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.
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.