Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

AND NOW, I GIVE YOU THE "SLESNICK" METHOD OF JUDGING--a good idea with unintended consequences.

First off, this is not a blog slamming Les Slesnick.  I like  the guy and he means well.  He has done a lot of good things to help artists over the years.

Now, on with the show.

I was at Images Art Festival, located in scenic New Smyrna Beach, FL. this weekend.  That is the Atlantic coast.

They have become one of several shows, especially in Florida, employing the "Slesnick Method of Judging."

Ah!  You might ask.  What is the Slesnick Method of Judging?

Well, Les took a note at how a lot of artists, who especially came to shows gunning for awards, decried the fact that they felt the judge never really saw them or acknowledged them.  In other words, the Famous Ghost Judge.  There he goes, I guess, because a green dot just showed up on my booth sign.

So he suggested the following system which he felt would level the playing field.

You still with me? Otherwise go in the other room, mix up a great martini, and let me please smell the vapors, since I am not allowed to have them any more.  Have a heart, please.  Take mine.  All 70-per-cent of it that I have left.

So this is how it works.  Say you have two judges.  Each starts at one end of the show.  They will come into your booth.  Somebody will stick a clipboard in your face and make you sign.  There, see, you have seen the judge.  Each judge will give you his own printed card, which basically says,"Here comes the Judge!  I am the judge."  Here is the  kicker.  You will be judged for one minute.  Count on it, because we got a person with a time watch who is tracking the sixty seconds the judge will spend with you.  Then, it is off to the races to the next booth.  This system can be used with one, three, or any other combos of judges.  But, then it could get tricky calculating when each judge will hit your booth.

For instance at Images there were 225 booths to be judged. One judge with start at number one booth and move upward.  The other judge would start at booth 225 and move downward.

I was booth 109.  The show started at 10 AM and so did the judging.  In theory, I could calculate that judge number 1 would hit my booth approximately one hour and forty-nine minutes later, which put it around ten minutes to noon, or so. I mean whose really counting?  Oh, I forgot.  They have stopwatches.

Judge number 225 would be at my booth around five minutes to noon.  Or so.  Yikes!  I could see it now.  Two groups of judges descending on my booth in a close collision course.  There would be clipboards flying.  Stopwatches exploding in the air.  Somebody might even lose their notes.  

It was so juicy, so tantalizing.  I was waiting with baited breath and my camera ready.  You never know when you might get a goodie to jury with for Zapplication.

Let me take a minute to save all this.  I would hate lose it in the ether.

Whew!  That was close, but I am still here.  Read on, it gets better.

"Vell" as we European types like to say. Nothing good came of this system.

For background info only, I will give you a few salient points of what the Images Committee wrote in  our Artists' packet.

First, and foremost, it was recommended  that we stay in our booths till we were judged.  So that you could proudly proclaim, "hear ye, hear ye, I have been judged."  There goes the judge.

Tough luck if you want to go pee-pee.  Tough luck if all the free food at the Artist Lounge will be gone by the time you are judged.

Well, dear readers.  The system somehow got all muddled.  I never saw either judge until almost two hours after their appointed times.  Maybe they had the martinis--and sadly, no vapors for Nels.  Imagine, there would be no clipboards and stopwatches flying.  What a fricking disappointment.  It was going to be the highlight of my day.

Well.  Let me tell you how I was judged.

Judge Number 1 came in after the requisite persons had me sign a form saying I saw him.  Wow!  I got a big green dot.  Not as big as a purchase award ribbon, but it was big in its own little way.  It gave me hope.

 Number 1 allowed that he had seen me setting up on the optional Friday, and he really grooved on my work.  He was a little miffed because I did not share any of my  chili-salted pistachios with him.  (I made that part up, but I dreamed it--hey if Mate'O can dream of being in love with an avatar, why can't I dream of arousing the judge to yearn for my art--and my pistachios.)

He stayed a good minute, he actually looked at the work.  He was a judge, who I believe, had a more 2-D background.  I felt hopeful.

About a half hour later, Judge Number 2 came in.

Wow!  What a different experience.

He came intently in, after the necessary signing and dotting, and looked me right in the eyes.  And, I do mean right in the eyes.  He never once looked at the art hung on my walls.

In his European way, he said,"You have one minute to tell me about your art."

I looked intently at him, but not too, so that he would not feel I was groveling for his judgeful affections.

I bravely said (And dear readers, I know now it was my complete undoing), "Well, why don't you look at my art first, and then if we have time, I will tell you about it."

 I knew right away, he was not going to get one of my chili-salted pistachios.

Unwavering, he never took his eyes off me once.  Never looked at the art.

 I know. I have lost 48 pounds since the operation, I have tight  abbs, and veins popping in my arms.  But, I am no Tom Cruise.

 Please, look at the fricking art.

As he left, he gave me that "Kiss of Death" aloha that those of us artists have come to know and hate.

"He intoned," I hope you have a really good show."

I chimed back, quickly, but also a little forlornly, "Well, you could make my day."  

It was lost on deaf ears.

Well, dang it, I didn't get an award, but you know, that's how the cookie crumbles.  They have a right to their own opinions.  If they won't look at your work, it means "It sucks" in their opinion.

