Art Fair Insiders

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

  I went to the Broad Ripple Art Fair Open Jury in Indianapolis in February. I got to be a "fly on the wall," watching five judges as they decided the fate of 539 artists that had applied for the show.

   Because I am a jewelry artist who participates in juried art shows, and because the jury process has always been dark and mysterious to me, I decided to attend. It was a show to which I had applied, located an hour from my home, and an invitation had been emailed to all applicants.

     When I got there they were finishing up in the photography category. It was in a conference room with a large screen in the front, where the digital images were projected. The five judges sat at two long tables in the front row. Each judge had a laptop in front of them, seeing the same images that were being projected on the large screen. As they viewed the images - all three plus a booth image, the narrator read out loud the artist statement. There is very little interaction between the judges. The images would be up for about 30-40 seconds, the judges would mark their scores, and go on to the next artist.

   I found it fascinating to see the artist entries for photography. They ran the gamut from traditional to contemporary and realism to abstract. Seeing exactly what the judges saw, and in the short time given for each entry, I started to gain an appreciation for the challenge of judging an art show.

    It's all subjective, after all.

     After photography there was a break for lunch and then the jewelry category began. The host briefly showed images from each entry in the category. Then he went back through them, giving 30-40 seconds per artist, while the narrator read the artist statement. Since jewelry is my category, I was especially attentive to the images presented, the booth image, and what the artist said about his or her work. With 128 entries, the highest number of any category, it can all start looking the same after a while.

      "We should score down every time the term 'unique' or 'one of a kind' is used!" one of the judges jokingly said during a break.

    I have done juried art shows for over 20 years, but in the last few years I have totally upgraded and streamlined my booth. I got great direction and advice from fellow artists on Art Fair Insiders. I realized my booth was preventing me from getting accepted to certain shows. Now my booth is simple and uncluttered. So in viewing the jury images I was very interested in seeing other booth shots. What I saw ran the gamut from the cheap craft fair variety of booth to gorgeous hand crafted booths that are the perfect reflection of the jewelry sold. The ones that stood out were those that quite simply, in an aesthetically pleasing way, told customers non-verbally "great jewelry here". A consistent theme I saw was "less is more". No clutter, no signs,  just tastefully designed displays with fabric drops and large images of jewelry pieces. The art reflects the booth and the booth reflects the art. 

    Another element I saw in viewing the artist entries was that the pieces were consistent. It wasn't necessarily similar in color or size, but harmonious one to the next. It was obvious they were made by the same artist and with the same intent. The ones that showed visual harmony between the pieces made the strongest statement and, I'm sure, earned the highest scores.

    I felt that my jury images had the level of harmony from one to the next. I have worked hard to present consistent images of originality and craftsmanship that look harmonious. I also knew that my booth image complements the art and is streamlined and aesthetic. It was gratifying, after all that I have invested, to see my projected images on the big screen. I really thought I had a good shot at acceptance to the show. 

      So it was with a good dose of disappointment that I read the email two days later, thanking me for my entry but regretfully being rejected. This morning I received another email, delineating the scores given to each entry. Mine was a 2.8, out of a possible 7. Ouch! That's not even high enough to get on the wait list! 

     So, it was a great learning for me. I have gained a valuable insight into what was before a dark and nebulous process. What will I take from this? 

  • The jury process is largely subjective. It is subject to the opinion /eye /mood of the individual judges.
  •  Each year the judges are different and therefore the chance to be accepted or rejected change, but the process will still be subjective. 
  • As an artist it is within my power alone to create my best art, represented by great photographs, and described by the most succinct and impactful artist statement. 
  • As an artist it is not within my power to decide what the judges will accept or reject.
  • This is a competition and as artists who compete we push to be the best we can be. 
  • If you don't compete you will never win.

