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

I am posting three separate discussions on the issue of jurors and jurying at shows.  Please, do not write or respond on this particular discussion – it is intended only as the intro to the other three discussions.  This came about – besides the years of being an artist and previous good discussion on this site as recently as a few years ago – as a result of two comments made by artists responding to a post by a great friend of mine, Rich Fulwiler, in his blog “Total Disconnect”.  Most recently by Mark Turner’s post bringing attention to this subject.


In Rich Fulwiler’s original post, one comment from Thomas Felsted was “… jurors are soooo overly qualified elitist a who curate art to a level of snobbishness that is disconnected with the buying public.”  The second comment was from Barrie Lynn Bryant who wrote “I think that judges are usually quite qualified and only sometimes a little less than qualified.”  Defines a breadth of opinions about jurors.  


The issues being raised by these postings are related to jurors and the jury process.  Each aspect has qualities that need to be thought about and discussed separately – hence the separate discussions, even though they interrelate at some point. Because far too often each aspect goes awry – it is through their unholy union that we as artists, and art patrons suffer as the failing parts combine to make a failing system. 


In my opinion:


There is no single point at which our fate as artists, and those of art patrons, are more consequentially affected than through this single point of the jury process.


These topics would be somewhere in the realm of ludicrous-stupid-insane-ridiculous-hideous-mildly entertaining from an outsiders perspective versed in business as in “.. so THAT’s how they do BUSINESS???? Art shows are a business after all.   Since we are intimately involved in the landscape of art shows, the impact “jurors” have on our lives as artists is staggering and no, not funny or amusing.  Definitely stupid, ludicrous, insane and ridiculous.  An absent from the entire process in most all cases is the voice of the public that comes to shows and buy art – patrons.  Even more stupid, ludicrous, insane and ridiculous.


There also is the frustrating aspect that we as artists, shows, and jurors throw concepts around without ever stopping to define them as if we believed everyone defines something as we do – critical error.  We do not.  Defining what you are speaking about and relating to is crucial to understanding what you are talking or thinking about.  For example, what is a “good juror”?  What is a “consistent body of work”?  What is a “good jury slide”?  Why does a set of slides get you juried into 3 shows and not accepted into 8 others?  Or in your first year of applying and out the next four years?  Or four jurors think your work is stunning (i.e., highest scores possible) and one juror thinks it sucks (i.e., lowest score possible).  If jurors were so “knowledgable” and “expert” and “experienced” – should they not be more consistent?


The four major points about the jury process that I take serious issue with – and wish fervently that all artists did– are the following.  I will ask PLEASE do not ramble on about your personal experiences (e.g., “oh I get into this show all the time and thus the jurors are good and I never get into these shows and thus those jurors are bad”).  As the TV character Perry Mason used to say:  “Irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial”.  Think about things like when you get into a show and do poorly, did the jurors choose unwisely?  When you are one of the best sellers in your category at a show and next year get juried out does that make sense?  When you see a fellow artist win an award from a “judge” (aka: another iteration of a “juror”) and not sell a piece of art at the event – and you know THEY are back in the show next year because of winning the award while the person across from them who sold out may NOT because of ….. juror response, reaction, scoring next year?


The major points I wish to bring up for thought and discussion, one-by-one, are the following:

  • What makes a “good” juror?  Why?  What characteristics should be considered?  Are they “experts”?  Or merely critics?  Knowledgeable of all they see?  Or merely opinionated?  Representative of what the public wants to see and purchase?  “Or merely responding to some ‘pushing of the envelope’?
  • What is “good management” of the jury process by a show?  For example, To what extent, if any, should jurors be allowed to go outside the guidelines written by the show in their prospectus to artists as to how they will be juried?  One of the chief issues being booth slide and cohesive body of work? And should not the top level show management ALWAYS be present THROUGHOUT the duration of the jury process to answer questions from jurors and monitor the jury process itself?  Is that not a critical aspect of “show management”?  One that we pay for with our jury fees?  And necessary to ensure the jury process is fairly applied?
  • What are the definitions for such important jury concepts as “cohesive body of work”, “representative of the body of work” and “good jury slide”?  How do these concepts relate to what the show says in their prospectus – if anything – about the images submitted representing the “body of work” of the artist.  How is “body of work” defined?  If a “body” of work is diverse (e.g., color & B&W photography, functional and non-functional ceramics or functional and nonfunctional glass) is the artist mandated by show rules to show the breadth of work?  Or just a selection (e.g., just the black-and-white photography or just the functional ceramics or glass) that they artists believes may be more positively perceived by the jurors as a “consistent body of work”?  However, if they do so, will any portion of that body of work NOT shown in the jury slides be disallowed at the event?   And should it be? 