So here is the final asessment of the Slesnick Method.

It doesn't really work.  

First, and I have been judged at many shows by this method, the timing thing never is pulled off correctly.  The Weatherman looks more real than these Stop-Watching troops of judges.

Second.  Too much emphasis is put on the one-minute process, and not enough on the actual judging.  When your pieces were pulled and put into a room to be viewed later, you got a better judging experience.

This is just my humble experience after being awarded more than 300 of those "Money-Ribbons" in 38 years of exhibiting.

Well, what do think of the Slesnik Method?  

Is it just me?  

Should I get a different brand of pistachios, or the hell with it, why don't I just start bringing a battery-powered blender to show and mix up martinis for the judges.

And I thought it was hard getting good food in a hospital.  Nels Johnson.

Bravo!  If you read this all the way through.

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Comment by Carla Bank on February 5, 2013 at 2:22am

Love it! You make me laugh :)

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on February 4, 2013 at 1:36pm

Thanks for your post Nels, I enjoyed reading everyone's comments.  Good discussion you got going here.

Comment by Virginia Dauth on January 31, 2013 at 5:03pm


Comment by Bill Coleman Entertainment on January 31, 2013 at 10:01am

Drawing inspiration from Improve Everywhere, how about for your next show you distribute  clipboards and green dots to the folks that pass through your tent?  A boisterous rendition of the hit singles: "Green Dots and Clipboards NOW!" followed by "ART for the Peeps, NOW" by the roving OCCUPY ART chorus would help set the scene.  Alternatively, set up a flash mob with a dozen or more "judges" in robes and clipboards, maybe even an executioner with a noose to hang the bad art?   ;>)  Democratizing ART!  

To round out this 3 am fever dream, graffiti style stencil art featuring circle slash clipboards should be surreptitiously distributed about the playa.  OK, no need to start throwing canned tomatoes, I'll stop now.  ;>)

Comment by Nels Johnson on January 30, 2013 at 9:56pm

Wow!  My "Attractive Tractor" is sexy.  I' m jazzed. Maybe I should retitle it "Sexy, very sexy, tractor."  You made my day.

Yes the Washer is available.  It is a "Hand-colored black and white photograph using water and oil-based inks and dyes.  E mail me at to discuss it further.

Finally.  There should be a category just for Barry Bernstein.  He is so funny.  He is a delicious target.  I always seek him out at a show if he is there.  I usually award him one of my own special little "Artist Scholarships."  Ask him about it.

Aloha, Nels. 

Comment by Gloria Irla Marlow on January 30, 2013 at 7:10pm

I've never had to sign anything when the judges come in.....half the time I didn't even notice the colored dots appear on my name sign to show they had been in and I make a point of addressing everyone who comes into my booth.  I did win a honorable mention once for my display but that's about it.  I've taken many blues in actual competition shows but that's a whole different ball game.  The clipboards are usually a dead give away you're being judged but they don't always carry them.  sneaky

Comment by Trudi Van Dyke on January 30, 2013 at 3:14pm

A great post; as a judge I hate the stop watch people; I find the best jury allows lots of time for discussion. I did one show in Florida where they took both judges (after our independent work and discussion) gave us a golf cart with a driver and took us together to see our final choices at the same time and then back to more discussion at a central point. It was great. My other comment would be that the artist should probably allow the judge to pick a piece for judging..if I pick the piece I think is strongest then I will fight harder for it to get an award. I have found that artists have emotional attachments to some pieces and they may not be their best or representational of the body of work that I want to award. I really prefer shows that want judges to pick the body of work, rather than one piece, which may have been done to catch the eye of a that as a huge piece by an artist whose work is small scale in general..or the jeweler who does one magnificent high dollar piece..and uses it every show to try for an award. I like to award the overall work. BTW, I'd love to line up a good Florida show to jury in the fall. Any suggestions? hugs to all of you who do festivals. 

Comment by Judith Daley on January 30, 2013 at 2:30pm

Hi Nels....this was a very good post and I learned a lot....but the reason I'm writing is that I am in love with the painting of the washers at the head of the matches a very positive dream image I had years ago and reminds me of the chore of using the wringer washer and hanging out clothes with my mom and grandmother in the 50's --- a chore then that I would repeat in a flash now!

Is this painting for sale and if so, how much?

Comment by Shannon Blosser-Salisbury on January 30, 2013 at 1:14pm

You're absolutely right, Barry.  When I was annoyed about having to talk about my work for a minute, it was just that I was put on the spot; not that they were asking me to do something that I shouldn't or couldn't do.  I'm sure that was the point of the exercise.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 30, 2013 at 12:49pm

Not being able to talk about your work? Off putting? Nonsense. One would think there is an idea, a concept behind the work. All great art has a concept behind it. With photography, it may be capturing how light hits the objects being photographed, or color, or composition in relation to those things. Otherwise, it's just a "purty pit-ture" of what you did on your vacation. I know Nels and Bill have an idea behind what they are doing. I've listened to Nels a number of times talk about what he is doing. So, none of you can talk about what you are doing? If I didn't think about what I am doing I would be just a trinket maker. Don't worry trinkets sell.

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