Friday, November 23, 2007

View from the Other Side

I recently was the administrative person for a competition to select three artists to occupy the booth at the ACRE (American Craft Retailer's Expo) wholesale show, in Las Vegas. This was a competition that was sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild. The idea was to allow three artists to share a booth at the show and sell their work. The outcome would be increased exposure of high caliber polymer clay work to buyers, and the opportunity for the selected artists to kick off or grow their wholesale business.

I have entered quite a few shows and competitions over the years. And I been accepted, rejected, and wait listed along the way. After a class with Bruce Baker on jurying into shows, my acceptance rate went up, but rejection is still a frequent companion. I applied to three shows for the spring, and I was rejected by three shows. Granted, most of these shows were a stretch. But even so, there are things I can do to improve the likelihood that the outcome will be different next time.

Being on the other side of the process this time was enlightening. I got a better idea of what worked and what didn't. I saw the challenges some artists faced with the application process. I saw how daunting a task it is for the jurors to go through the process of evaluating the work.

So, what specifically did I learn that can help me do better in my own submissions?

1. Photography matters. Great photos made a difference. Photos that are big enough to meet the entry requirements. Photos that show off the work to best advantage. Photos that come alive. Sometimes a digital photo can have a very flat appearance. A good photo does not have this problem. With few exceptions, there was a direct relationship between the quality of the photos and the final position in the scoring. Great photos can help good work look great. Mediocre photos can detract from great work. If you want to see the gold standard in craft photography, visit the websites of some of the best craft photographers. Robert Diamante, Hap Sakwa, George Post, are just a few. See what you may be up against. Paying for top notch photos may be a worthwhile investment in your business, depending upon the shows and competitions you are entering.

2. Consistency matters. One of the biggest problems I saw in the work submitted was when an artist would submit three pictures that were of a similar style, and two pictures that did not relate to the first three. Jurors were looking for a story, a point of view, a voice. Inevitably, at least one juror would mark the artist down because of this.

This was a problem I used to have when I would submit work to a show. I figured showing range was important. My thinking was that if I had enough range, something would connect with the jurors, and that would get me in. In my case, it was a reflection of insecurity. In this competition it seemed to nearly guarantee a reduction in score.

Another reason artist's give for doing this is that they want to have work from two or more lines in the show, so they think they should show both, otherwise they can't bring one. This is a partial myth. If you have two, three, or more lines of jewelry, pick one, your strongest of course, and show that. You can still bring the other jewelry to the show.

If, on the other hand, you have work in two and mixed media, for example, this is a different story. The cardinal sin is to jury into the non-jewelry category, and then bring jewelry. The competition for a jewelry spot is just too great. If you want to bring both, submit two sets of slides, one in each category. If you try to present both in the same set of slides you are doing yourself a disservice.

3. You need to be strong across the board. You need strong design, good use of color, and good finishing. Jurors are looking at all of these issues. Weakness in any one area may take you out of the running.

4. Jurors come with a point of view. We all have an aesthetic sensibility. Some have an educated sense of design, and for others it is based on experience and an intuitive sense. If we appreciate craft, we have certain things we respond to, and other things we don't. Something like color palette may subconsciously affect a juror's response. Or, a person's work may remind them of another artist's work...even though there may be no real connection.

In multiple cases, two jurors would give raves to an artist's work, and the third would pan it. And it was not because one juror was tougher than the rest. Each juror had certain work that did not connect with them for whatever reason, which the other juror's loved. Or, two jurors were not inspired by work that another juror would rave about.

This is something that is out of our control. We are not selecting the jury pool for the shows and competitions we enter. But, we can try to determine the shows and competitions where our work will be most appreciated.

5. Artists tend to procrastinate. Entries tricked in very slowly until the last few days. I understand this. We are often juggling many things, and putting together a show submission is easy to put off. But recognize that procrastinating about entering shows can come at a price. Technical glitches, on either end, may prevent your entry as the deadline looms. Give yourself enough time to figure out how images need to be submitted, formatted, etc. well before the deadline. It will give you time to think about the best images to present, the order, etc. If you have an hour to deadline and you still haven't been able to figure out how to format the images, you are creating needless stress in your life. If you need help with procrastination in your life, Christine Kane had a recent post on how to overcome this problem. Maybe you can pick up a few ideas of how to slay the procrastination beast.

6. Just trying counts for a lot. Making the decision, and following through, is taking yourself seriously. It is believing in your work and your abilities enough to take the chance. Some may say, "Oh, I never really thought I would get in anyway." But, even so, they applied. Some little voice said, "You should do this. You can do this." And they followed through. It takes courage to do that. It means you are saying you want something, and that you are willing to risk being denied the thing that you want. That is not easy. But it is necessary to move from where you are today to where you want to be. You will inevitably make mistakes. We all do. But, you don't have to own the mistakes. You can give yourself a gentle kick in the butt, and say "Boy, I won't make that mistake again." And the next submission will be stronger, and you will perhaps get what you are asking for that time.

Don't be afraid to ask. Don't hold yourself back from what you want to achieve. There are more than enough obstacles in life without building our own roadblocks. You may not get what you are reaching for, but, with the right attitude and spirit, you can end up richer and stronger in so many ways. You may learn something about yourself, and your dreams, that you would not have otherwise known.

I applaud the artist who entered but did not make it into the show. My heart is with you. There was more talent than there were spaces. This is often the case. That is why we need to work to improve every aspect of our entries. Putting our best forward every time, and each time, trying to make it just a bit better.

1 comment:

Susan Turney said...

What a great post!