What relevance or correlation exists between juror scores and sales? It is not a moot point.  Sales is the voice of the public speaking from the very people the show asked to get off their butts and put the event into their schedule, to drive to the event, to walk the event and – purchase artwork.  Also the very people we, as artists, rely on for our success.  If listening to those that actually BUY art isn’t critical then we are all deluding ourselves about what we do.  And what business in America does not listen to what people in their ‘store’ buy?  How do they expect to succeed if they don’t listen, don’t care?   Art patrons are the essence of this whole exercise.  If they don’t exist or come support the arts at such “art events” then we don’t survive as artists.  Shows can ALWAYS find SOMEONE to give them money for that piece of pavement or grass on which to set up a tent and sell or promote something, even if buy-sell or totally unrelated to art. The “art show” component however will go away.  As will we.

So, following is the first part - The Jury Process: Part 1 - What Makes a "Good Juror".  Remember, it is an exercise about expressing your thoughts, ideas, perspectives on these points and listening to what others have to say - seems the essence of the learning process.  Understanding viewpoints on how the system works - or doesn't - and what positive things can be done to improve our artist environment.  

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Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on August 28, 2015 at 1:33pm

Agreement absolute.  Now if only we ran the world, though God know I'm trying.....

Comment by Ron Mellott on August 28, 2015 at 11:46am

Sandra:  Thank you for the kind words and far more importantly - your ideas and perspectives.

I would say about cost that say for example a show receives 800 applications at $35 a pop.  Using a calculator so as not to err, that is $28,000.  Is that not MORE than enough to fly in 6-8 jurors, put them up hotels, meals, stipend, send a limo to pick them up, take a week to jury the event if needed?  And still have money left over?  And even if you didn't, so what!

My belief is that the jury fee is suppose to do one thing and one thing only:  pay for the expenses, all of them, associated ONLY with the process of jurying the event.  Deciding who comes and who does not.  Who the patrons get to see and potentially purchase from.  Nothing else.  It is not suppose to be (though is) a revenue stream for other uses. Whether it is called a "jury" fee or "application" fee - ethically does not change what that fee is for, does it?  So any jury that only shows our slides for 6-10 seconds, crams 600-1200 artist viewings into 1-2 days is, IMO, doing us a gross, unethical if not illegal affront.  There is far too much importance to the jury process, more aptly the decision process however it is made (if not based on sales by artists the previous year), to do anything BUT take the requisite time.  Again, using a store as an example, will any well-managed successful store make a decision to put any product in its store - and thus set the stage for success or failure of that very store - quickly, cheaply, based on criteria other than "will this product sell well in our store?" or "why are we replacing it because it does sell well!!!" .... what is gained in the objectives, the mission, of the store (or show) to just do it cheaply and quickly?  Again, we pay for a decision, our careers and fates as artists are based on such decisions, as is the support of the event by patrons.  

IMO! :)

And I agree with your comment on jurors from outside the area - if salability of the art is a criteria - which IMO it is - why bring in a juror from California, or Texas, or Florida to jury a show in Ohio, or Michigan or Wisconsin?  How are they tied in any way to the sensibilities of those buying art in the communities where the event is held? Again, why not include patrons who actually do come to the event and purchase art, in the decision process? Heck, even if they just want to see artwork in the event they want to buy, they will come and buy so there will be sales to artists!  How often does that happen with jurors?  Neither is the best scenario, but I for one in an imperfect world would absolutely opt for someone who will then come by art from those present.

And I TOTALLY agree with doing away with artist awards.  That money should go into the promotion of the event and end up in the hands of those who will come buy art.  If they don't come and spend it - the show keeps it.  However, if they do come, it is 'free' money to be spent with whichever artists they choose.  Win for us.

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on August 28, 2015 at 11:25am

Again,  Ron, terrific and well-spoken article.  With regards to judging, I feel a distinction needs to be made between the onsite and the image jurors.  Theoretically,, their qualifications should be similar, though that's often not the case.  Ideally, a jury should consist of jurors from a balance of medium expertise, preferably one per medium to be represented in the show.  Ain't gonna happen--for the digital jurying too expensive because of the number of jurors required.  Practical for onsite--works if juror is a working artist in each particular medium so the process is understood and the quality of workmanship appreciated. Jurying  by category by artists actually working in that medium seems to provide a fair basis for assessing the awarding of money helping the artist to eat  (though I'd personally prefer the shows do away with awards altogether and spend the money on advertising or lower booth fess--this benefits everyone rather than the anointed few)..

Digital/slide jurors: 5 jurors seems like a reasonable number, each with a different area of expertise, preferably with practical rather than academic experience.  Gallery and academic viewpoints are far different than that of a working artist who recognizes the need to produce many pieces and a balance of work rather than 3 showpieces a year.  What about one gallery owner, one educated patron who represents the tastes of the buying public in the area (regional tastes differ--why have a show in Cleveland juried by California jurors?), and 3 working artist in 3 diverse media (one fine craft, on fine art, one other)?  OK, that's enough food for thought now.

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