If I’ve learned anything about art festivals it’s this: Juries are fickle, shows unpredictable and having high expectations, No! Having any expectations is foolish. The only consistency I have observed is inconsistency. Last year I applied to six, maybe seven art festivals and about five exhibitions. I was juried into four festivals and one invitational. Not bad really, but not great either. It was my first year doing festivals and I really didn’t know fully what I was getting into and it really wasn’t until the last show rolled around that I really figured out the nuances of showing outdoors and knew exactly what I wanted to do the next year.
I was very energetic back in January, the entire show season was ahead of me. I made my lists of festival and exhibitions I was going to apply for. I had a short season of experience and was showing improvements in my painting, so I figured my chances were better than hitting four out of eight festivals and a mere one out of five exhibitions. I labored off and on for six months on a painting I thought was amazing. This was going to be my centerpiece for the big art shows I was hoping to get into.
I started in on Zapplication ( https://www.zapplication.org/index.php ) first rounding up the local shows list first and then extended my tour to places where I could stay with friends. Columbus Ohio, Bloomington Indiana and Kansas City Missouri were the furthest shows I was looking at. I reapplied to the watercolor society exhibitions I was a member of, joined new one and was waiting to join more.
Queue the rollercoaster….
I guess the details aren’t really worth going into, lets just say I keep paying and am not getting much playtime. The exhibitions and festivals come and go, and I sit and watch, observing the company of artists I am in or not allowed to be in. I look to see who’s art gets juried in, who win awards, who’s getting coverage in magazines, blogs and other media. Why? Well it’s in part my way of self-assessment, after all the goal is to reach a sustainable living by 2021. If my art is good it should start taking me places or at least provide me the opportunity to display my craft either in a festival or show. Yes I have expectations to present more than 50% of the time, call me crazy.
So there I am in line, waiting for my turn to get on the roller coaster. I’ve paid for my fee, got my ticket and hand it to the ticket man. More often than not I have paid to play, yet the gate closes right in front of me, and I am left wondering what it is I did, or could have done to get that last seat on the art ride I’m wanting in on.
The worst thing about all of this festival and show stuff is not knowing why you were excluded or even included. I guess making it in a show one assumes “They liked my stuff, yay!” See exhibitions and festivals are not art schools where you get a grade, it’s an opinion you will never know, The opinion of a single juror, or perhaps a team of them. It’s a flash card moment of exposure to those who decide thumbs up or down.
That is all you get, maybe thirty seconds to a minute. Most people form an impression within the first five seconds of meeting someone. I think the same applies to art. You know immediately if the piece interests you or you like it… for whatever reason.
So I’m at this festival and I spot the the juror for awards. I saw her coming from a few booths away. She was slow moving, and it was late in the afternoon as I was one of the last artists to be judged. I took a cursory glance at my space to make sure everything was in order… and it was. My art was hanging even, tags nice and visible, I had my business cards out, my booth ID was hung along with all the other little things one needs to have presented in a clean and professional fashion. So Juror X strolls in, she barely made eye contact with me, and took a 10-15 second drive by, smiled and walked out. She had already decided who was getting something before she even walked into my tent and just went through the motions to check me off as ‘judged’. I don’t care if you’re Picasso you can’t assess a dozen paintings in ten seconds, at least fairly.
It’s funny. I see a lot of the same artists all over the place. They get into the same shows, frequent the same festivals and many keeping piling up the accolades. I sense a bit of the Ivory Tower syndrome going on. Judges who’s paintings are in the shows they jury, the same artists winning nearly 40% of the time they enter certain shows, yes 40% and I’m not exaggerating. I try to rationalize it all, and I can’t make heads or tails out of any of it. On a bad day, all this contradicts all the positive things like a tsunami wave cleansing the friends and family coastline of well wishers and praise. I feel like an amusement park attendee who lost their ticket. Oh but the best part of all of it is: “We encourage you to apply again next year”.. and the year after and so forth and so on. As Charlie Sheen often says “I’m WINNING!” HA HA.