Some thoughts on jurying


What an honor and privilege to serve as a juror with Jeanne Williamson for Journal Quilt Project II.  I thank Karey Bresenhan, Director of International Quilt Festival, for this opportunity.

This was the first time the Journal Quilts have been juried and the first time a theme was stipulated (Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire). Members of the online group Quiltart were eligible to enter and many members entered their first juried show.  Congratulations to all entrants for your courage, your hard work and sharing your artwork.

Jeanne and I had 155 entries to consider and chose 48 artworks for the exhibit to premier at International Quilt Festival – Houston in November.   Jeanne has also posted about her experience as a juror on her blog today.


We were each sent, by the capable and organized Amanda Schlatre of Quilts, Inc., a CD with entry jpegs, a list of artworks by number and title and the entry forms with all identitifiers deleted.

I went through all the jpegs three times before making even a preliminary ranking.  The first time I just wanted to see the group as a whole.  The second time I read the statements of each work with the artwork on the screen.  The third time I considered the group as a whole, looking at the main jpeg and detail jpeg, keeping the artist statement in mind.

Thoughts for artists:  

Photography.  Hands, faces, furniture, clips.  We saw it all in the photos and it is distracting.  To enter a juried show, you need to submit jpegs that are in focus, of the piece only, the correct size, squared up and straight on. Because this was a first juried show for many, we didn’t eliminate artwork on this aspect alone. But most exhibits will just because of the sheer number of entries.  

Certainly a different selection may have been made if the actual work were in our hands. But this is not the way juried shows work in this digital age. Remember when you see the exhibit in person that the jurors had only two small photos viewed on a computer screen. We are forced to make judgments based purely on what is on the screen. Give jurors the best possible view of your artwork by submitting great photos that are truly representational of your artwork.

Detail shots:  You can make a juror take a second look with a good detail shot.  Show something exciting, unique, beautiful, or surprising in your detail shot.

Artist Statement: Each artist was requested to explain how the entry related to the theme. What an opportunity!  We may have been thinking, How does this fit the theme?  Then the artist would tell us and it would be an AHA moment.

Your artist statment is your opportunity to tell a juror why (not how) you came to create your artwork – what is your theme, what is the driving thought behind your work, what is unique about YOUR viewpoint.  

Tell us a story; tell us something specific; tell us through your statement that you thought about your artwork, did some research, and were inspired by something close to your heart.  


Voting:  Jeanne and I then ranked each piece as Accepted, Maybe, Release (don’t say the R-J-CT word because any two jurors are going to choose a completely different show).  If we both agreed on Accepted or Released, then we took one final look to be sure and moved on.  A surprising small number of works were Accepted or Released at this point.  Then we settled in to discuss over the telephone, over two days, every other piece in detail.

Jurying is an exciting and stimulating process and we, as all jurors, had to adjust to the work before us, compromise when needed and conduct a lively and interesting discussion.  Jurying is a subjective process, but we worked very hard to leave our personal design preferences by the wayside.  

Thoughts for artists:
For me art quilts are all about concept and content.  Materials and techniques are always subservient to these concerns.  That’s why they are ART quilts.

Of course, I did hold in mind that these were art QUILTS and looked to be sure there was stitching, that it was integrated into the piece and that the artwork in some way belonged to our very unique art form. And, of course, good workmanship is a given in any juried competition.

I saw many beautiful displays of technical proficiency that didn’t show me something new. Great technique is not enough; a beautifully constructed image I’ve seen before is not enough. Show me a square inch of a tree, show me trees from space, show me the inside of a tree, show me what a tree looks like through a woodpecker’s eyes.

Convince me that you, as an artist, thought about the theme long and hard. Show me in your artwork that you felt there was something you REALLY, REALLY had to say about the specific part of the theme you chose.  

Show me earth, wind, fire or air as I have never seen them before. Make me laugh, make me sigh, make me mad, make me curious, make me recoil, make me lust after your work. I’ve seen generic; I’ve seen obvious. Show me specific, show me your world, your point of view, your emotion. Use what is in your culture, your location, your space, your experience.  Your artwork will be unique and it will stand out.

Of course, no artwork will stand out from the crowd without good design.  Design principles can tell you that you had a great idea, but didn’t take it far enough.  It can tell you when you had a good idea, but took it too far and added unneeded elements to your composition. 

If you have never thought about some of the basic ways all artists draw attention to a piece, move the viewer’s eye around the artwork, provide coherence or other strategies of good design, take a beginning design course, do a little self-study, and look at artwork outside of the art quilt world. 


