Art Fair Insiders

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

Several artist friends and I are dedicated to modifying the jury system as we know it.  We are emailing every show that rejects us and asking for our score and how it relates to the acceptance score and the waitlist score.  We explain that this information is essential for our growth in this business and besides, we paid for it..

The result has been mixed.  Some have embraced the concept and some have been completely pig-headed.  The most recent response was from a show I've done many times over the years and always have rated as a top show.  It is also held in my hometown of Milwaukee, WI.

I was rejected for the third year in a row and inquired about my score and my category.  The return email blew me away!  I'm sure it revealed more than the respondent intended.

It started off with a completely ridicules statement.  It said the scores were confidential.  Confidential?  From me?  I paid to be juried.  The score only applies to me.  Who are you protecting here?  The rest was all designed to assuage me and get me to apply again next year.  Then, in answer to my question about my category he dropped the bomb.  I had entered in the Digital category.  He said 2 artists from last year were re-invited and there were 22 applicants in my category.  Of the 22 applicants ... wait for it ... 1 was accepted. There will be 3 Digital artist in this year's show!

I don't know about you, but something doesn't seem quite right here.


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Comment by Robert Wallis on April 19, 2013 at 10:17am

Mark, just as an aside here regarding the texture of your work; the way it is photographed will make all the difference in the world. A conventionally lighted piece with artificial light coming in at  a 45 degree angle on both sides won't bring it out, and neither will a soft light like hanging the piece in your tent like a giant light box. It takes a variation of portrait lighting to bring out the surface texture. One light will be close to the camera position and should cover the entite painting evenely. The second light should rake across the painting at a very narrow angle, just enough to pick up the textural relief. Think about the way sunrise or sunset pops out the landscape contours that you don't see during the middle of the day. It's the same thing.

Comment by Mark V. Turner on April 19, 2013 at 4:07am

Selling nothing but original paintings, I have no flipping bins or prints. I do get lots of compliments on my work and several specialty commissions per year down the line from my summer shows. I have my share of show awards and ribbons - but you can't usually display them in your booth.

But my suggestion still holds on how to reform the jury process. If I can pull together three style presentations, how do I jury what I sell and be honest to the instructions of the show to sell only what you jury... Again, this only applies to those higher end shows I don't seem to jury into. There only seem to be a few I can't crack and it makes me think they have very different ideas on who is going to be acceptable for their events. And again, I think I should, as a matter of principle, be able to somehow get a jury to understand that my booth has three stylistic themes in one medium and that I do all three relatively well. But to show what they appear to want, I'd have to submit 9 images; three for each stylistic theme... Don't think they will go for that. And what kills me is that show personnel will drop into my booth and all say 'wow, your work looks so much better live' I tell them that texture converts very poorly to digital imagery. They all agree.

Howard Alan is very successful at promoting shows, not personally selling art. He makes his high end customers believe his artists have the right stuff and they make believe they are little galleries. As long as the mutual hallucinations hold, I suggest they all keep drinking his Kool-Aid. His show prices are reasonable, but his set-ups and tear-downs are remarkably 'memorable' if stories told around campfires during full moons are to be believed.

I think I'd like to do a couple of his events just to see what they are all about, but have never had the booth 'look' that you hear is required to gain admission into his events. Now I have the coin of the realm panels and lighting...

Comment by Robert Wallis on April 19, 2013 at 12:07am

I don't sell multiple pieces frequently, but when I do it's from the same body of work.

A conversation I had with Howard Alan years ago may be telling in this dialog. I had a terrible show at his Skokie show after having a decent one at the Tribune Plaza show. I was commenting to him about the low sales I was experiencing. I'm not a fan of the way he runs his shows or his business prcatices, and haven't done his shows for about 20 years. He took a look in my booth and gave his pronouncement; I had something for everyone and it confused the customers. He said they had trouble grasping on more than one concept is an artist's booth and to keep the artwork simple, warm, and inviting. I may not care for how he does things, but he does succeed.

Along those lines, I'm paring down what I hang and go for the gallery-on-the-street look. Prices are going up, for when many people tell you your prices are reasonable, it means they would be willing to pay more. Fewer pieces on the wall means fewer distractions, and getting the weaker stuff either retired or in the back of the flip bin strengthens the overall presentation. Ya gotta have some sizzle to help sell the steak.

Comment by Mark V. Turner on April 18, 2013 at 11:50pm


I understand where you are coming from if you are making a living from your art. You have to get into the best shows possible in order to sell your work at the best price for what you do.

So, you have to play the game in order to hope to get a booth at the better shows

There are a lot of shows out there which talk a good fight about being inclusive and seeking out artistic diversity (hence the bottle cap earrings at Artscape Baltimore getting juried in the year I got accepted)... But when the diversity of styles comes from a single artist, the jurors have no way to judge whether or not the artist belongs in the show because they see work which is stylistically all over the dial in a group of 4 images.. If the impetus is to look for the cohesive and coherent, you can't afford to select your best. You have to go with what works best together.

