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The Jury Process: Part 2 - Consistent Body of Work etc. etc. etc.

Let me premise this one by a wonderful quote from someone a few of you may have heard of:

God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things. - Pablo Picasso

Think God would make it past most juries these days?  Sure doesn’t seem like he has a “cohesive body of work” according to many jurors.  Guess he never had to face an art show jury in his day.

Also, if jurors are composed of "art experts" or "experts in their fields" - should definition of terms really be so widely interpreted and varied in their application?

Such terminology or dare we say "definitions" as "consistent body of work", "cohesive body of work" or "breadth of work" are thrown around IMO carelessly without definition or example in the prospectus and then again in the jury process, without supervision creating a confusing and in many ways lethal scenario for the fate of artists and patrons.

If a show prospectus says something akin to: the jury slides and booth slides you submit should represent the body of work, or breadth of work ...... what exactly are they saying?  How are we interpreting these words and combinations of words? Are we to micro-interpret that if the wording is "should" rather than "must" that leaves it more open to open interpretation by the artists?  Or is the intent clear either way?  Clear to the show?  Clear to us?  Do shows evaluate their documents to see if their choice of words (i.e., wordsmithing) is crystal clear?  Clearly transmitting their intent without ambiguity? Is whatever the definition of these words by the SHOW that wrote these terms clearly and unambiguously communicated to their JURORS?  Can jurors score submissions based on a different set of definitions or interpretations?

So for your consideration, some examples. All these where the prospectus says the jury and booth slides should (or even if they say "must") represent the "breadth" or "body" of work to be shown":

  • Your a photographer shooting both black-and-white and color, about equally.  Do you only submit B&W?  If you perceive, based on your experience, jurors will respond more positively to B&W than to color - or - believe that jurors seeing a mix of B&W and color are more likely to say that is not a "cohesive" or "consistent" body of work and score them down - either way - would mixing B&W and color imagery be an inconsistent body of work?  If you only show B&W in the jury slides, should you be allowed to also show your color work? Is the B&W imagery just one manifestation of the body of work, that cover the body of work, the style, the vision?   What if that ratio is not 50:50 but more say 80:20 of B&W vs. color images?  Does THAT matter?  Would showing only say B&W images then also be considered representative of the "breadth" or "body" of your work?
  • Your a ceramic artist creating both functional (e.g., bowls, plates, mugs) and nonfunctional works (e.g., wall pieces or large decorative vases).  Should you only submit images of your functional work? Only of nonfunctional? Are you compelled to show both in their jury images submitted?  Show the functional pieces as their jury image slides and include the nonfunctional pieces only in the booth image and assume that is okay and meets the definitions/rules of the prospectus?  Are you okay with the show saying "you didn't include images of your nonfunctional work in your jury images so you cannot show them at the event?"
  • Your a painter creating images of flowers, seascapes and pastoral landscapes - must you show them all in the jury slides?  Does a mix of flowers and seascapes and landscapes, if that is what your paint, demonstrate an inconsistent or non-cohesive body of work for which you might be penalized by the jurors for showing an inconsistent body of work?
  • Your a jeweler doing typically jewelry (e.g., necklaces, rings, earrings) yet also create non-functional sculptural pieces.  Must you show examples of both in your jury slides?  Just show the traditional work in their jury slides and the nonfunctional pieces in their booth slide?  Okay if the show says you can't show one or the other because of what you submitted?

Okay.  Now let's put you in the seat of a juror.  

  • You see a submission of 3 verticals and one horizontal - then the booth slide.  Is that an inconsistent body of work because horizontal and vertical images are mixed?
  • You see three images with strong reddish colorations and one with a bluish coloration.  Consistent body of work?  Not?  Consistent presentation?  Not?
  • You see two large outdoor installation sculptures, and two small table-top-sized sculptures.  Consistent?  Inconsistent?  Penalty in scoring? Or none?
  • You see a handmade large wooden table, a large wood rocking chair, a standing clock, and a small wooden jewelry box.  Consistent?  Inconsistent?  Penalty in scoring?  Or none?
  • You see a giraffe, an elephant, a cat, and a bird ...... okay - I digress

These aren't meant to be laughable, nonsensical examples (except that last one of course).  These are real.  They have happened.  

