Hang It Up

Art on the Line: A Juror’s Experience

By Carol E. Hamilton

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 14, Issue 3


Any artist who has entered an ASBA exhibit has to wonder how decisions and choices are made. This article by Carol Hamilton really nails down the jury experience, and, I hope, assures each of you that when you submit a work of art, your artwork will receive fair consideration using established guidelines.  - Carol Woodin. 

We have all had the experience of reading a tantalizing Call for Entries and devouring the notice for the details that we hope will lead to seeing our painting in a great venue among the work of artists we admire. After the first flush of excitement comes the more laborious task of selecting or creating a piece that will meet the specific requirements of that show, and then carefully collecting all the bits and pieces (proper entry format, size and media requirements, entry fee, SASE, etc.) so that we don’t invalidate our entry. 

Once the entry envelope has left our hands and slid down into the great dark hole of the mailbox we feel completely out of control until one day, perhaps many months later, we receive a notice of our of “victory or defeat.” It seems that it is those intervening weeks that are the true black hole. What happens to the entries and by what vagaries are they judged? The system that tests our hopes and dreams often seems completely shrouded in mystery, but I hope I can shed some light on the process. In doing so, perhaps you will gain some insight into what jurors are looking for, and even increase your number of successful entries. 

Recently, I joined Francesca Anderson, Dick Rauh and Jessica Tcherepnine as jurors of the ASBA/New York Horticultural Society 11th International Juried Exhibition. This is the first year that the show has been juried by a group made up entirely of artists so we were particularly sympathetic to the plight of those entering a major exhibition of botanical art. We had your interests at heart, as do all jurors, and we could also deeply empathize with all that went into your work and your entry experience. 

Carol Woodin, ASBA Exhibitions Coordinator, received entries for 197 outstanding works that ASBA Administrative Assistant Linda M. Crawford cataloged into a spreadsheet, greatly expediting the administration of the exhibition. When we arrived at the Horticultural Society for jurying, the works of art were ready to be reviewed in PowerPoint format. This was our first exhibition accepting digital entries exclusively. Each juror had a reference sheet listing the title, size and medium of each work. Any artist signatures were eliminated from the images unless it was impossible to do so. We also had copies of the ASBA jurying guidelines so that we could be reminded of the scientific, aesthetic and proficiency criteria with which we were charged to judge this work. 

In recent years, the Exhibitions Committee has done some serious work developing more objective and quantitative methods in the selection of artwork for our exhibitions. At each ASBA Annual Meeting prospective jurors have been trained in how to look at art for selection into ASBA exhibitions and how to apply the selection criteria.  

We are now employing a three step method that I don’t think could be much more objective or fair to each artist. Here’s how it works: 

Reviewing the Work. Jurors first have an opportunity to review all submissions without comment. Seeing the totality of submissions helps the juror to judge each piece within the context of the exhibition as a whole. We had 197 submissions to review before ever scoring a piece so this stage took quite a while. 

Scoring. At this point, each juror had the opportunity to spend a little quality time with each piece before awarding it a score from one to five (five being highest). Each painting or drawing was judged completely on its own merits and without regard to the target number of pieces we expected to be able to accept (in this case about 40). Again, there was no comment made by the jurors while they were scoring so that there could be no friendly influence. The jurors take this part of the process very seriously and give each artist the chance they hope would be given to them by other jurors in another show. 

Additionally, jurors could request an opportunity to view a piece in greater detail in order to answer questions about botanical accuracy, technique or other fine points before awarding a score. This was something impossible for jurors to request in the past days of jurying from slides, and the change has usually been to the advantage of the artist. 

Adding the Scores/Making the Cuts. Carol Woodin tallied our score sheets. An artwork receiving a 20 would have received top marks from each of the four jurors. In our case, we were able to accept all works that had received 20, 19 or 18. That gave us 32 accepted pieces. An additional 22 pieces received a score of 17 but we had only about eight remaining spots in the show.  

This is really where the art of assembling an exhibition entered into it! The quantitative approach took us as far as it could. It doesn’t work at this stage because factors such as size, repetition of subject matter, consideration of media, the overall content of the exhibition as it is shaping up, and so on, are in play as we seek to complete this most difficult stage of the jurying. We reviewed the “17s” and verbally gave them a “yes, no or maybe” assessment. During this stage, much discussion ensued as jurors considered each of these high level pieces. The aforementioned exhibition criteria were strenuously applied. One by one, slots were filled as the “maybes” became “yeses” or “nos.”  

B y this time we were nearing the end of a very intense day (we worked solidly from 10 AM to 4 PM), but the energy level of the jury never flagged. I harbored some small concern that there could be a tendency to make more haphazard decisions towards the end simply to get the job done, but this was not the case. I frequently heard jurors make remarks that helped to keep us on track to do the best possible job for the artists and to assemble the best possible show for our organization. 

It was a rewarding and enlightening experience. I do hope that all of you will seek out the opportunity to jury a show. We see our own work all the time and that of our immediate colleagues. We also see some pretty impressive “finished” exhibiCarol Woodin with guest columnist (Continued on Page 10)The Botanical Artist  Volume 14, Issue 3 - September   2008  Page 10 tions. What we don’t often see is the raw material that makes these exhibitions possible – the work of a wide range of artists with many ideas on botanical art. Although their ideas are often inspiring, we have to make choices about what doesn’t make the cut and why. We see extraordinary devotion to botanical detail and we see a bit of fudging on plant structure. We see brilliantly designed compositions and instances where the artist didn’t seem to plan the page. We see striking takes on familiar or not-so-familiar botanical subject matter and we see some distinctly less imaginative choices. Perhaps what I found most interesting was the number of times that jurors’ asked, in effect, “How did the artist tell the story of this plant?” Or even, “Did this artist tell the story of this plant at all?” A valid question. I promise you that if you take the time to learn something about jurying and serve as a juror you will come out of the experience a better artist