This is despite the scenario I see playing out during shows - that most customers buy a single piece of art from an artist usually - even when it comes to prints...

So I have to wonder at times why a cohesive/coherent presentation is required.

What's even more curious is that likely, by the time the show season is in full swing, most artists who do nothing but originals - have probably sold most of what the jury looked at. Yet people take it as a given that the booth will be different to a certain degree from what was juried due to sales. SO the 'coherence' that the jury saw was artificial to begin with..

ZAPP's entry presentation might allow for the random presentation of artists' work, but probably not ungrouped from the artist submission as a single entity... And this is what I am calling for.. let each piece be judged on its' individual merits.

One day, they might even have a medium classification for outsider artists who live in the city (the self-taught urban outsider). Since no one told me what I could and couldn't do when it came to painting, I developed styles of my own devising. 

Comment by Robert Wallis on April 18, 2013 at 11:15pm

I wouldn't mind submitting work of different bodies. I can can come up with more killer images that way; I've got a figurative piece that makes people stop in their tracks when they see it, another of a set of blue payphones against a golden yellow stucco wall, a Van Dyke Brown print on handmade watercolor paper, and you get the idea. Totally different styles. That's probably what I entered in Broad Ripple back about 8-10 years ago and my score was third from the bottom out of 70 some-odd photo applicants. I still feel the burn from that one ;-/

Last year at BRAF, I didn't make the cut and the entries were made before I attended the SLAF mock jury. This year, using the same slides except one that I later realized didn't quite fit, my showing came up enough to make the wait list. I'm still not holding my breath waiting to get in, but at least now I know how they think a bit better.  Until I know shows that specifically want a diverse output, I'll still stick with the broken gallery system. If you know shows that want the diverse work submissions, by all means pass them on. It'll make for an interesting experiment.

BTW, Zapp has the ability to select entry presentation by alphabetic order, time of entry, or random order.

When sitting on the BRAF first round jurying, it was done standard form; each media was quickly previewed to show all entries in that specific media to give the jurors an overall look at the entire field, then they went in Alphabetic order when screws folks like me. Maybe I should use "Aardvark" for my artist non de plume so I can be juried first.

Comment by Ron Mellott on April 18, 2013 at 9:23pm
So - all great points, Mark and all the others contributing. Great points. So - with all these flaws and inequities and drawbacks and biases and quirks and inconsistencies and unwanted effects - why are we accepting that a juror- based system is THE system on which shows should rest? Given all these negatives - maybe I should say characteristics - are based on we as a human species with all our foibles - is it realistic to expect significant change in how a jury system operates? If not, should the goal not become to deemphasize the role/impact of the jury as it now exists and replace it with something else? So art shows are
Comment by Mark V. Turner on April 18, 2013 at 8:50pm

1) Randomizing the images keeps the jurying fair by making sure that nobody's entry package gets to be totally last in line to be juried. We have all heard how bad this can be for the artists juried later in a session. The events are not likely to extend their jurying sessions if they are having jurors travel long distances to do their job. 

2) It also forces the juror to judge each image on it's own merits. As you read earlier, some shows are looking for diversity of style and technique - rather than the restrictive cohesive coherency requirement.. So you would be able to show your best pieces rather than 3, 4, or 5 less than great pieces which happen to go together as a 'suite'

The randomized image jurying does require the events to understand that their jury outcomes will be possible be significantly different compared to previous events. Artists will know that their best pieces will now be judged each on their own merits.

Scoring each individual image is how a lot of events do their jurying... though this is not how Central PA Festival of the Arts does theirs - they do like Robert said - show all the work images and booth shot as a suite.

But the submission of a coherent/cohesive entry is just a buy-in on the part of the artist to the gallery system model of stylistic uniformity (i.e. we sell pitchforks here and nothing else - if you want a scythe you have to see the gallery down the street) being extended into the summer art show business. And the gallery system is why so many artists are exhibiting their work at the shows we do.

So, the randomized image jurying proposal has the advantage or eliminating juror fatigue (which hurts every artist who has their work seen late in a jury session) and a bias towards requiring uniformity of style (which hurts any artist who works in more than one style in the same medium).

Are you suggesting the artist who works in several styles limit themselves to showing just one... This isn't a standard in any show I have been to. This is very different than entering in more than one medium - where most shows require separate entries - and which is being applied currently in deference to jewelers (of whom there are a lot already) relative to artists who dabble in wearable adornments as a sideline...