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Comment by Roxanne Coffelt on March 19, 2015 at 12:09am

I went down to Indy, I think in 2013, specifically to watch them jury the jewelry category.  It was a very educational experience for me.  I was under no pressure, because I didn't apply, which probably made it a much better experience for me.

I really expected to see some crappy jewelry pictures there.  You know, some that you could immediately rule out.  I didn't see any images like that.  I thought all the work was very good.  The only thing that sometimes looked substandard was the booth pictures.  And even then, I didn't see any that were really bad.

After viewing that, I wouldn't feel bad about getting rejected from that show.  It is so competitive, especially in the jewelry, that it really isn't a reflection of your work.  It's just a compilation of a handful of judges (who may or may not know anything about jewelry) on a single day.  Nothing more.

I still haven't applied for that show yet.  I wanted to this year, but I'm not ready.  Maybe next year.

Comment by Leo Charette on March 19, 2015 at 9:45am

Very nice review Sandy. What you experienced is pretty much the standard of top shows. Attached is a table showing jury structure of the top 25 shows (AFSB) and top 10 shows (AFI) combined.

I am an artist but like a few other artists on this board, I also manage a show (An Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg, VA). Determining a fair jury process is a challenge and also one of more important ingredients to having a balanced and vibrant show. After communicating with several shows, I've concluded that, though not perfect, the best approach is what you experience in Indianapolis: jury panel; meeting in one room; scoring in unison; projecting high resolution images.

The part missing in your review, is that many shows provide access to applications online in advance for the purpose of gaining a perspective of the entries in each category (not to score). You're right, the process is still subjective but a panel of multiple jurors will help balance the process; and yes, that booth image is very important in this process. Most, if not all shows, will jury applications blind (without the juror knowing the artist's name).

About 10 to 15% of the applications I receive have the artist's name or the artist pictured in the booth image, even though it is clearly stated that booth images should be absent of this. It is so important to read the show's prospectus, though I too have been known to skim through a prospectus when applying at the last minute.

You'll notice on the chart below that about half of the top shows have an open jury where artists can view the process. Also in the column, Method Display, "Zapp Jury Buddy", is the system that Zapp rents to shows. Zapp formats the images and rents equipment so all images can be projected simultaneously. Lastly a minority shows allow jurors to score from their home computers, Monitor Approach, I have reservations on this approach.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 19, 2015 at 11:44am

The jury process might be thought of as subjective, but we've gotta remember that the folks who accept the duty of juror most likely have a lot of art education and experience looking at and evaluating art. They are often scholars of aesthetics and principals of art. They often have advanced degrees in art and art history.

So how does your show pick judges, Leo?

And thanks for posting these informative stats. Look at Cherry Creek. So many applications and the report from artists shows not nearly the sales return that other shows to warrant such a buzz from everyone. Or is that just how I see it?

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 19, 2015 at 11:47am

Leo, that is so helpful -- what a lot of work you did to prepare that. Thank you. I am surprised to see how many do indeed have open juries. This information is really helpful and can allow artists to find an open jury to attend.

Sandy, thanks for this report and especially your conclusions and for telling us your score, that must have been humbling. So what are you going to do differently, or do you think it may have been this particular jury that scored you relatively low? Will you attend the show to see who got in in the jewelry category.

(I think this kind of report is important. I added "tags" to it so that others can find it when they want to learn more about attending a jury. The tags are used to help you in a search. Anyone posting here, please try to remember to add those tags. It means your hard work writing will be found at a later date and adds to the base of useful info on this site.)

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 19, 2015 at 12:02pm

Another thing... Judges may change every year, but the principles of art remain the same. A judge may have a particular bias, but they evaluate applicant's images based upon their knowledge of those concrete art principles. The elements of and principles of design and art.

UNITY VARIETY BALANCE HARMONY EMPHASIS PATTERN CONTRAST PROPORTION RHYTHM MOVEMENT LINE and a bit more besides.

