Monday, May 4, 2015

Being a Juror for an Art Show/Being Juried for an Art Show

Gathering Light 24 40x40"  Oil on panel ©2014 Janice Mason Steeves

Yesterday, I was invited to be a juror for the Etobicoke Arts Group annual juried exhibition along with an artist whose work I admire, Warren Hoyano.  Although I have juried several exhibitions in the past, it has been a little while since the last time. I realize that all the teaching I have been doing has given me the clarity to be a better adjudicator and has given me the words to be better able to articulate my choices. The process also brought up for me, early memories of being on the other side of the jury process, as an artist whose work was sometimes accepted and often rejected from juried exhibitions.

Although we knew each other's work, Warren and I had never met.  In the time span of 90 minutes, we were to figure out how to work together and to choose up to 60 artworks from the 108 submitted.  As well, we were to choose from the works selected, 6 award-winners.
The task was daunting not only for the time constraint but for the excellent quality of the work submitted.  There were many accomplished works of art. Although our decision-making styles were quite different, we worked well together and never came to blows--we did consider arm-wrestling over a couple of pieces though that the other felt quite strongly about.  However, we quickly agreed on the painting that would be awarded first prize. It was beautifully rendered.  The brushwork and palette was wonderful.  The composition was strong and exciting. It was a wonderful combination of heart and head.

Artists whose work wasn't accepted into the exhibition, were allowed to remain after the jurying to ask for feedback on their work. This was a terrific idea and an important learning process. I very much enjoy speaking with artists about their work, even if some of them were rather upset that their work hadn't been accepted. Warren and I worked hard to give fair and honest feedback.  I wish that such feedback had been available when I was entering juried shows.

One of the artists whose work was rejected, told us that she was surprised because she had never before been rejected from a show!  How unlike my own experience and that of most artists! She said she was glad to be rejected because of the feedback we gave her which she found helpful. The people who were accepted into the exhibition did not get feedback, or at least, did not ask for it.  It's a much better learning experience to be rejected!

A few of the artists we gave feedback to, had added some extra pieces onto their paintings at the last minute, as though they thought their paintings weren't enough.  That they needed 'something more'. What a common idea this is.  When do we stop?  How do we decide? I always let a painting stand for a while in a place I pass by regularly so I can see it in various lights and over some time. If the painting becomes very boring, I know I need to work at it more.  But sometimes, it is finished before I think it is, and it becomes more exciting as time goes by. One of the most difficult things is learning to trust yourself.  To trust that you know when enough is enough.

Another couple of artists were working with concepts that were very important to them.  One was related to the environment, another to health issues. While concepts can be the underpinning of a painting, the artwork is still an artwork and must read as that. The artist must consider what other ways their concepts can be depicted and not to forget the fact that there must be a strong composition.  We suggested that the artists continue to work with the concepts that were significant to them, but that they work in a long series in order to develop the ideas-that they set parameters for themselves to work within that would define a body of work. Most often, one painting doesn't quite get to the depth of the concept.  A series allows for deeper exploration of an idea. Art is the best teacher. In the very creating, lessons are learned and paths can become clearer.

There were some other artists who seemed not to be sure what they were most interested in. They might like line or brushy textured areas. The thing is, they couldn't decide in the particular painting which thing it was they were most interested in-the light on the rocks the reflection in the water, the cloudy sky, or the row of trees in the background. So for the viewer, our focus was skipping between one and another as the various areas fought for attention. Of course, this may be the intention of the artist. We can't know that when we jury an exhibition. It becomes a matter of what we, as artists, like and how we think the painting works as a whole.

I was reminded of all the juried shows I had entered, and the many painful times my work was rejected. Many times I thought of quitting.  Giving it all up. Most often that only lasted a few days-sort of a self-imposed sulking limitation. Then I picked myself up, dusted off and began again. That's what it's all about. The perseverance. The effort. Not giving up.  Getting back into the studio and painting.


  1. So many wonderful thoughts here, I will come back and read again. I am at that point now-am I done, or not? Should I add more? As I read this I realize I have to figure out what I am trying to say first. Then-have I said it? Always interesting to read what you have to say.

  2. I lked this post Janice. Very close to my status at the moment. The important point is to carry on rejected or not, winner or not. My best.

  3. Great post Janice. I also have juried and been juried. The more I grow as an artist, the more situations in which I find myself being juried or considered by a curator or gallerist. It's not just a stage we go through. I apply for grants, for exhibitions, for residencies, for so many opportunities, which always means I am being considered along with a pool (often large!) of others. The early years of "regular" juried shows are where we learn not to take it so personally, to see it as part of the process of being an artist, and to understand that the same artwork can be rejected from one show and be an award-winner in another.

  4. Great post. I've been deeply grateful and learned so much when jurors kindly offered feedback. It made a significant impact on my learning and direction. I recently participated in a show where participants were given "feedback" in the form of a report card listing numerical grades for creativity, technical skill and visual impact of submitted work. I wasn't sure what the merit of doing this might be. I learned nothing from that feedback. I sincerely hope this isn't something that is considered normal for juried shows or is an upcoming trend. A numeric grade doesn't offer any information that an artist can use to evaluate and improve their work. I hope that one day I have the opportunity to be rejected by a show you are jurying. It sounds as if those artists were really the winners here!