Entering an art show, at any level of your career, is a wonderful means of gaining validation and recognition. For beginning artists, receiving appreciation from people other than friends and family can be very encouraging. Competition is an excellent way of building up a resume, especially if one is fortunate enough to win an award. Plus, more people may see your work, increasing the possibility of sales and getting into galleries.
Start with small shows, and work your way up.
Judged versus Juried
The term juried means that submitted artwork will be reviewed and evaluated for inclusion in an exhibit or event. Judged means that artworks in an exhibit will be evaluated to determine which ones shall receive special recognition by ranking higher than the others.
Some shows are both juried and judged, meaning that artworks are must first pass an initial evaluation to get accepted into an exhibit. Accepted entries are then evaluated against each other to determine the order of rank.
Smaller shows are often judged, but not juried. Entries in these shows are often limited to artists living in a certain geographic region, or working in a specific media, or by membership in an organization. Because of these limitations, these shows are able to exhibit all eligible entries and don’t need to reduce the size of the exhibit with a jury process.
Some shows and events are juried, but not judged. These can include invitational exhibits, artists’ registries, and competitions for public art contracts. In these cases the objective is to jury artworks or artists to participate in the event, and additional judging of entries to determine a rank is not necessary.
If you are new to art competitions, you should start by entering smaller, local shows in your area. Non-juried shows, which are judged but not juried (see sidebar), will offer an introduction to the exhibition process and provide education about competition. This way, you can learn what judges look for and compare your entries to those of your peers. Remember, though, that non-juried shows tend to have a wider variety of entries ranging from poor to excellent, making it difficult to evaluate the quality of artwork. The hit-and-miss nature of a non-juried show means that while the event may provide you with a great opportunity to learn, a juried show will look best on your resume.
Once you’ve entered a few non-juried shows, you can proceed to local and regional juried shows, and eventually work your way up to the most prestigious national juried shows. Competition at the national level is extremely tough. Winning consistently at the local and regional levels will help you develop confidence and experience as you work your way up to the national level. This will also help you learn to be more selective in choosing competitions as you progress. Only enter shows that you respect and which reflect your current level or experience, skill and expertise.
“Enter shows known for high quality work that you would be proud to be included in,” advises master pastel Alan Flattmann, who has judged more than 60 shows for dozens of groups, including International Association of Pastel Societies, National Acrylic Painters Association and Southeastern Pastel Society. “Look for shows that are judged by artists whose work you respect and like. Avoid shows with very high entry fees — these are usually scams to get your money.”
Maximize your chances with a judge.
Flattmann says there are several things that artists can do to maximize their chances with competition judges. For example, to draw more attention to an entry, an artwork should have strong composition, and use strong values with sharp, high contrasts to catch the eye.
“Enter the works that have the strongest compositions,” says Flattman. “Simply put, I look for the best work that shows a mastery of drawing, composition, color and technique.” The artist also offers this sage advice: “If you want the best chance of getting an award, I think you have a better chance with a larger work than a very small or tiny work.”
Most jurors agree that artistic composition is the most important criteria for any entry. Watercolorist Kathy Miller Stone has judged about 50 shows. She states, “An artist can have a fabulous idea, but if the composition doesn’t pull the painting together then it misses the boat. I look for balance, values, color and technique. Then I look for the ‘wow’ factor.”
Stone is quick to point out that good work can be found at every level of expertise: “Even primitive art can have a grasp of composition, color and value without training. But you can still tell if the artist has potential or not.”
Sometimes success can be achieved just by avoiding some common mistakes. Be sure to follow a show’s rules precisely to ensure your entry does not get eliminated by the show’s committee before it even reaches the jurors. It is equally important, when submitting slides or digital images, that your entries are photographed well. The images must be as clear and accurate as possible. “Poor photographs of work that are dark, out of focus, out of square or have distracting backgrounds can cause almost instant rejection of an entry,” explains Stone.
