Many artists ask me what jurors look for when selecting work for juried exhibitions. This is a tough question to answer, given that every juror and every show is unique. Recently, Dr. Elliot Bostwick Davis, Chair of the American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, made her selections for our National Open Juried Exhibition: America, Now at the Providence Art Club. Her choices were formed partially by the theme of the show but also by her extensive and diverse academic and curatorial background. This week, I juried entries for another exhibition at the Providence Art Club, a show of work by members from Boston's St. Botolph Club coming this August. Like Dr. Davis, I was informed by my education and professional background but found choosing pieces for this exhibition to be a challenge. There were many options that I thought would be a great fit, but I had to work to shape a select group of diverse objects that would represent the talents of the St. Botolph Club community and also be of interest to members of the Providence Art Club. Later this summer, I will be the Juror for the Bristol Art Museum's Annual Members' Exhibition. So I thought it might be beneficial for me to share some of what goes into a juror's decision-making process and how artists can best go about applying to a juried exhibition.
First and foremost, no matter the show, you must closely and carefully read the exhibition's call for entry. The typical call for entry (or call for art) is a page or so long and contains all the information you should need when deciding what, or whether, to submit. Read the call and be honest with yourself about the relevance of your work to the request being put out by a gallery or institution. If you are uncertain if your work is a good fit to start with, you can reach out to the organization making the call to get your initial questions answered.
Good presentation counts. Because most exhibitions are now juried virtually, jurors rely on digital images to make their decisions. Make sure you are submitting a high quality photograph that accurately represents your work. Blurry or otherwise poorly presented images that do not show the piece well will not benefit your application and will almost certainly hurt your chances. Most applications state the resolution and size required for digital images. Follow the guidelines given by the organization or entry platform. And if you need assistance, seek out a professional photographer. If you are submitting to a show where selections are made in person, your work should be professionally prepared and in good condition. Proper presentation may seem like common sense, but it is not to be overlooked.
After assessing presentation, the juror will likely move on to gauging the qualities inherent in each piece. This factors in formal aspects such as line, composition, color, et cetera, but also the conceptual qualities that might be obvious upon first glance. For this reason, submitting your most visually striking work can be helpful in catching the juror's eye. Asking peers and colleagues to critique the work you are considering for submission is a great way to get objective analysis, and to determine which artworks from your portfolio may be the most successful. Some of the qualities found in works of art are relatively objective, but the way a juror interprets them can obviously be very subjective, and influenced by individual taste.
Like I said earlier, every juror is unique. And each juror's selections are bound to be impacted by her or his personal background, education, and interests. The individual taste of a juror will naturally factor into their selections. This is difficult to account for when applying to an exhibition, but it can be helpful to research the juror and learn more about their background or shows they have previously juried or curated in order to determine if they have any obvious interests or biases. This information is often readily available in the juror's professional biography and may even be included in the call for entry. If the juror has a niche area of expertise or interest, they may be less inclined to choose works that fall outside their scope. But if they have a broad range of experience, it may be hard to determine what they will be most interested in.
If the exhibition you are submitting your work to has a theme, stick to it. This point is another seemingly obvious one, but hewing close to the theme can often play to your favor. This is not to say that your work should blatantly or explicitly shout the theme the show is based on, but it should at the very least contain a nod to the theme or express that you understand what the show is supposed to be about. Some themes are more explicit than others but, again, using the exhibition's call for entry for guidance can be helpful in ensuring your work matches the criteria that are being used to shape the tone and content of the show.
It is important to remember that all the work selected has to hang together. As jurors review all the submissions for a particular show they are not only considering the qualities of individual works, but are also imagining how the pieces they choose can work together to create an exhibition that is cohesive. Cohesion does not necessarily mean that all the works must "match", per se, but it does suggest a level of aesthetic or conceptual harmony that creates a thread tying all the work together. Following the theme or, in lieu of a theme, submitting your most current and compelling work are both great ways to show that your work will contribute to a strong exhibition. And again, taking a look at shows previously curated by the juror can be helpful.
Ultimately, much of the judgement involved in jurying an exhibition is subjective and there are many potential outcomes. That being said, even a show with thousands of entries is not a "lottery" per se, as even a large exhibition is not shaped by chance. It is designed by a juror or jurors who have all the aforementioned details in mind and are utilizing them to make educated decisions about what works of art will create the most compelling exhibition.
Remember, if your work is not accepted to a particular show, it is not a comment on your worth as an artist. The final selections are always informed by all the factors I have outlined here, and then some. Through carefully reading the call, though, and using appropriate work presented well you will increase your chances of being accepted and hopefully snag a spot on the gallery walls.