Why Every Aspiring Artist Should Enter Juried Shows

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > A-Z Art Marketing Guide

Welcome back to “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z.

In today’s article, I’ll be focusing on the letter “J” and the importance of submitting your artwork for juried shows, residencies and calls for art.

I remember vividly the very first time I entered a juried show. I submitted my best painting, and all my friends said I had a good chance to win an award and a spot in the upcoming exhibit for emerging artists.

As it happens, I was also one of the assistants for the jurying process. I figured this would get me an “inside view” that would help do the right things in the right ways in future competitions.

I imagined that each member of the jury would use a checklist to assess each piece of art. Then, the jury would arrive at a consensus on whose work to admit and whom to reward with ribbons and money.

Some juries are like that. This one was not. Just one art representative juried this show. She took thirty minutes to review sixty pieces—an astonishing pace of roughly thirty seconds per piece.

My job as an assistant was to help the gallery owner bring each new group of five paintings in for review by the esteemed judge. Then, I’d pull the “rejects” from the room and scramble to assemble the next group for “the chopping block.”

Having seen what was kept in the “maybe” stack for final review, I felt relatively confident when I brought my own piece in before the judge. In half a minute, with a casual flick of her wrist, my piece was dismissed. I was shocked and heartbroken but I wanted to at least learn from the experience.

I thought that if I could identify what she felt was “missing” or “wrong” with my work, I could make adjustments and stand a better chance in the future. I asked the gallery manager, “Was it my technique and palette or was my message was too obscure? Did the juror understand what I was trying to achieve?”

The reply was somewhat heartening. . . in short, the juror completely understood my intention and the rest was fine, but the piece just didn’t match her tastes, which ran more to realism than abstraction.”

So how do you know if your work has a chance?

The choice of who will win (as well as who gets in to the show and who doesn’t) comes down to the jury’s personal choices and comparison with other entries. That doesn’t mean that the decisions made are cavalier. It just means you can’t predict the outcome.

My advice is to simply submit your best work to competitions that suit your style of art and career level. The rest is out of your hands.

When I became a juror, I took the responsibility very seriously, as did the other jurors. I discovered firsthand the difficulties of the role. I found out how painful it is to reject someone’s art, knowing that heart, soul and labor went into the piece.

You can research jurors before you enter the competition but you won’t necessarily be able to predict how they will respond to your work. I applaud jurors who both publish their criteria and are willing to give artists feedback on their decision.

Just being a juror is a lot of work, so when they go the extra mile make sure to thank them.

Winning awards is great. . . but it isn’t everything

If the jury process is so subjective, and the chance of being accepted, let alone receiving constructive advice from the judges is so small, why apply to have your work be judged by juries?

While it is great to gain entry and win awards, or be juried into artist alliances, shows, residencies, “Calls for Art,” and galleries, it helps to have a larger purpose. This is how painter Pat Fiorello explains it:

“My initial goal was to gain ‘Signature Membership’ in the Georgia Watercolor Society, at their National Exhibition in April, 2008 (which I did). But through my diligence and persistence, with that and with other shows, I accumulated lots of experience (as both entrant and juror in more than sixty shows over five years). As a result, my overall success as a professional artist took a huge leap.”

Putting yourself and your art on the line offers great opportunities, no matter the actual results of a show. For example:

Here are 4 good outcomes you’ll experience anyway

1. You’ll build your credibility

Being accepted into a prestigious show, or being awarded a “best in show” does wonders for your credibility. “Prestigious” means a few are chosen where many apply. If you aspire to be among the elite, get used to being part of the masses first. It takes time to work your way up. Enter early and often.

In addition, make your entry submission impeccable and follow instructions to the letter. You’ll come off as a professional and make the jury’s job easier. You may not win, but decision-makers who might not otherwise have had the chance to be exposed to your work will see your work and qualifications.

2. You’ll build your visibility

Juried shows increase the odds that your work will be noticed by discerning buyers, influential dealers and selective art representatives. Make sure to connect with art critics, writers and bloggers and your fame could spread even further.

Online shows demand a close look at the fine print, to make sure the opportunity is genuine, and not just a promotional strategy that benefits only the sponsoring site. Beware of sites that aspire to have thousands of artists for collectors to choose from. You’ll get lost in the crowd instead of being noticed.

3. You’ll learn to honestly judge your own art

While feedback from the jurors might be limited, the opportunity for you to learn how to assess how your work compares to your peers is just as valuable.

Attend the opening event and evaluate the work that was selected. Be as honest and objective as possible about how your art stacks up to the other artists.

4. Your artwork and portfolio will remain current

Having a deadline will push you to get those photos done, frames ordered and résumé updated. Get into the habit of updating your professional portfolio whenever you have something to add, so that you are always ready to submit your work. You never know when a gallery might come across your résumé and want to know what you have done that merits awards or an exhibit.

In the end, gaining entry and winning awards aren’t the only benefits of entering shows and competitions. Be sure to keep your eye on the “bigger prizes” of sticking your neck out and bettering yourself as a professional artist.

No matter what the outcome may be, with every submission you’ll be building your reputation, getting your work out there, and improving yourself and your art.

Follow the links below to read more articles in “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z:

A – Appreciating your Audience

B – Building your Business Base

C – Communicating Clearly, Consistently and Cleverly

D – Diversifying Your Delivery

E – Educate, Entertain, Engage, Enrich, and Evolve

F – Fostering Friendly Familiarity

G – Give to Gain

H – Hiring Help

I – The 5 “I’s” of Art Marketing

J – Joining Juried Shows (current article)

K – Creating Good Karma

L – Listening and Learning

M – Mastering your Marketing Messages

N – Negotiating 101

O – Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

P – Procrastination & Perfection

Q – Quality & Quantity: Creating Art that Sells

R – 8 Rules to Improve Your Artist/Collector Relationships

S – S is for Sales

T – 30 Ways to Say “Thank You”

U – Switching from “I” to “Us”

V – Volunteering in the Art World

W – Write, Write, Write!

Y – Just Say Yes

Z – Zen, Zoom, ZigZag & Zowie


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