Saturday, July 25, 2009

2 Professors & Stevie B. !

That's Arkansas.

Which just happens to be where I went recently to be a juror.


Yours truly, Stevie B., along with Associate Professor Erica Spitzer Rasmussen (Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN) and Professor Richard Hirsch (The School for American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY) were invited by the Arkansas Arts Council to juror their Individual Artist Fellowship Award in Contemporary & Traditional Crafts. Many artists entered, but only 3 were chosen to receive the $4,000 grant.

The Process & What I Learned From Behind The Curtain Instead Of In Front Of The Curtain Where I Usually Am...

Until the opportunity to be a juror presented itself I have always been on the other side of the curtain (for a real visual of "the curtain" and for what it means when I reference it please see the movie The Wizard of OZ), the other side being the wrong side. Maybe not really the wrong side but at least the side that quite often wasn't chosen for an exhibition, photo inclusion in a book or other publication, an artists residence, or even an art grant. Which left me many times voicing the questions, "What the hell goes on? And why the hell wasn't I chosen?"

The Process

This is a short summary of the process I went through on a panel as a juror but is probably much like every other.

Tables are arranged in a U shape, the top of the U facing a screen were the images will be projected. Along with the 3 jurors are other members of the Board and a spokesperson.
After short introductions and small talk the jurors are given a hand out with all of the entry's listed, no names of course, artists are refered to by numbers only. The jurors are suppose to make comments in the space provided (think adjectives) next to each number.

The first round starts with the first artist's number being called and the images being shown. Each image is shown for about 3 seconds, then it's on to the next artist/number. Now 3 seconds doesn't seem like a long time, and it's not, but let's say 80 individuals responded with up to 20 images each as the max...That's a lot of images! Anyway, this is the norm. The first round is the "cattle call" as I heared it called in the model & acting business, a quick yes/no filtering out the fluff. There is little or no discussion during this round.

After the jurors see all the images in the first round each number is called out and each juror must respond with either a yes vote or a no vote, referring to their paper and notes for guidance. An artist need only one yes to proceed to the next round.

I didn't make many written remarks during this round other then scribbling a "Y", "N", "?", "*". "?" were turned to yes's, since I obviously needed to see the images again to decide. "*" were for very excellent work. It was sort of like watching a subtitled movie. If I watched the action I would miss the words and if I watched the words I would miss the action. So I decided on the action and scribbled some words and symbols. I was amazed to find that Erica on the other hand, could do both very well and later shared some really good adjectives! She has had some past experience as a juror, which obviously counts for something.

The 2nd round proceeded about the same way with some major differences. The time to view the images was little longer. Jurors could ask to go back to artists and images. Artist statements could be asked to be read. Image dates could be asked. Discussions could be made. Two yes votes are needed to proceed to the next round.

I guess we, the jurors, could have asked questions and had a bit of a discussion in the first round but it wasn't really needed, we all new that the first round was to quickly get rid of any fluff.

By the 3rd round, there were only about 8 artists left, with two artists already having 3 yes votes. We discussed. We asked for artists statements, dates of completion, dimensions, and then did it all over again. Eventually we had our 3 artists, but the choices were not easy.

Tips...From Behind The Curtain.

Here it is, what I, as an artist who participates in many call for entries, got from my experience as a juror other then some words on my resume, a free trip, and the opportunity to work with and meet many wonderful artist and people. Many of these tips I've heared before but they never sunk in as deeply as they do now.

(1) Have really good photos. If you plan on becoming a successful artists it makes sense to spend a little money to have your work photographed by a professional. It's an investment in your career, much like a suits and ties are in other careers. It should be a mandatory investment.

(2) Have really good photos. That's not a typo. Good photo's are that important. Your pictures may be good enough for your web site or Etsy shop but they probably won't cut it when projected on a big screen. At least three artist's received 3 no votes in the first round and I bet it was because of bad photos...Pixelated...Blurry...Bleh! I couldn't even make out the media, forget about if it was good or bad.