Another common mistake that artists make when entering shows is to present poorly framed artwork. Examples of poor framing include damaged or used frames, frames that are too big or elaborate or frames with colors or patterns that distract from the artwork. “This sends the message to the judges that the artist doesn’t care enough about their own work to present it properly,” says Flattmann. “Artists should present artwork in simple neutral frames that enhance the painting, not overpower it.”
Flattmann says other factors for rejection can be work that looks like it was copied from a magazine or another artist’s work, artwork that is overly sentimental or sweet, and of course, poor quality work. If you’re work is not accepted by a judge or jury, don’t take the rejection personally. Use it as a learning experience that will help you next time. If you are fortunate enough to receive a critique from a judge or juror, try to apply it to future work. Stone states, “I like to send a comment back with the rejection to encourage the artist and explain how the entry could be improved. I love to get feedback; I try to do the same.”
Choose the right show for you.
Several elements come together to determine the success of an art show: prizes, entry fees, venue, categories and last but not least, the judge or jurors. For many artists, the judge or juror can be the deciding factor of whether or not to enter a show. In my own experience as the chair of an art show, I have noted that certain types of judges tend to attract either a higher or lower rate of entry. Thus, art show committees often engage in long debates about the qualifications or experience of potential judges.
For traditional art exhibits where the entries are judged individually, the standard practice is to have only one juror. As a juror myself, I have to say that I personally dislike serving on panels made up of several jurors. The award selections can be a result of compromises among jurors, and often do not reflect the choices of any individual judge. When considering an art show, weigh the presence of a group of jurors carefully.
Stone has organized shows and hired judges for numerous events. When choosing jurors and judges, Stone looks for professional judges who have garnered a high level of recognition in the art community and respect from other artists. For local shows, she looks for local artists that are well known but not involved in local organizations. By doing so, she attempts to discourage nepotism.
“Personally, I want to be judged by my peers, not by friends,” explains Stone. “At higher level shows, judges tend to be more experienced with the process so friendship is not likely to be an issue. Although I value the expertise and judgment of friends, I want to know that value of my art, not of the friendship.”
Art shows and festivals traditionally use a panel of jurors that often consist of a mix of academicians, artists and curators. Celebrity jurors will draw artists looking to gain publicity or attention. For instance, one of the shows I chaired had the director of a very prestigious museum as the juror. Later, an artist confessed to me that he only entered the show because he wanted that museum director to see his work. I’ve also known artists who will seek out jurors who are connected with magazines and newspapers in hopes of being mentioned in future articles.
Over time, some artists develop a preference for a very specific type of judge or juror. There are artists who feel that only jurors with advanced art degrees have the knowledge to be qualified judges. I’ve heard others say that curators have the most exposure to the widest variety of art so they are most qualified to judge what is best and most original. However, most artists favor fellow artists, believing that an experienced professional artist — one who has gained the respect of other artists, has experience with the mediums being judged and has credentials, such as shows and awards — will have the greatest knowledge and understanding of the technical skills and talent of the applicants.
Victoria Roach Castillo is an artist with a long history of successfully entering juried shows. Castillo considers the particulars of a show carefully: “When I hear about a juried show, the first thing I do is Google the juror because I want to see the work they produce. That way I can get an idea of the style they create and the caliber of artist they are … I would never enter a show where the only juror was someone without formal art credentials. Personally, I won’t pay $25 or $30 per entry for a juried show if the people judging my work don’t have credentials that I respect. Because I have limited resources, I need to be selective about which shows I enter. For each show, I ask myself if I have a chance of winning an award or selling my work.” AC
Annie Strack (http://AnnieStrackArt.com) has artwork included in a number of museums, and other public and private collections. Her instructional DVD, Painting Seascapes in Watercolor — The Red Dinghy, is available on her Web site for $24.95 plus $5 shipping and handling. Friend her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AnnieStrack, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AnnieStrack, or visit her at ArtScuttlebutt.com/Annie_S.