and reject. If either type of promoter can attract a large enough buying crowd, then they have the right approach for their target audience.

As we know, there are a lot of hybrid approaches as well: jurying with grandfathering, street-jurying, resolving ties based on date of application / coin toss (i.e. lottery), jurying with director’s discretion, various approaches to instructions to the jury, pre-screening based on detailed requirements, etc. I expect that in order to make it work, your pure approaches will quickly devolve into one of these hybrid approached, thus resembling existing models already in operation. But if it works, you will be right, alongside other successful promoters using other approaches.

I think that this discussion is fundamentally different though from the discussion in the Krasl thread, where artists are asking promoters to tweak their existing approaches to make life easier, more transparent, and less frustrating for artists. I am hoping that our constructive discussion in that thread on some of the key issues will bring about some positive changes benefiting all parties.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 6, 2018 at 10:57am

There's a reason that some shows get recognized as being the biggies. It's based upon the direction and art they choose by jury process to host in the event. We wouldn't aspire to be in them if it wasn't for those facts, beacuse most shows would be the same random mix of random artists with random quality. If everyone got in some of the time, shows would have to figure out some other way to differentiate or die.

No, I don't change my art based upon what I think any judge besides me will think of it. I change the images I send, the order I put them in, the description of material and technique, the booth shot. As I stated upthread, I do my art for me first without consideration of the judge and public. They are secondary.

I might understand the artist community better than you think, Ron. I'm just probably banging my head against some other wall than the one you think everyone's banging theirs against. I don't keep trying to get into a show if they don't accept me. I make a plan to do something else somehwere else instead. I propel myself forward and onward. I don't think the grass is greener at the bigger shows, Ron. I graze the grass elsewhere.

I have as much respect for smaller shows as I do big ones. There' a beautiful buying public in these hovels, too. Again, as I stated in this post and upthread, I don't continue trying to get into a show if the show continues to reject me. It takes two times usually, three with some others. I might sit it out a few years or more, then try once again after I've evaluated--JUDGED--the art they are selecting. And in the meantime I'm working at the other shows. My life isn't as rosey as it sounds, either. I have as much to overcome as anyone. I'm a delusional thinker who sees the playing field as always level, because I adapt to and overcome the restrictions while keeping those big shows that rejected me at an arm's length so that I might reach out and touch one again if I feel the urge to do it again. And then I bang my head on that.

Comment by Joseph Murray on March 6, 2018 at 11:06am

     Absolutely right on target !   I worked for the Iowa Lottery for over 10 years--the system can be accomplished fairly and work .  Certainly would be better odds than what artists face today with the jury systems .  Bias and prejudice are common place today .  I know I have been submitting applications for well over 20 years  and have experienced this many times .  I hope a system can be developed that the promoters and the artists like . Ron is a leader and he is not afraid to speak the truth . Love that ! 

Comment by Ron Mellott on March 7, 2018 at 8:33am

Thank you, Joseph.  Your insights would be invaluable to help educate people, artists and promoters alike, that a better system could be implemented than what we currently face.  100% correct: biases and predjudice are common.  Thank you again for your voice.

Comment by Kelly Meska on March 7, 2018 at 6:00pm

The problem I have is the inconsistency of the juries. The Krasl jury was especially disappointing. I got in last year and this year got a 1 from one of the jurors. It’s just frustrating trying to figure out what they are looking for. Is it the  photos I chose or my booth shot, or is it my work? Because I got in last year and my work hasn’t changed radically it is confusing.  I realize they have a new jury every year but to get a 1 and a 2 this year was so disheartening. Last year this show was my best show ever.  Then I read that they spend 3 seconds looking at your images? What does that even mean? That it is more important to pay for professional photos and booth shot, or is that a waste of money? 3 seconds!  

Comment by Alli Farkas on March 8, 2018 at 1:31pm

Wow, this is a "spirited" discussion if I've ever seen one! The issue becomes even more entangled if it's an art and craft show. A show like the American Craft Expo outside Chicago is a masterpiece of strategic jurying, and with it come concomitant high booth fees and astronomical prices. I love going there just to drool over the exquisite craftsmanship of everything there, but have never bought anything ($$$$$).

So, what to do for the rest of us? I "jury" a very small art/craft show in Michigan every summer. We have a strict set of rules pertaining to the art and craft allowed in, and that's about the extent of what we "jury". We don't jury creativity. We don't jury skill or "goodness" or conformity. We look at the criteria in our rules--no buy/sell, must be original work created by the artist, the artist must be present in their booth for the entire day, the booth must have at least a neat look to it and be able to withstand the vagaries of Midwest weather. If we get a lot of participants in the same discipline--ceramics or jewelry, for instance--that's fine. It makes for a great marketplace for folks who may come looking for that very thing. We don't discriminate at all by choice of media.