Definitions have a purpose - to clarify.  These terms referring to a "consistent", "cohesive" and "body of work" among others are in no way - IMO - clear.  They are written as words by a show in a prospectus that represent a binding legal contract and equally binding ethical contract with us - artisans - to say this is what we expect you do to, to submit, and then how you will be judged and what you will be allowed to show - based on these characteristics of your work as represented by your jury images.  Are these terms clear to you?  Are you okay with them not being clear?  And are you okay with thinking in reading the prospectus that you understand and choose your images and pay your fee accordingly, only to find out later than that is NOT how they were judged?  Perhaps that show staff pre-juried you out because of such inconsistencies, or perhaps that jurors applied a different interpretation of those words or concepts?  Part of this absolutely is Show Management (last topic to be posted here shortly) - clear and unambiguous teaching of the jury what the rules, definitions and interpretation of those definitions are.  The other part is a clear stating of what these terms, concepts and ideas are to us so we have a target to shoot for.  No?

Your turn.

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Comment by faye fisher-ward on September 4, 2015 at 6:13pm
Its a shame jurors aren't reading this....they should.
Comment by Christine Noah-Cooper on September 4, 2015 at 2:21pm

Unfortunately, there seems to be a huge chasm here.  We artists - thank you Kathy Ross and Mark Turner! - want to express ourselves.  That can take us in many different directions.  Those individuals who see art as just another commodity - show promoters, advertisers, etc. - want us to use a palette of five colors, a narrow range of subjects, a style so consistent that our pieces could be arranged end to end and read as one continuous picture.  I'm not a tag-line, I'm an artist!   

Comment by Jennifer Racette on September 4, 2015 at 1:55pm

I am multi-dimensional and my work is also. That's what makes my work - and me - interesting. The thought of an "expert" juror wanting to pigeon-hole me (or any other artist) in order to achieve a preconceived look or aesthetic for a show, is repugnant.  News flash: In the macro sense, ALL art shows look virtually the same - a sea of white tents.  It is only when you peek inside a tent that you experience an aesthetic - and that is all of the artist's doing - as it should be.  Jurors who come from a place of "NO" instead of "WHY NOT?" impress me as conformist, overly disciplined, and unimaginative.  Those are traits anathema to art in every sense, IMHO.  Showcase and celebrate the unique, the unexpected, and the imaginative. In other words, take some risks.  Do that, and you will cultivate a really great event.

Comment by Robin Chard on September 4, 2015 at 12:20pm

I think in the old days, with paper applications, the shows were better in detailing what they were looking for in Artist's work. I have trouble with local friends not understanding how the bigger shows judge and complaining about not getting in and saying the show favors out of town artists. This is something we focus on and discuss here, but many artists are completely unaware of the "consistent body of work" issue. A prospectus used to clearly state what the jurors where looking for, in describing the show. I'm not sure when that stopped. Or am I imagining it? (I've never been accused of having a steel trap mind)

Since I've been a member here I've been getting into better shows. (Thanks Connie and Larry!) The members here have helped me tremendously with understanding the business of art show judging. But I feel really sorry for artists, throwing 35 to 50 bucks at a show they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting in.

Why don't they spend 4 sentences making it clear what they are looking for in a Call to Artists? 

Comment by Bernard Zalon on September 4, 2015 at 10:25am

Consistency is boring.

Comment by Mark V. Turner on August 31, 2015 at 3:40pm

OK Ron,

I'm a self-described 'Urban Outsider' painter. Self taught in all respects with reference to painting. Everything I've ever learned about painting has come from books about great painters or painting movements; visiting museums; and sitting behind the easel problem solving.

I began painting nothing but abstracts.

I then learned how to paint in a representational style

Then I melded the two styles into an abstracted reality style (my avatar is an example)

I continue to work in all three styles. Over 425 of the 540 works I have completed have sold-but likely because I have kept my prices reasonable for what they are: all originals. It's a tough competitive market out there as we all know.

My abstracts sell least frequently, but have generated the largest commission fee I have ever taken. A friend says 'Abstract art is not a spectator sport'.

My representational pieces are the works most frequently awarded ribbons and prizes at outdoor summer exhibitions, but sell slowly b/c of their prices - which reflect the time and effort which goes into each of them.

My melded style sells best currently - it has lower pricing than my representational work and people connect with it equally compared to my representational work.

I bring a selection of all three styles with me to each event I participate in. I arrange them based on space utilization maximization, symmetry, color choices, and other criteria.

What I find is, that despite awards, and being competent in 3 styles of painting, is that the most competitive events out here in the mid-atlantics consistently reject my submissions in the jury process. This of course is done without comment because their stinking jury processes are opaque.

When I submit to these competitive events and follow their instructions referencing requirements images of representative works I would bring to their events, I send images of the three styles I work in and a booth shot showing them displayed as described above. You most often get three or four work images and a booth shot to do this with.