Final Thoughts:

If your artwork was released, try again!  In my second year of entering juried exhibitions, my artwork was released eleven (ELEVEN!) times in a row.  

Of course it hurt and it did make me seriously re-think quitting my “real” job, but it made me a better artist and a more careful entrant. I took it as a challenge to improve my artwork, to think more clearly and specifically about my goals and interests in art, and to spend MORE time making art.

Congratulations to ALL the artists and, again, thank you for the opportunity to see your artwork. It was a complete pleasure.



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08 2008

17 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    Virginia, A succcinct and elegant bit of writing about the jurying process. It seems you, like me, are interested in communication. thank you. t

  2. 2

    How kind it was of you to take the time to explain the jurying process and your personal experience this time around, Virginia. Your respect for each entry and each artist is evident, and the tips you have provided are very valuable. It really does help to understand the process. My journal quilt was accepted, but I have had my share of “releases,” too. I will carry your comments with me as I prepare each exhibition entry in the future.

  3. 3

    This was a very thoughtful post Virginia. I had entered and didn’t get in. I know that the photo I took could have been so much better – hard to photograph shiny and get the rest to come out clearly. That seemed obvious to me. Then the artist statement. I realize that could have been better also. I hadn’t considered the evoking of emotion as much as I should have, as well as the elements of design. That gave me pause for reflection. I started another piece with all the points in mind and am feeling much better about it than my journal quilt. Thank you!

  4. 4

    A valuable post; thank you for taking the time to speak so eloquently and usefully on a difficult topic.

  5. 5

    wonderful words.. thanks for the insight! and too bad I didn’t enter…

  6. 6

    A wonderful articulation of the “artful necessities”. Brava!

  7. 7

    Nice post, I esp. like the section “thoughts for artists!”

  8. 8

    Virginia – Oh how I wish I had been able to enter the show this year, if only to have you give such careful consideration to my art – accept or release. Thank you for this post. I will refer to it before, during and after each quilt I make from here on out.

  9. 9

    I have read BOTH blogs and feel so much better, even tho’ mine was released….um, prefer that term…
    I am with Alison, this should be required reading, or even posted on a site that Calls for Entry. It may seem the expected to the experieinced, but a nice reminder nonetheless.
    I feel grateful that I can even enter, whether I am in or not, Look at the Olympic athletes, and they have to qualify to get there. That is the jurying process for them.
    Kary has offered Quilt arts a unique opportunity, and people like you and Jeanne have now taken that opportunity to the next level.
    Thank you…. to the 3 of you.

  10. 10

    Virginia, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your take on the jurying process which I can tell you have thought long and hard about and you have managed to articulate it all so clearly for us to read. To know that my JQ was selected is now even more of a privilege and a true honour!
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this blog post and I think it should become a standard read from everyone entering juried shows!

  11. 11

    This was wonderful to read, Virginia. I did not enter, but if I had, I would feel pretty good, whether I got in or not, after reading this. I am particularly taken with your comment that concept and content are more important that materials and technique. This is a conversation I have with myself and others, often. I am going to take this to heart, Thank you. Now, off to read Jeanne’s take.

  12. 12

    Virginia, it is always a pleasure to read your thoughts on art and art quilts, but you have done us all an enormous favor by giving such an in-depth review of your jurying process. Your suggestions for both creating a worthy artwork and then representing it properly to the jurists are invaluable. I’m saving this article for future reference and for sharing with my own students (with proper attribution, of course!)

  13. 13

    Thanks so much Virginia, for taking the time to jury the show and for the behind the scenes look into the process. Blessing,

  14. 14

    What a teacher your are!
    I can’t imagine the difficulty of jurying, buty ou have broken down a very difficult process into a coherent line of thought.
    Thank you Karey, Virginia and Jeanne for your thoughtful and dedicated work.
    We all benefit from your efforts.
    Jeanelle McCall

  15. Janet Wise #

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to select pieces from all that were received, but this helped me understand how you went about doing so. I also learned quite a bit from this (love the 2nd Thoughts for Artists, in particular). I can’t wait to see the accepted (and ‘released’) pieces online.
    thanks again.

  16. 16

    Thanks for your insight as a jurior. I just took 5 pieces to be juried into a well known organization yesterday. Your insights are helpful. I like your “released” term.

  17. 17

    Virginia – what a wonderful commentary on the whole business of entering a juried show and what art quilts are really all about. It should be required reading by all art quiltmaker aspirants. There is so much widespread ignorance of the real difference between these two comments “Today I am going to make an ohio star quilt’ and “Today I am going to make an art quilt”.