Juried Shows – Why Bother?

Fence Bending, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

So, a good question has come up on this series-why should I bother with juried shows?

The answer to that is, of course, complicated. For one thing, you don’t have to bother with them at all-they are simply a way, another way, of getting your work out so that people can see it. It’s a way of getting feedback on your work, of possibly selling work, and a way for you to share you work, share in the fun, the excitement, the drama of the gallery shows.

Yes, it’s true the art world can be political and full of people who don’t know what they are doing (wouldn’t know good art if it jumped up and bit them in the face.) It’s also true that there’s a long standing tradition of the art world tearing people down, solely for the purposes of building them back up again (they like to insult students, to humble them, to make them feel inferior so they stay in line.) All of this only to get into a tight little insular world of people who, at times (or so it would appear) act like they are doing you a favor just by saying, “good morning.”

On the flip side though, as you progress as an artist, once you move past the point of having an instructor, a teacher, a mentor, it becomes increasingly difficult to get feedback. A juried show (or even an open show) can provide this for you. You get to see what the juror picked, get to hear why they picked it, and you get to hear the people’s responses to what was picked. It’s very interesting to walk around at an opening, watching people react to the work-it’s instant feedback. You know, you absolutely know you nailed it and have a good piece if you hear a little gasp for air and overhear somebody say, “Oh, look at THAT.”

Also, much like Flickr, it’s great to just share art. We can’t forget there’s a “here, look what I did” aspect of making something that’s rewarding in itself. It’s fun to share things like this. It boosts our confidence and let’s us feel good about what we are doing.

Perhaps the most important reason for doing art shows though is to give the artist a “target” of sorts. As you go out and make images, paintings, or any kind of art really, if you have a finished product in mind-if you have some kind of vision of what it might look like hanging on a gallery wall, for example-you’re going to make better art. That vision will provide you with a road map of sorts-you’ll have an idea of what you want to do in your head. It can serve to give your artwork new purpose and direction. And that, for that reason alone, that makes all the crap about “calls for entry” and “rules” all worth it. (At least, it does for me.)

I can’t say if I’m going to get into the next show I apply for tomorrow, but I can tell you that, because I’m thinking about it today, I’m going to produce better art, take better photos, and keep myself more in-line, because that thought is always in the back of my head. What am I going to do with this? Who is going to like this? Where will this end up? What can I do with this? Will this really make it into that next big gallery show?

To me, a piece of art is “finished” once it’s framed and hanging on a gallery wall. It’s there-that’s it, I’ve done it, finished. If I were never to show anything, I’d never get a sense of accomplishment, I’d never feel like anything was done in my little bubble-everything would be still a work in progress, and that would probably drive me mad.

Juried shows are one way to get this kind of feedback, but they certainly aren’t the only one. Blogging and web-based galleries are gaining a lot of ground here and, frankly, it’s easy to see why. You don’t have to frame anything, don’t have to worry about shipping, and all of that. Let’s face it, that might be a better route for a lot of people. But, having said that, there’s just something about a juried show. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding out that somebody, perhaps somebody famous or an idol of sorts, likes my work. It’s kind of like a guitar player getting to play with Eric Clapton or a songwriter getting to pen something with one of the Beatles. It makes you feel as if you’ve arrived in the world-like you’re work is really there, worthy of that spot next to the “big boys.”

Creativity is its own reward-we don’t need juried art shows to tell us that we’ve made something we feel good about, but it can be productive (and fun) to reach for that. And, if we should happen to get it, we can really sit back and enjoy that little moment in the sun.

Until next time…


  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    July 17, 2009 / 7:54 am

    First of all, Carol, thanks so much for your words of encouragement about my photography. It does mean a lot, and for exactly the same reasons you write about here. I understand exactly where you're coming from, and although you personally think in terms of 'the art world', 'exhibitions', 'maybe Lord Stig liking my art' I'm having exactly the same thoughts on a much smaller scale: knowing that I have my blog to 'exhibit' my photos, and my flickr for the best ones, gives me something to aim for. Without it, and only me plus nearest and dearest to see what I do, I probably wouldn't bother.

    The ability of art world 'Big Shots' to make and break people and as Mythos said, ruin artists' careers and livelihoods, is dreadful. And this happens in many walks of life, not just the art world. I know this is an important issue for people who would like their art to be their life / career. The politics of this isn't something I know about, and at my level of dabbling is unlikely ever to be so.

    So at the end of the day, for most of us the juried shows are, as you say, another option. And one that I think is worth a try, just in the name of personal challenge.

    Thanks Carol!

  2. Carol
    July 20, 2009 / 2:13 am

    Thanks, Janice, for your comments too.

    It's hard to do some of these things but it can be even more daunting if we have to do them when we think we're "alone" at it. It's nice to have others to back us up as well so that, if we don't get into that show, or we miss a deadline, or our shots turn out not as we had planned, we have some support.

    It can be really hard to stay focused on the work too-at times it seems like life loves to get in the way of what we do, doesn't it? It's great to have contacts, friends, and just somebody to bounce ideas off of as well.

    Good luck with your first foray into the art world. Your work is certainly good enough to get in, now it's just a matter of keeping the faith and sending it out there to be seen a bit more.


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