As a result, our exhibitors are self-jurying. If they do well at the event, they apply again next year and we welcome them. If they don't, they take themselves out. 

I guess to sum it up, I would have to say that the organization to which I belong and which sponsors our show is not trying to portray itself as exclusive or prestigious or anything but local artists appealing to a local market with hand-made art. These conditions allow us to maintain a smaller show without the need to worry about jurying out excess participants. If we ever get to the point where our show is a huge operation we would probably have to rethink this. Which would be unfortunate.

Comment by Ron Mellott on March 9, 2018 at 5:30pm

For everyone that jumps in and stays on point and discusses - much appreciated and thank you.

There is no reason for promoters to change if they perceive they are on course.  Yet I would ask all promoters:  What are the top priorities for your show to be measured a "success"?   Glass of wine after the show?  Pats on the back by co-workers?  Patrons stopping by to say "great show" with arms full of artwork?  A few artists they know having a "good" show?  Seeing some packages go out? 

An example.  An artist I know described an event where they were doing poorly.  They saw the promoter walking towards them, mid-afternoon when buying should be frenzied, from about a block-and-a-half away.  When the promoter got to the artist and asked "how is it going?" the artist said "poorly".  The promoter was taken a bit aback and said "I'm sorry. I've heard from some artists they are doing good".  The artist said:  "You just walked over a block and a half to get here.  Did you see anyone carrying packages?".  To which the promoter fell silent. 

For me, it is first and foremost, patrons, nothing to do with jurors. Qualified with money and interest to buy, coming to the event, finding what they want and purchasing. THIS is the connection of art on a personal level.  Not because someone said it was good, worthy, skilled, talented or any such thing.  Because it is art that moves them, inspires them, takes them on a journey, makes them feel good.  And they want that feeling every day of their lives from then on. Most shows may acknowledge this, but do not actively pay attention to, measure or in any meaningful way monitor this.  They merely 'conclude'.

How do they know how well their jurors chose?  When they see the variations in scores that started the previous thread, and again not ganging up on Krasl, just that it was the event mentioned in the beginning, how is that explained?  Do they feel that is 'normal'?  Okay?  Justifiable? Rationalizable?  When we are paying $25 to $50 for a jury fee, that is the best we can expect?

Based on what they conclude, what sense they make of their event, what change happens?  Is considered?  Envisioned?  Implemented?  It is a business after all - are these alien concepts in business?  In my years on the show circuit, a mere 18 which is "rookie" status compared to many - they don't meaningful assess and thus how can they evaluate?  If they do, educate us?  What do they measure, concertedly monitor to arrive at the conclusion "we did good"? And "our jurors did good"?  And how often is the decline in applications written off as "oh, it's the economy!"  Do they look at home many artists do not reapply after repeated rejections?  Just as one option?

if they don't care who is selling what - how can they really care about how the show is working?  In what relationship that any of us have, with spouses, children, family, friends, fellow-artists, work associates do we demonstrate we CARE if we never ASK?  Yes, some use the audit cards although those are not sent to management, but to whomever issues the audit card (e.g., Sunshine Artist, ArtFair Sourcebook).  And how meaningful are the questions being asked?  To what enpoint are the results used? Shows put in the Top 100 because of 15-20 surveys returned?  As those sources how they use the surveys to qualify/rank shows.  You will be surprised.  Some shows create their own post-show questionnaires.  While these get at some aspects of the show, they don't get to the heart of the issue.  Did it work?  Why?  Why not?  Specifically, with data to support it - how is that determined?  And, no where or rarely is the jury process discussed.  Hard to when most shows do not tell us, for our jury fee paid, what our scores were.  Kudos to Krasl, seriously, for giving us our scores.  Thank you for doing so.

That we reapply to a show is moot: we all, as full-time, even part-time artists perhaps, NEED shows.  That is the 'art world' in which we live for the most part.  As Barry said, it does not have to be a big famous event - small markets, if OUR market, work just fine and are easier to get into.  Also arguably shorter-lived with potential saturation of that market more quickly.  There are also gallery options though the horror stories of gallery connections abound.  Maybe someone could start a SEPARATE thread on that one.  That will be "spirited" too!

We will apply to those we think are good or have done well to great at.  We will always I think be frustrated by what started this thread - jurors and juror scoring.  How can the same pool of jurors, "art-experts" give such varying scores as, on a scale of 1 to 7, 7's and 6's and 1's and 2's?  How is that interpreted as meaningful in ANY way?  Yet that is how our fate as artists is determined, and how the public's opportunity to purchase art is simultaneously determined.

