Art Fair Insiders

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

The Jury Process: Part I - What Makes a "Good Juror"

Now remember - these are just my thoughts and opinions from my experience and internal workings as an artist.  The point is not to discuss, support or argue with ME personally - but to think about and comment on these IDEAS.  And so importantly, ADD to the discussion other ideas and perspectives not broached here.  Growth the discussion with your view.  Just urge staying on point throughout.

Okay, onward. 

So many facets to this question it is somewhat intimidating.  Excluding commission-based shows, the tapestry of art that constitutes the show and from which the public and patrons have to choose is solely determined by the jury process (plus possibly a few award winners usually chosen by an even smaller set of “jurors” (aka: judges).  They determine the fate of each of us as an artist: the ability to show our work before any particular crowd, to return to a crowd that demonstrated through purchasing it likes our artwork – or not return because of the opinion of jurors.  No matter what we do or how much we ‘change’ or grow in our work, it ultimately seems to come down to the opinions of jurors.  Similarly, the juror node is the primary and sole determinant of what patrons get to choose from and the foundation on which the success, or failure, of the show is premised.

Who makes a better juror?  Academician?  Gallery owner?  Museum curator?  Peer artist?  Best friend?  Worst enemy?  Person who is color blind?  Why? What about an art patron?  I cannot remember seeing or hearing of an art patron on a jury.  And a rare instance or two of doing so by a show is not the point – as a regular course of events, why are patrons not jurors? 

Which ‘type’ of ‘qualifications’ best reflect the objectives of the show? The look of the show?  The ultimate success of the show? Hopefully at least one objective of the jury process is laying a palette of artwork the attendees and patrons wish to purchase, no?  Do any of us go to art show merely to exhibit?  Is a show successful merely if people turn out, crowds are large?  Or only if people engage the art, the artists and buy, at the show or post-show?

Do jurors typically buy artwork?  Patrons – do they merely come to look, as when going to an art museum where the work is not for sale?  Within the constraints of no buy-sell, no imports, no rep’s – handmade by the artisans present at the show, these events are about patrons of the arts and sales by the artisans, are they not? 

If a show thinks their jurors are good and doing a good job, why do none assess that characteristic?  For example, gather sales data from all artists, compare to jury scores, then ask a statistician (found locally at a bar perhaps) and see if there is any relationship that exists between jury score and sales, with sales being the response of the public to what was selected by the jury.  Or at bare minimum position staff at exits to see how much artwork is going out and from which artists?  Are these not doable? Important?

Fundamentally, jurors seem merely another manifestation of a critic – like a book critic, movie critic, music critic, Broadway play critic or restaurant critic. Does a juror bring to the table more than a set of personal biases, likes and dislikes, preferences - same as you or me?  Do they really know all art mediums?  In a jury room where images may be viewed for what – 10 seconds?  Maybe 20?  Can they really tell that much about the work?  And again to be intentionally redundant, what relationship do their opinions have to the art-buying public on which artists and the show fundamentally rely?  Do their scores in any way reflect how well artists will sell or the flip side, how the public will respond to the work?  Do jurors provide feedback to show management on how to better the process (e.g., display slides for a longer period of time to allow more ability to critically view the work, ability to read artist statement or description of techniques and materials they shows asked artist to provide then review the slides)?  

Interjection here:  I think of how the established world of art, primarily the painter community, critically viewed the emergence of impressionistic painters.  Also how critically derided by were the works of such notables as Norman Rockwell and Ansel Adams. I would also ask from your personal experiences, do you go see a movie, or avoid one, because a "critic" liked it or dislike it?  Same for books, eating in restaurants and the like.  Do you feel your sensibilities are in any way well-defined by critics?

Last, is it a good thing to have any juror sit on more than one event?  If they see your work at multiple shows, how much of your career is now tied to the opinion of a single juror?  If they recognize the work of some of the artists, that they may know personally, how do they not bring into their decision ancillary information other jurors do not have about that particular artist, with nothing comparable to bring into the decision process for those artists they do not know?  Effectively then, how can a jury process be blind if the juror is familiar with many of the artists they are jurying?

Okay.  Your turn.