Part of the rejections in my thinking is that jurors don't understand how an artist can work in 3 styles and do all three equally well. Also they get three different styles and that's 'inconsistent'.

And despite being told to submit again each year because 'jurors change regularly', Every new juror brings their own prejudices with them. So if you work in multiple styles, you're sure to get rejected because the jurors are going to not care for at least one of your styles no matter how many jurors there are... and you're branded as inconsistent. But what if you are regularly consistently inconsistent?

With most juried exhibitions in the top tier, the jurors are usually all art school graduates. They only know what they are taught - 'inconsistency is bad'.... 'You aren't supposed to be able to work fluidly and competently in more than one style'. Well, I'm an outsider artist, self-taught and trying to self-actualize my career. I paint in all three styles with competence. I am going to bring all three styles with me to a show because I wish to demonstrate my stylistic diversity and maximize my sales opportunities to the attendees of all artistic bents.

Not everyone can be a 'Picasso or a Dali' - but this is because they are not celebrated by the 'right people' as such... You can work in multiple styles and you may be deserving of a place at the table in these top tier shows, but that's not how the jury process currently works. But their rubric of having a consistent body of work is an arbitrary and capricious requirement. Challenge your jurors to think outside the box and specifically remind them that a consistent body of work is not a requirement at a show if you are going to admit more than one style of artist to your event

You'll note that despite having a mixed media category, there is not an entry category for Outsider artists or the self-taught, or the poly-stylistic. Each poly-stylistic artist showing at an event doesn't dumb a show down. It might even be a plus because you recognize that such artists will receive attention from more than one type of festival go-er.

And it seriously takes a bit more talent to be competent in more than one style. Show me the data saying that it's detrimental to an event to have more than one style of work shown in an artist's display... I have not found any. And I know of no festival go-er who will say that it's bad to do this - unless they've been to art school...... where creativity is regulated and pigeon-holed; and prejudices of instructors are instilled....

So, in the 21st century, perhaps this consistent body of work requirement is an artifact that working jurors with a 20th century education and show directors who came from the era of snow-fence and clothesline shows fail to realize is outdated. We look towards entrepreneurs in nearly all walks of life and commerce. Being multi-talented seems to be a plus nearly everywhere you go - except for juried art shows and the art galleries where these other successful multi-talented entrepreneurs go shopping to fill the walls of their big empty houses.

We fail to celebrate the poly-stylistic. Instead, we label them as inconsistent and therefore not worthy of admission to competitive events.....

I continue to wear my purple and yellow leopard skin print nomex-kevlar undies; so 'fire' away please.

Comment by Kathy Ross on August 31, 2015 at 1:24pm

This drives me nuts! I have zero interest in Creating a Unified Body of Work. We gravitate towards art because it seems to be an area that allows us more freedom than other areas. Im pretty sure my work is all recognizable as my work, but Im always trying to figure out ways to stretch that, not shrink it.

Comment by Greg Little on August 31, 2015 at 10:44am

The cohesive and consistent body of work definition has always been, and will most likely always be an elusive shadow of a constantly moving and changing target.

Are there any show promoters reading this who might like to comment?

Comment by carrie jacobson on August 31, 2015 at 10:07am

There's a good show relatively close to me that I can't seem to get into, in spite of the fact that whenever I show anywhere near where that show takes place, everyone - artists, organizers and buyers - tells me my art would do very well in that show. 

So two years ago, after another rejection from this show, I contacted the show director and asked her to look at my paintings and booth shot and see if she had any suggestions. 

I'm an oil painter who makes large landscapes, cowscapes and florals. My paintings are unified, I believe, by my increasingly strong and individual voice, my unusual palette and the heavy impasto I achieve, painting, as I do, with a palette knife. 

The show director - and others whom I asked - suggested that I submit paintings in only one content area. So, OK, I did, for that show, and for a series of others. 

I was rejected from almost all of them! So I went back to doing what I had been doing - submitting on cowscape, one floral, one landscape - and I began getting in again.

I am still new at this, and while I get into many good shows, I have yet to get into the so-called very top top shows. I'm working on improving my painting, every day, and will continue to apply to these shows. But I am going to aply with what feels right in my soul, the pieces that show my strongest paintings to date, no matter what. 

Comment by Alison Thomas on August 29, 2015 at 3:55pm

My definition of a cohesive body of work is if I see the art without the artist and I know whose art it is.  An artist can have several bodies of work but I think it works best when only one body of work is in the booth.  What I do for jurying shots is to make sure everything is in the same color palate.  I may mix a vertical and a horizontal but they are all basically the same subject matter in the same palate.  

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