Why not TRY - consider - contemplate - a different way?  As a promoter, do you really believe that an artist that gets into other art shows around the country are in some way unworthy of your show because ..... jurors? ..... said no?  Even when a returning artist in from the previous year did - as mentioned by Kelly above, had a GREAT show, best show ever?  Which means at some level she connected well with the public, yet her jury scores (given by jurors) prevent the public seeing her work again?  

So at least - at minimum - level the playing field and go with a lottery to fill each medium.  Try it.  What could you possibly lose?  Jurors?  No tears here.  Among all those people each year your jurors keep out, and ones kept out for years on end, for some jurors for biased, petty reasons, are a lot of fantastic artists that your public will love.  And again - who cares what a juror thinks if the public loves and buys the work?  What did the jury process accomplish?  What did it fail at?  

If I haven't already brought it up, to me one of the most compelling examples of this was the Impressionist painters when they emerged on the scene in France in the mid-1800's. I believe that was the time period.  What was the response of the "jurors" and "critics" and established "art world" that denied them access to the galleries and exhibitions ongoing in Paris and elsewher in France at that time?  Can I use the words tradition, dogma, blind and ignorant here?  They kept the Impressionists out.  If THAT was considered a good system, then today's system is equally "good".  To the extent history has looked back and seen how horribly flawed that judgement/assessment system was, is it any reason we are troubled by what we experience in the jury process?  How will we all look back at this "jury" system period and wonder .... what????  

To the extent we are to think, evaluate, consider and improve - what is changing?  What is improving  Are we any different nowadays?  Is our system giving art patrons the best we can?  Allowing artists a good chance to succeed or at least survive as artists?  I don't think we are.  It is not a good system, nor is it fair.  

I hope we all at some point ask if there isn't a better way and try to find a way to work with shows and promoters to make one.  Even the wild and crazy idea of using a lottery to change our fates - "our" being patrons and artists.

Comment by Joseph Murray on March 9, 2018 at 9:36pm

     I have been following this closely since I commented on Ron's discussions .  I could have went into some personal stories of unfair jurists--but it sounds like sour cookies .  The system is not fair . It is biased to the genres of Art that the jurists are interested in seeing . I would think that promoters of a good art show would want ALL genres of art represented by the best artists they can find . The public attends the art shows to find something of quality that resonates in their soul.  When they find that they are elated and the art lives with them for many years . Sadly, that does not happen as often when jurists pick art that falls into their narrow path of bias or prejudice . It happens all the time in shows all across America .  Ron is on to something very important for the art industry and it should be utilized and scrutinized or fewer and fewer good artists are going to even apply to art shows . It is happening already as you see one show after another extending deadlines . They are not doing that because so many artists have applied are they ?  The system is flawed against fair judging of art . The promoters need to attract artists that the public WANTS to purchase art from . The jurists seem to miss that point in a big way .  

Comment by cheryl davis on March 11, 2018 at 2:17pm

I agree about the jury system.  Many jurors are in a position to make or break artists livelihoods without having any significant qualifications to justify this position.  My question to the show promoters in general is exactly who are you serving?   What is your goal?  If its the artists you are serving (they are paying you after all) then give them the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work to the public you are hired to bring to the show.  Do you serve the art buyers?  Then give them art they WANT to buy!   Art that sells.   Im tired of reading about jurors that don't care what sells.  That tells me they don't care about the artists or the art buyers. What do they care about??   Im tired of hearing about artists that never sell anything at their shows yet get juried into every great show they apply to simply because they're "different" or edgy.  Different and edgy is great but this is our career.  We are making a living painting in a way that expresses who we are while still wanting to sell work to our customers.   Its soul searching hard work.   Artists pay for these shows.  Artists pay for the advertising.  Artists are paying for the jurors.  I don't know how this system got so off track but it has. The promoters get paid by the artists in advance.  Maybe thats the flaw.  They have been paid in full before the fact.  Where is the incentive to see us succeed?  Where is the incentive to see the art buyers find the art they seek?   Art Shows should be simple.  Promoters promote the show.  Artists sell art at the show.  Customers come to find art they actually want to buy and hang in their home (not exhibit in an edgy museum).  Its very simple.  Maybe we need to get back to basics and let the customers jury the art.  Thats how it works in other businesses, the customer dictates what is good.  If the buyer (juror) for Nordstrom continues to buy clothes that don't sell the buyer loses their job. If the customers at these shows don't find art they want to buy...then the jurors should lose their job too.  Its really very simple.  Its business 101.  

Comment by cheryl davis on March 11, 2018 at 2:23pm

Maybe we all just need to go on strike and demand what we want.  After all...we are the financial backers here. We do have all the power.  Can you imagine?



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