Observation 79, on “Juried Shows,” 2022
So, just what is a Juried Show about? Every Spring, the Scituate Arts Association offers local and regional artists the opportunity to participate in its Annual Juried Show. Come down to the Front Street Art Gallery starting the last half of the week of April 5th through the first Sunday in May and see the results.
What criteria are involved in selecting the pieces that go up on the Gallery walls? The SAA has sponsored Juried Shows at the Gallery for almost 15 years & I’ve watched multiple sets of 3 Jurors select the works they judge noteworthy. Important factors seem to include: 1. Composition: Does it draw the viewer in? Does it appear intentional, not happenstance? If there is a focal point, does it avoid the automatic dead center bull’s eye of most novice artists? 2. Medium: Does the artist show expertise with their chosen medium, i.e., take advantage of its strengths and show understanding of its limitations? 3. Focal Point or Subject: Is the piece’s subject interesting? Does it work well with the artist’s chosen medium? Does placement of the focal point work for the chosen subject and style (abstract, realistic, impressionistic are some style examples)? Is it consistent, deliberate and, if a mix of styles (abstraction and realism for example), does it serve a purpose (as with an abstract or muted background with a more realistic central focal point)? Other areas of critical viewing can include color usage, appropriate framing and matting choices (more important than many artists recognize!), drawing skill and accuracy and probably several other areas that I’ve missed. Ultimately, is the work a skillfully executed, well presented, interesting piece?
The norm forever has been physical judging of works. In-person jurying involves a least 30-40 volunteers to receive and register the entries, show the works to the jurors and return the works to those who don’t get in, plus, of course, hang the accepted pieces and later reunite them with their creators.
This year is our second using an online entry system. While actually seeing a piece is much better than a hi-resolution digital photograph, as is noted above online is definitely less complex physically to execute. In some ways there is more paperwork, but it can be handled by one or two volunteers. We have volunteers who set up our online entry system (No, not the whole thing, you chose a company that has a site then customize it to suit your organizations needs.) In many ways again, it simplifies the collections of funds, the only way you can enter is upload a digital version(s) of your art and make a payment online.
The downside of digital submission is the difference between the experience of seeing an actual work and studying a photograph of it, even a good quality one. Plus, size and quality of framing, which are important in a show, are not apparent when viewing a piece electronically. Anyone who has seen the Mona Lisa up close for 30 seconds is amazed at how small it is. Texture, color, scale are just some of the elements that are so much more dynamic in person. Plus, so many folks are just not that sophisticated when it comes to digital photography and internet usage. High quality photos are better so a juror can study a work; a poor photo means a good work might not get into a show.
This second year, confirmed, at least to me, that live jurying from the beginning is preferable, but ultimately not practical. Some works that looked questionable online, but squeaked in, were wonderful. ( Jurors assigned points to the entered pieces and a spreadsheet determined whose scores rated acceptance into the show.) Others, surprised as being much smaller than expected or demanded stepping back to view properly or were just not as satisfying in the flesh.
For our Juried Show, we have decided to determine the Award winners by traditional physical jurying. The pieces selected by the jurors were hung in the Front Street Art Gallery so that our jurors to select the award by viewing the pieces in situ. Generally, each medium is given awards from First to Third, sometimes adding in an Honorable Mention. In categories with small numbers of entries, perhaps only one or two award winners are selected. The works were grouped by medium-oil/acrylic, watercolor, pastel/drawing, mixed media/printmaking, photography, fine crafts and sculpture. The simplest way to choose prize winners is by picking what stands out or by elimination. Sometimes First is obvious, but sometimes it takes a bit of negotiating.
Once all the media have been given awards, the First-place winners are spread out to select a Best in Show winner. Sometimes, that winner jumps out from even the first round of prize selections, sometimes it is again an elimination process. Ultimately, by negotiation and on occasion compromise, a show winner is determined, and we have a “Best in Show!”
Here’s this year’s choice. An example of one that surprised me in just how good a work it was in the flesh. A big abstract, definitely expressionist, it tells a story of a saltmarsh, perhaps at sunset, on a misty day with the rich greens of late spring/early summer.
"Best in Show" (2022 Jury Show), Bird Song by Jen Clark
Even with going to a digital entry process, volunteers are still needed to take in the accepted art and store it carefully for easy access during judging for awards, plus forms need to be correctly filled out and processed for accepted pieces, plus all the entrants--those with accepted and unaccepted pieces, as well as those winning awards--need to be notified, volunteers need to be thanked and publicity sent out. It’s a lot of work.
The reward is in seeing the happy faces of those who were accepted and in particular those who received award ribbons. The Jurors seem to strive to be fair and objective. As working artists or art patrons, Jurors know what’s involved for the creators. Beyond that, I don’t try to predict. My job is to watch & record. All I know is when the results are hung in the Gallery, it’s generally a fascinating mix of art which the public and the artists who pass through find satisfying to study and enjoy. I’ve included some examples of previous Best in Shows and a few of the Award winners in different media from this year.
Janet L Cornacchio
Janet Cornacchio is an artist member of Front Street Art Gallery, President of Scituate Arts Association & a Realtor. You can contact her at email@example.com
Best in Show, 2022 Jennifer Clark, Bird Song
Best in Show, SAA Juried 2018 Christine Bodnar, Cape Dunes, pastel
First (2022 Jury Show), Mixed Medium, Donna Goes, Party of Six
Sculpture, Honorable Mention (2022 Jury Show), Robert Kephart, Oceanography I