Read a book on design principles, like the college text I used when I was in school. Check out THIS WEBSITE FROM CORNELL UNIVERSITY.

By the way, I see that I misspelled the word "principles" in my first post.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 19, 2015 at 12:13pm

And look there on the first page of that Cornell link...I've pulled the following paragrapht from that page.

The important point to remember is that we should all feel free to like or dislike what we will, on grounds of personal taste. HOWEVER, please note that there is a distinction between personal taste or preference and objective judgements of success or failure in a work of design or art. It is possible to recognize that a work is successful and significant, even though it does not suit our personal taste. It should be clear that unless one can lay claim to a high level of expertise it is rather immoderate to condemn a work as "bad" just because one doesn't like it. It is important for an artist to understand this distinction, and even more so for a designer, who will surely be called upon to do creative work in a framework of someone else's tastes and ideas.

This paragraph refutes the idea that judgement from educated sources is subjective.

Comment by Leo Charette on March 19, 2015 at 1:00pm

To Barry Lynn: Most shows, including An Occasion for the Arts, uses a combination of personnel to round out their juries: artists who are on the circuit; Faculty Members; Gallery and Museum Professional; and Design and Advertising Professionals. This year, I tipped panel toward seasoned artists. This is also a model used by Boston Mills, Art on the PearlArt in the High Desert and I'm sure several other shows.  On my 5 member panel this year are 4 award winning artists who compete in art shows on the national level and have been participating in shows for 15 to 20 years. I also have an acrylic artist who has had 21 years experience running an advertising firm and experience owning and managing a gallery.  The composite of the jury will change from year to year, but I will probably always tip the panel toward working artists who are seasoned professional in their medium and know the art show circuit extremely well. BTW, the artists who are on the jury are exempt from the jury process.

On the matter of Cheery Creek's sales return, remember, this is AFSB (Lawler) data. It is only based on artists who report their sales to him. If you look closely at his reporting, you'll learn that his figures are often based on a small percentage of self reporting artist participating in the show. His data is a helpful starting point but must be viewed with caution. There are many top shows that are not on his list but have excellent sales figure (e.g. Art on the Square in Madison WI)

To Connie: Thanks, but not so difficult to compile, and it is only a small percentage 26-27 shows. To be honest many of the top shows are missing from the rankings of both you and Greg Lawler and further sleuthing is needed. Zapplication has helped to standardize and provide easy access to this information. The "Jury Details" is completed by many shows and provide an easy standard format to review each show's jury process.

Cheers, Leo

Artistic Director

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 19, 2015 at 2:44pm

Fwiw, Leo, I strongly agree that having seasoned art fair artists on your jury is important. They've seen it all. They know the business. I think they have a well trained eye for what makes an art festival successful, and they know the posers and can be very helpful to an art show committee.

Comment by Thomas Felsted on March 19, 2015 at 2:50pm
When culinary chefs, who have years of experience, have such elevated rules and ingredients that are from "off the grid" as an attempt to "break the rules" as an elitist. To a normal person, most of those entrees are weird and not appetizing.

Their need for originality is so skewed "because of their education" that they have forgotten the very simple basic question as to "would an ever age Patron find this beautiful and want to put it in their home" Any other motive is flawed. This is an outdoor art festival for citizens of the community, not the Met.

A professor who teaches Transcendentalism for Berkely has such lofty standards that he is crippled, actually crippled, from relating to normal people who read mainstream literature today. Yet, these are the jurors.
Comment by Sandy Walker on March 19, 2015 at 9:03pm

  Thank you all for the comments and very helpful responses. I do believe that with juried shows that are worth their salt, the jurors are seasoned, educated artists or teachers who can make informed decisions based on their depth of training in the arts. So it is subjective but the subjectivity is well justified.

Connie, I still love to go to the show as a spectator. I have had the pleasure of meeting some artists in person there that I have first met on this forum. It is a great fair and I am just glad to have seen the jury process firsthand.

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