How Artists Can Get Juried In

by Carolyn Edlund

What does it take to get your art accepted in a competitive juried process?

 

How Artists Can Get Juried in to Competitions

 

In a typical year, I jury more than 2,000 artist applications for a number of different exhibitions, art fairs and artist features. The jury process will vary, but the reasons for acceptance or rejection are usually consistent.

Sometimes, I’ll be a member of a jury reviewing applications for a fair or festival where applicants are anonymous. A score is assigned to each artist by viewing (usually four) photos submitted online, and possibly a booth shot. Jury scores are added up, and the promoter will accept the highest ranking artists in different mediums.

Other times, I’ll review the portfolios of artists who have already been juried into competitions, for the purpose of judging them for awards.

But most often, I jury artists by viewing their websites, which is how artists are selected to be featured on Artsy Shark. This method is used because the purpose of each feature is to direct traffic through an article link to the artist’s own website. Readers click through to see the artist’s own presentation of their larger portfolio.

Jurying by viewing a website is very different from looking at a small group of uploaded images. First, it’s not anonymous, of course. Secondly, it allows me to get more information about the artist, which adds another dimension to their application. I can also view social media profiles to get a deeper understanding of the artist’s work, their concept and their message. In this way, I get to view supporting collateral and materials that artists use to present themselves and their artwork.

Practical considerations

Overall, I’m looking to fill a number of different categories. We publish features about artists who work in a variety of mediums, styles and techniques. This means some categories are really crowded and others are not. Of course, that factor will affect each artist’s chances depending on the size and makeup of the applicant pool. But that’s the way it is with any jury process.

If in one category, there are 100 applicants and only 10 spots, then competition is fierce and some very good artists can’t be included. Really tough choices have to be made. But this is where small details in the application can make a difference in scoring and the final decision.

Jurying is not a scientific process. I think of it as more of an art. The juror has to rely on their ability to put together the best possible field of accepted artists given the submissions they have to work with. Being human, jurors have personal preferences and biases, and must strive to be objective and as fair as possible. And although I wouldn’t agree with every other juror out there, I believe the process does work.

Top shows and competitions consistently have a very high quality of art on display. But there is always new blood needed, and that is where artists have a chance to put their best foot forward and increase their chance of acceptance.

My jurying method

I always make several passes through the applications under consideration to get my bearings, understand the mix, and gain a sense of the entire group as well as the number of entries in each category. During the first review, I look at all the information from each submission and assign an initial score. Then, a second pass through the applicant pool is made. This involves a close look at every artist’s application and their full portfolio.

As a juror, I’ve noticed a regular pattern during the process. There are submissions that absolutely wow me right out of the gate. Likewise, other submissions will at first glance likely receive a rejection (although they are given a full review like any application.) And then there are many, many artists in the middle. It is a lot of work to sort through each individually to make a final determination on the group. Each submission is carefully scored, and the top scores determine those artists who are selected.

My decision is made primarily on the quality, meaning and impact of the visual work. I love to see an artist who is masterful in their skills, and whose work has a memorable signature style that shows me they have created a body of work that is distinctly their own and interesting to others.

Supporting collateral

The supporting materials submitted can make a difference in the final score. Artists with frequent exhibitions or a history of awards and press will pique my interest. Those accolades tell me that their work has been recognized by others and I’m interested in learning why. A well-composed artist statement that is understandable and meaningful is important as well. (I’m not a fan of unfathomable statements that sound like gobbledygook.) When I view a whole package that makes a very professional presentation, the artist is more likely to get in.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I only select artists with an advanced degree or who have a long history of experience. Many self-taught artists, and those with little or no exhibition history have been featured. What I want to see is a portfolio that is truly original and exciting, and inspires me to see more. And I want to read an artist story that shares the concept and meaning behind the art and how it expresses the artist’s vision.

Excellent skills and execution

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an artist being a beginner. We all start there, and everyone is on the continuum somewhere. By skills, I mean a facility with the medium of choice that displays a high level of ability. This could also include a clear understanding of color and composition. My selections are not based on a particular preferred style of art, but the artist’s ability to create work that is successful in their chosen style. I’m looking for a mature body of work that says the artist has mastered their medium in the way that they wish to communicate, and that they are successfully doing so.

When it’s clear that an artist needs to work on their skills in order to create a compelling portfolio, they would be rejected. Over time, artists who improve their skills will gain acceptance when entering competitions, if other factors in the submission are excellent. These are:

A cohesive body of work

Sometimes artists under consideration have a portfolio that goes in several different directions, mixing mediums, styles and techniques. This tends to be confusing and distracting, and does not reflect the tight consistent presentation that I’m looking for. I want to see focus and clarity in the presentation. This is one of the most common reasons that artists do not get juried in.

At times, an artist will put everything they’ve ever made on their website, without filtering it. Other times, an artist apparently cannot decide between mediums, causing a discordant presentation. I recommend that artists carefully review their portfolio and self-curate. Choose the very best work that makes sense together and communicates well. I like to see a representation of an artist’s current work and the direction they are going. Sometimes, that means less is more.

Superior image quality

It’s really unfortunate to see an artist whose work is clearly excellent but is presented with inferior photographs. This includes glare, poor exposure, blurriness, inappropriate backgrounds or other problems. This can utterly destroy their jury score. This is more common than you might think. Some artists think they can “get by” with photos they’ve shot on their cell phone, or realize they need to improve, but somehow never take the time to do so.

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest mistakes an artist can make. Portfolio photos are one of the main  ways that you share your art with the world. Honor all the hard work you put in the studio by making sure that your photos show your work to its best advantage. This may mean that you pay for a professional photographer to do a shoot. It might be the best investment you ever made. Or, it may mean that you learn how to take outstanding photos of your own. You are the best advocate for your own work because as the artist, you care more than anyone about what you are doing and the results you get.

Dealing with rejection

Every well-known, successful artist has been rejected at times. This is just part of life, and should be expected. If you receive a rejection, try not to take it personally. It may mean that your work wasn’t a good fit for the jury this time around. Or, you may need to sharpen your skills and improve your portfolio by working with a professional teacher who can help you do your best work.

If  you’ve been facing frequent rejections, go through your portfolio carefully. Curate your body of work to create a final portfolio with the greatest impact. Review your photos to make sure they are excellent, and consider getting them professionally taken. Then, scrutinize your supporting materials to make sure they convey everything necessary for a juror to understand and appreciate your work fully.

 

This article is an excerpt from Artsy Shark’s self-directed online course Sell More Art with a Dynamic Portfolio. It is a comprehensive guide to building an effective portfolio, photographing your work, and creating supporting materials for a professional presentation that makes impact and helps you reach your goals.

 

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