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Comment by Layl McDill on September 4, 2015 at 11:36am

I'd like to share my experience of being on the other side as a juror.  I've been (and still am) on the  exhibiting artist side of the jury process but several times I have also been a juror.  Most recently I was a juror for an art center that received over 100 entries- nothing really compared to many art fairs but we were narrowing down to 10 or less so comparable odds to the large art fairs.  They used CAFE Entry so we had a few weeks to put in our initial jury score before we got together with the other jurors.  I looked at about 20 a day to keep my mind fresh.  The thought of looking at over 500 artists in one sitting is mind boggling!  I don't know how you could keep yourself from just going brain dead after awhile!   

There was a lot to things I realized being on this jury.  One was art that I had seen either in person or online (Facebook usually) in the past was much easier to judge.  I remember one artist coming up that I followed on Facebook (don't know them personally and may have never seen in their art in real life) and I knew I liked this person's work automatically.  This artist's previous promotions definitely helped them- they ended up being one of the 10.  I also found it interesting how some work I LOVED the first time around but when I looked at it again at the in person jury round I was not as excited about it.  This tells me two things- it may depend on what art you see before or after it, the amount of time you are getting to look at it and also things the other jurors pointed out.

All in all my experience as a juror made me realize there are so many outside factors that come into place when you are getting down to picking the best of the best.   When you get to the top 30% and you need to whittle it down to the top 10% it really is just chance and no way it can be any other.  STILL it does help to be able to take time to look at the work and talk about the work with the other jurors to make the best decision you possibly can under the circumstances.  

On the point of WHO are the jurors.  On the panel I was on it was very diverse- board members of the art center (probably could be considered patrons), artists, employees of the art center, and gallery owners.  I really think it made a big difference that we were able to discuss the art- though this is a much slower process!

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on August 29, 2015 at 10:00pm

It's just that it requires that much more attention to detail to do the vetting.  They'd have to care a lot.  i wonder if it's even occurred to shows to do this further checking process.

Comment by Alison Thomas on August 29, 2015 at 4:06pm

I agree Sandra.  I think a very small percentage of shows do.  What the shows don't understand is if you do it before the acceptance letters go out, you don't need to prove it without a shadow of a doubt the way you do if you are kicking someone out of a show.

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on August 29, 2015 at 3:55pm

Good points, Alison.  However, in a real world do you think the shows are actually going to bother to research their accepted artists?  Heck, they won't even expel artists on site when it's pointed out to them at a show (with on llne evidence) that the particular exhibitor is buy/sell or imports.  The best we can ever get is, "They won't be invited back next year."  So what?  That shady exhibitor is taking revenue from the rest of us THIS year and setting public expectation for cheap junk.  It's time for a show to care enough about its reputation to put concern for overall quality into the mix instead of just grabbing the money and running once the show exhibitors are invited.  

Comment by Alison Thomas on August 29, 2015 at 9:46am

If you're going to put all the jurors in a room and project jury shots for 10-20 seconds per artist it doesn't really matter who you have jurying.  In that amount of time you can't spot buy-sell unless you've encountered the same seller before and you can't see workmanship.  I believe in monitor jurying where a juror can look at images as long as they want.

The most important thing to me is that the show do further research into selected artists before they send out the acceptance letters.  Look at their website at least, facebook pages, whatever.  This is where you catch buy-sell.  This is where you see that someone has three good pieces for jury shots and nothing else.  I'm tired of shows falling back on the blind jury process to excuse accepting people that don't belong in the show.

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on August 28, 2015 at 11:03am

Go, Ron!  Great article with many facets to discuss.  Let me address my feelings about the time allotted for viewing an artist's work at a show.  I've heard so many on-site jurors tell me they don't have time to talk to me( I'm asking for 2 minutes to describe what I do and the process) because they have too many booths to see.  Dammit, if they're so busy they can't spare 2 minutes then they shouldn't be jurying!  It's a matter of respect to accord an artist a brief opportunity to educate the juror who may or may not be familiar with what he/she is looking at before the "dot flunky" puts the dot on the booth sign and the cortege moves on.  And the jurying from the middle of the street is beyond contemptible. Perhaps that's why buy/sell and factory-produced work sometimes wins awards.

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on August 27, 2015 at 12:46pm
Point of View, fine Craft, Leather: keep it simple and look at who is producing show atnd what are their objectives. 1. Art society wanting to educate and display art - give them your "museum view" booth shot. 2. Chamber of commerce, Service organization or any type of local business group - give them your booth shot showing lots of inventory so you are the one ready to generate tax revenue for the community. 3. Private promoter - ? From what I read about them they could care less. They just want the booth fee. This has worked for me in over 20 years. Most jurors do not have a clue about leather.

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