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photo: C.M. Judge, National Liaison CMWCA
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C.M. Judge, National Liaison CMWCA

The Ins and Outs of Juried Shows

Needless to say, juried shows conjure up mixed feelings for artists. Having been on both sides of the jurying process, an artist both accepted and rejected as well as a juror, I've been inspired to record some thoughts on the subject.

Mary Cassatt, for example, hated juried shows; didn't believe in them and refused to participate in them in any form. She felt that by their very nature they were biased and untrustworthy. This same sentiment was suggested to me when I spoke with artist friends about their impressions and experiences with the jurying process; taste is subjective and lots of great art gets rejected from shows! I'm often surprised to hear from friends that their work was not accepted for a show that thematically fits their work perfectly. And, of course, I'm delighted when they are chosen.

Some mentioned that it helps to consider the issues before the juror: selecting the strongest/most engaging work, selecting work that shows the breadth of diversity or thematic singularity, making selections that literally fit the hanging conditions (lighting, wall dimensions, audience appropriateness), and selecting work that looks well together to create a interesting gallery experience. On that last note, I remember sending my colorful slides into a regional show dedicated to celebrating what's new in the art scene that year. My work was rejected; I was shocked when I entered the gallery and saw that the juror had selected only black and white images! It was a stunning exhibition because the juror had clearly been inspired by the entries to pare things down to an essence that worked beautifully as gallery experience; but did the exhibition show what had been happening that year? Did he have a right to exclude on a basis so simple as color? He did. It was his opinion. And there was no way for the several hundred of us who were into color that year to know. He may well have made the opposite choice had several colorful entries caught his imagination as strongly as did the black and white work.

As a juror, it was difficult for me to not feel the pain of rejection when I would rule work out. The process felt brain-numbing on one hand (lots of great work) and delightful on the other (advocating for work that might not ordinarily be selected). Trying to envision the exhibition as a whole while carefully choosing art that worked individually and collectively was challenging. Keeping numbers low enough so that one could respectfully view those chosen entries was sobering. I remember being irate while jurying a statewide high school show when the other jurors rejected what I considered to be the strongest work because it wasn't "neat enough" (who cares if the kid is dealing with the most profound issues?!-I wrote an encouraging letter to the kid telling him I thought his entry was the best in the show and that I was sorry it hadn't been included in the final exhibition).

I'm interested in how artists cope with rejection. My personal philosophy is to be pleased with being accepted into 20% of the shows to which I submit; simple math tells me that I'll receive many more rejections than acceptances. Somehow knowing that in advance helps me put it into perspective. I save all my rejection letters and stubs in a folder to evidence my activity level - I tried! I put my work out there and if no one other than the juror saw the work, I still feel successful. This helps me ride through the " hills and valleys" that a number of friends mentioned when I asked them about their coping strategies. Several people mentioned that being hit with a rejection can affect one differently on different days. On a bad day it can derail us causing self-doubt, despair and anger. Paying money for the privilege of being rejected is salt in the wound! On a good day, it's a small irritation rolling right off our back.

The larger issue that keeps me involved and centered around this issue is my belief that art is an important cultural tool. The world needs people who can bring their inner vision into a shared reality. Rather than viewing another artist's success as my failure, I view that artist's success as my own, part of our shared heritage. I do not subscribe to a hierarchy of high and low art but rather view all art as spirit made visible. It is here to teach and inspire -- how marvelous to be part of that vocation!

Article by C.M. Judge
Photo by Gail Bloom

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