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Sh*t Jurors Look for when Submitting to a Show or Festival

· Writing,Exhibition,Artist Services,Support Artists,Arts Events

Entering your work into a festival or gallery is a huge step for you as an artist. It’s one that makes you turn on Kelly Clarkson, pop the champagne, and break out the gummy worms. (If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, watch The Office.) In short, it’s the opportunity you’ve been looking for and you want to do everything you can to nail it.

I recently served as a guest juror for an out-of-state-arts festival. Based entirely on what was submitted from the artists, I was tasked with ranking work in about seven categories based on three images of the artwork and one image of a previous booth or table display. Through this experience, I got to see some incredible new work and once the names are revealed to me, I’m looking forward to following some of these artists in hopes of owning pieces of their stunning work someday. Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of applications that prompted me to mutter, “WHY!” audibly at my computer monitor. Jeanie and Porter did not like this particular part of the process too much.

I can say from this past experience and from knowing jurors, there are certain things jurors are looking for when you submit your art. The biggest thing is taking yourself and your art seriously. You’re a professional, present your work as such! In an effort to help you make the best first impression possible, I want to share what I’ve learned through this process.

First, I want to be clear that any artist regardless of your medium should keep this in mind when submitting artwork to show jurors. Whether you are entering a $30,000 painting or a $45 handknit scarf, you must demonstrate how seriously you take your art and, if chosen, you present well at their festival. After all, they want to make sure the patrons at the festival or gallery have a good experience; they’re choosing the pieces that reflect well on them, so you have to show quality work that reflects well on you. Now, some of these things don’t matter to buyers, but if a juror ranks you poorly, you never get the opportunity to get your work in front of the buyers. Catch-22, amiright?

Additionally, I feel it’s important to note I’m not addressing taste at all. There was certainly work that I didn’t like simply because I didn’t like it, but because of the professional quality presentation, I could see that there would absolutely be an audience for it.
Are you ready to learn what shit jurors look for? Read on!

Clean and Simple Photography

Yes, of course, I’d notice the photography. It does make a marked difference, though, both in how you present yourself and how well the jurors can see the quality of your piece.

Ideally, you take the time to have your finished work photographed by a professional. Trust me, the difference is apparent to the trained eye and all of the jurors have trained eyes. Hell, it’s even apparent to the untrained eye.

In the event that you have to pull an Ansel Adams and DIY it, keep it simple. You want to impress the judges with the quality of your work, so they must be able to see and judge it. Follow these two rules when photographing your art yourself and you’ll have a better chance of catching the juror’s attention.

First, don’t take photos in direct sunlight. Your whites will blow out. You know when you take a photo with a flash and you can’t see the detail in a photo? That’s what I’m talking about. Why would you want that to happen to your artwork that’s dependent on a photo for entrance to a festival?

Second, find and utilize a plain background. Let your work be the center of attention and the photo. And for the love of gluten free pizza crust, do not add fake backgrounds or fake reflections. It’s obvious. It’s, oh, so tacky. It’s a massive waste of time.

Consistency in Presentation and Imagery

I was very surprised by the lack of consistency in some of the applicants. There were many instances where the artwork and the booths weren’t telling the same story and also instances where the booth was presented in a careless manner. Mostly, it was confusing to the jurors, though in some extreme cases, it turned us off from the work entirely.
While we of course understood if someone was planning to show a new body of work that hasn’t been up for display in a booth yet, we also were greatly confused when the presentation inexplicably didn’t match up. When this happens, jurors can’t get a feel for how you’re going to present their work. And as I said above, the jurors are selecting those who will best represent the festival. The stories have to be presented so there’s one thread that follows through everything.
Another area where consistency and quality is important is how your booth is presented. As I was jurying this festival, I came across some artists with phenomenal artwork and professional images of that work, then the photo of their booth told the story that it was taken at a high school art show. Your booth must be set up so people want to look at your work. It must be a thoughtful, inviting environment that showcases the work in its best possible way. At a very basic level, the photo can’t be terrible; the jurors have to be able to see it clearly to determine the quality of your set up.

Clear and Simple Writing

For an application to anything non-academic, you don’t need to write a dissertation about your inspiration and process. However, you do have to write clearly and confidently about what you do and why. Like I mentioned when guiding you through writing an artist statement, hearing the story behind the work increases the understanding of you and your art.

It’s important not only to be confident, but also knowledgeable in your chosen medium. If you are going to say you are the only person doing your particular process or that something you are doing is incredibly unique, you need to be informed about the history of your medium and know exactly what you’re saying. As most people are, your work was likely inspired by someone else. Give credit where it’s due.
Finally, be direct. Don’t couch your words in meaningless, meandering clauses that have endless amounts of twists, turning as the tide––you see what I mean? No one can read that. Be clear with who you are as an artist and with the words you use to describe that.

Understanding of the Rules

Sometimes, the simplest thing is the hardest thing to do. Also sometimes, rules are there to see if you can follow them and if you will use all of your available resources.
First, if the rules say you can enter once, enter once. Don’t enter the same work in multiple categories and think someone won’t notice. Jurors look at every piece of work that comes in; we’ll notice.
Second, completely show your best work. If the application says you can upload up to three images, upload three fantastic photos, not two great ones and one crappy one. Real time: I so applaud your enthusiasm, but if you don’t have three great images, you probably don’t have enough sellable work to fill a booth. Instead, go back to your studio, make more stuff, and invest in presenting it professionally.
You only have one chance to catch a juror’s eye. Whether you’re completely new to the festival submission game or you want to step it up for this summer’s showings, follow this guide and you’ll have a better chance at being selected.

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