(3) Have really good photos. It's so nice I said it thrice! Seriously, if your trying to recieve money, say from a grant that will give you $4,000 if you receive it, spend a few hundred on some professional photos. Even if you don't receive the grant the first time you have the photos for next time and for many other entries. Believe in yourself, invest in yourself!

*If you must take your own photos or have them taken by someone who has never taken jury photos here are some tips...

(a) Use a white, black, or gradient (black to white) background only. In the first round the jurors got to see the photos of each artist for 3 seconds each, that's not a whole lot of time to decide. Why make the decision even harder by having a distracting background, like a pool or forest? Or even a lawn chair? Even those rocks that look so nice with your piece is distracting enough. You want to keep the juror's eyes on your work, your work must be the focus and nothing should compete with it.

(b) Your whole piece should be in focus. Short depth of field (part of an object in sharp focus with everything else get's blurrier) shots work in advertising but they completely suck when it comes to a jury shows. I want to see your work in complete focus! How else can I see if it's well constructed? How else can I really see what it is? Use a large f-stop. 20 and above. If you don't know what "f-stop" is, then don't take your own photos. If your camera's f-stop doesn't go up that far then buy a professional camera and take lessons on how to use it or hire a professional photographer.

(c) Don't use a model unless asked to. Models are distractions that you don't need. It doesn't matter if it's for a full length dress or a hand model for a ring it's a distraction. I will long remember the odd hair on a woman's knuckle more then the piece the finger wore.

(d) For jewelry artists - Don't use head forms. They are just as distracting as a model. Even if you could get all that dust and hair that all head forms seem to be born with off, they make everything look too much like a cheap "we buy gold" jewelers window then any sort of art or craft.
(e) Think about using a professional photographer. One more for the road.

(4) Keep your work consistent. Perhaps it fascinates people when you tell them that you create jewelry, dresses, woodwork, and can juggle, but it doesn't make for a good portfolio. At it's core all jury shows/competitions are portfolio reviews. Pick your best art or craft and stick with it. This is also not the time to showoff different techniques. Be consistent. Remember you are telling a story about yourself and your work with these images.

(5) Less is more. You don't have to send the maximum number of images allowed. You want to leave the jurors wanting to see more.

(6) Don't send crap. Why did you do it number XXXX? You had some really good work up until those photos. You should have stopped at 7 photos, if you had you would have had a chance at the gold ring. Maybe next year. (see 4 & 5).

(7) Keep your artist statement short. Even if not asked keep your artist statement under 250 words. Trust me no one wants to read or hear your manifesto! Yes, you used College taught juicy adjectives, but there is only so much bullshit that one can digest in one sitting, and fellow artists can digest even less than the average person having digested their own for so long. Again, less is more.

That's all for now.

The after...

When I was done with the Arts Council, Professor Richard Hirsch invited Tabitha and I to join him at the Arkansas Arts Center to see the work of ceramist Jun Kaneko. It's not very often that a ceramics Professors and artist of Richards caliber invites us to see a show so of course we joined him.

TIP! Next time you go to a museum forget about the show books, self-guided listening tours, or any sort of museum tour guide. Bring a Professor! Especially one who is very knowledgeable about the subject matter. You won't regret it!

With Richards knowledge + his sense of humor = we all had a great time!

Special Thanks to Sally A. Williams! Fellow artist and great person! For her kindness, help, and for her role in my selection as a juror!


NEVER, EVER take a 19 hour train ride from NYC to Chicago and another 16 hour train ride from Chicago to Arkansas just to get back on the train and take a longer trip back home even if you get to see your Aunt & Uncle in Chicago during the 8 hour stop over. It's just NOT WORTH IT!

Sorry Uncle Howie. Your good, but your not THAT good.

Additional Reader Comments available on my blog @ crafthaus.