Sitting on the Other Side of the Table

Ocean_7306, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Sometimes, as artists we get to sit on the other side of the table. By that, I mean, we get to jury or judge the work of other artists. Maybe we get asked to help out with a show in a more informal way or perhaps we get more formally asked to review work, to sit on a panel of jurors (or maybe even jury a show by ourselves!) where work is to be judged. It’s a hard thing, doing this. It’s a hard thing being a judge. It’s not fun being the one to sit there and say, “No, I don’t think this one is good enough.” It’s very difficult when you know you are looking at somebody’s work, something, some piece of art that somebody put their all into.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love looking at artwork. I love, love, love it. I could do nothing more than sit around all day and look at artwork, seriously, I could. It’s an honor to be asked, to be even considered to jury artwork, really it is. But it can be difficult too. I’ve heard of fist fights breaking out, yes, artists can really be that passionate. It’s easy to see why. I mean, these are pieces that people worked really hard on. They struggled and they suffered and they tried, oh how they’ve tried. They’ve pulled it together, did a website, got the camera out, maybe took photos of their paintings. Worked hard to get the right light, to make the pieces look good. The work reflects their hand, their artistic vision, their taste. It’s personal. It’s hard to say, “No!” even if something maybe doesn’t look so great, especially knowing how hard artists work.

I used to think that I always wanted to sit on the other side of the table, as it were, and do nothing but jury artwork all day long. I could do that, really I could. Right? Yeah, I was kidding myself! It’s kind of like going out on an all-day bender. I might be able to survive, but I’d really hate myself in the morning afterwards. Phew! It’s hard that.

Lately, I’ve been asked to do just this. I’ve gotten opportunity to sit on the other side of the table for a few different opportunities. I love doing this, especially since I know I grow as an artist by doing it. It’s very enlightening to see how the entire process, especially how the other side of the table works, but *man* does it too kill me. I hate making decisions, I hate having choices, and I hate saying maybe or even “No!” to something I know somebody poured their all into making. It’s just…well…it’s just a hard thing. It’s difficult for me to do and I always feel badly about doing it. I hate to say, “No!” really I do. And, I feel like I’m one of the artists who should be struggling right there, right alongside with you, not sitting on that other side of the table picking out the “winners” from the rest of the herd.

Some days, I think I am the most horrible of judges, as I simply cannot say, “No!” over and over again. I try to find the good in things. I try to be upbeat. I look at the care that went into something. I try to see the quality and look past the flaws. But, man, is that hard to do when you’re expected to sit on the other side of the table. Sometimes, anyway, they are expecting you to be a hard ass and that’s, why that’s very hard to do. No matter how easy you think it might be, trust me on this one, it’s harder to say, “No!” to somebody else then it is to get rejected.

I’ve been fortunate in that one of the opportunities I got to jury recently was a nice, large space and could take a lot of work. That’s good, because that meant not having to say “No!” to too many people. Phew! Dodged the bullet on that one! Unfortunately, the other opportunity, well it was a smaller venue and jury I did (at least, I had to. Nothing else would fit!) I had to say “No!” to some. It was very difficult. I had to make a choice. Tough choices, actually, I had to make some hard choices in my selection.

At this point, the only thing I would like to tell you is that, if you are one of those artists out there (and you know who I am talking about!) who struggles with the, “I never get into any shows!” business, STOP! Just STOP! OK? Don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault and it doesn’t mean your artwork is “bad” or even “not up to snuff.” Jurors have to make choices. It’s as simple as that. Nobody out there hates you. Nobody wants to see you fail. Nobody doesn’t like your hair or your dress or your whatever. They are simply sitting down at a table or at a computer, with hundreds of pieces of artwork in front of them and saying, “Hmmm. I think this one picks up the blue in that one” or some such thing. It’s not personal. It’s not about you. It’s about trying to pull together a show that, well, fits (and, yes, sometimes that means your work might not “fit” that doesn’t make it bad, or wrong, or evil. It doesn’t mean you should be ashamed or scared of the juror or thinking that the world is out to get you.) Heck, a lot of these shows boil down to “we have room for XXX number of pieces. Let’s pick so many that go together.” Don’t let any of this crap stop you from doing work, from doing the best work that you possibly can. (I can tell you from firsthand experience, the jurors don’t want to reject you either.)

I hope that one day you get to sit on the other side of that table and see firsthand what it’s like to have to make the selection process. If you ever get the chance to do it, I hope you’ll take it. Yes, it’s difficult, but it is a great way to grow as an artist too and it really will give you new insight into the entire process. I almost wish there were a way for all artists to see how the process works, to maybe sit it on a jury selection once, just once, so they can understand what the juror sees and how he (or she) sees it. It will give you fresh insight into the entire process and maybe, just maybe, give you new insight into your work. It’s one of those things…if you get to do it once, perhaps you’ll see how crazy you sound when you get visions in your head of a juror with fangs, long claws, looking somewhat like a dragon.

Enough about my “jury duty.” I hope you are busy out enjoying a photographic fall. But, really, if you ever get the chance, do please try to sit yourself down on the other side of that table-even if it’s only once, just once. It’s good for the soul that, really it is.

Until next time…

1 Comment

  1. Great Grandma Lin
    October 16, 2012 / 1:48 pm

    It's difficult to not take it personally when your creation is judged but necessary to keep on submitting and make it a learning experience. Been there-done that on both sides of the table…

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