In this case, if you made an image submission with x number of work images and then 3 booth images which showed how you stitched the multiple styles into a package, then you free the artists to pursue their creative interests rather than striving for some sort of uniformity in output. After all summer art shows are about trying to sell your creative output and make a few bucks. The wider your selection varieties are, the greater chances to pull more people into your booth and make a sale. Then the challenge is to display cohesive suites in the booth

Artist should not be penalized for pursuing different avenues of expression in the same medium. They should be allowed the understanding of this pursuit of creative expression and I do not think you can disagree that an artist who shows more than one style to a jury is more likely to be juried out rather than in. This is juror bias which is predicated by the shows in their jurying criteria... And this sort of seeking uniformity in creative output is counterproductive to artistic freedom.

And, just like the wholesale re-touching, photo shopping of your booth image, when you submit a 3-5 image coherent suite of work, the rest of your work may be significantly different. If this is the case and you are a creatively diverse artist, it's intellectually dishonest to tailor your entries to a flawed, prejudiced, set of juror criteria taken from the gallery monoculture model.

You are co-enabling a flawed jurying system by making your entry match the mostly unwritten juror criteria - especially when as many artists have said here - that their display is going to be significantly different in work and presentation styles. You are 'wearing' a merkin (look it up) to make the carpet match the drapes... and then going to the show with a different presentation to try and make sales. 

I do not think you can honestly say that a jury criteria set which favors a consistency of style allows those artists who create in more than one direction in a medium to have a level-playing field - just like the playing field where entries juried late in the day are less likely to be favorably graded owing to juror fatigue.

Randomized image judgment by medium allows for a level playing field with respect to both juror fatigue and individual artistic stylistic variability. I think we all agree that an artist should not be penalized for showing more than one style to a jury. If you can do more than one style with skill, I would think the jury would want to get three looks from a booth as opposed to just one...

I should be allowed to present 3 styles of work (each of which may have it's own coherency and cohesiveness) without having to enter three times - once for each style. But when you buy into a jury standard of coherency and cohesiveness (which is very artificial and beaten into artists in art school), you tilt the playing field towards people who are presenting the same stuff over and over again (if they are artistically honest in their entry to show booth presentation) That's not fair.

Yes, I know the world isn't fair, but I can't think of any show directors I have met who recognize that this prejudice is built into their jury criteria. By the same token, I don't think any of them would say that stylistic diversity should count against an artist at jury time... but it does regularly. Same with juror fatigue... tell me you honestly want to be juried late in the day.......

Comment by Robert Wallis on April 18, 2013 at 6:36pm
I agree very strongly to not randomize the images. I have mine picked for 3,4, and 5 slide combinations to be seen in a specific order that works best when viewing the work as a whole body of work. It loses significant pact if viewed in total random order and mixed with someone else's work.
Comment by Ron Mellott on April 18, 2013 at 4:39pm

Randomizing images, while an interesting idea, may counter the purpose of why some artists assemble their images in a particular order to get a good result from the jurors - e.g., to create a flow of color, or flow of the juror's eyes, or matching or coordinating vertical and horizontal orientations.  If these are aspects of importance to jurors, which the mock jury Saint Louis held suggests is the case - then artists will be penalized (further) if randomizing images changes their presentation.

I think the idea of randomizing artists is a great one, suggested by many.  For one, in this economy, artists are struggling to pay fees - jury and booth.  Many pay towards the very end simply for economic reasons. Why should that matter in the jury process?  At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theory, the explanation I have heard the most for artists submitting early is so their images are viewed first which does two things.  First, plants their images in the minds of jurors as "the ones to beat" - that they set the scale or the bar height.  Second, that as jurors tire towards the end of the jury process for a category, they may not give as much attention to those at the end as those at the beginning.

Now, IF that latter point is true, is that not a separate but very real (and solvable) issue? Is that not an issue needing to be fixed by lengthening the jury process and giving jurors more breaks to keep them fully alert? Otherwise, there seems to be a penalty for being towards the end of the group. And again, it is not a money issue.  If a jury whines about it taking "too long" - given the consequence of the jury process - maybe that solution is get a different juror.

So maybe shows could consider doing a two-step process, as some/many shows do, whereby the go through the category first, a set time to view all without scoring (say 6-10 seconds), to familiarize jurors with the content of work for the category/medium they are to jury.  THEN randomize so the order changes when they go into the actual jury process.  This seems something ZAPP can modify in their system to do for all shows to utilize - build in the option.

If jurors are recognizing the work of specific artists regularly - that too is a separate issue - that they may be having an undue affect on the jurying of particular artists.  Hard to be a 'blind' jury or 'level playing field' when jurors recognize a lot of the work, isn't it?

Comment by Terry Corcoran on April 18, 2013 at 4:04pm

Randomized Images is an interesting idea but I think it would be better for a small show. I would think looking at each image and giving it a score would be more time consuming and intense than considering a grouping of images.

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