Jane Sauer on Jurying Exhibits
by Barbara Burns on December 22, 2017
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Sauer on the subject of being a juror. She shared her experience and insights into the jurying process, as well as sharing advice for participating in juried shows.
What is the jurying process like? Is it different when you are the only juror, as opposed to working with others in a group jury?
I have always found the jury process painful. Many times there are a number of qualified applicants and I worry about making judgements dependent on a few images. I know I make mistakes and am concerned that a rejection might have an adverse effect on someone’s career. I like some aspects of being the sole juror. I like the control of the outcome that this brings. On the other hand I do like hearing or seeing the judgements of the other jurors. Many times that can open my eyes to something new. Other times I have a hard time seeing what they see. It is a matter of compromise.
Do you believe that there are basic mistakes that artists make when submitting their entries? Could you describe a few of these that you’ve encountered?
The most consistent and harmful aspect of preparing an application for a juried show is the photography. I sometimes think the artist must not review their submission before hitting SEND. Any juror can only judge what they can see. Cell phone pictures are the enemy of the artist. They are so easy to come by and yet are rarely high quality. If you are going to use a cell phone image, make sure you have a proper environment and lighting. I highly recommend a professional photographer.
What kind of guidelines would help you make selections in an international (or regional?) juried show? Does an international show present a different set of challenges for a juror?
An international show does present some challenges. If an international juror, you must make an effort to understand the culture in which the applicants live. This is not always easy and readily available. I am always concerned that I am looking at work through the lens of my cultural background only.
Have you juried a show where you regret having agreed to the job of making selections? Could you give an example?
I agreed to jury a show that ended up having over 3,000 entries. I deeply regretted accepting this job. I could not scan through all the applicants and then go back and make decisions, which is my usual routine. I like to scan once or twice and then carefully eliminate in several rounds until I have the right number of acceptances. I felt like this was a nightmare process. I had to start making decisions on the first pass through. Fortunately the sponsoring organization realized that this was not a fair process and changed the approach by breaking down the process into smaller units each with its own set of jurors.
Have you juried a show that you felt was exceptional? Can you describe what factors enabled you to accomplish that?
I have juried several shows that I thought were exceptional. They were exceptional because the applicants were of high quality and submitted images that were easy to read. The images are the gold in a jury process.
Do you have advice for artists who wish to establish a career making their art? Do you think juried shows offer good opportunities for artists?
Being in juried shows is an excellent way to have your work seen and acknowledged. With the closing of many small and large galleries, juried shows are becoming more competitive than ever. A new phenomenon is Exhibits in Print. This is an even better way to get your work seen by a larger audience.
Is there a time in an artist’s career when juried shows are no longer advantageous?
Many established artists will not submit to a jury process. They don’t want to be judged and don’t want to exhibit with less mature artists. I think the most essential ingredients to developing a career in the arts is to have a web site with good images, background information and clear contact information. Again images are the key to a good web site. When I am curating an exhibit, if I can’t locate the artist, I usually just move on to the next artist I can locate. Unfortunately, there are many more exceptional artists than places to exhibit. An artist has to make it easy to make contact and see the latest work.
What do you think of the jurying process? Is there a better way to organize a show?
I think the jury process has improved tremendously with any of the many excellent computer sites that allow you to jury slowly and in parts. The price of putting together a skilled group of jurors is also considerably lower since the organization doesn’t have to bring jurors together. I think we need both juried shows and curated shows. They do different things and each is valid.
Do you have any advice for a first time juror?
I think about balance when jurying. I like to represent the totality of what is going on and not lean too heavily on one aspect because it is my personal favorite. I am always happy to see new ideas when I look at images and will try to bring those into the exhibit if the work is valid.
In some cases there must be pieces that you see as excellent in many ways but you cannot accept them into the show. Can you shed any light on what happens behind the scenes – do you argue for inclusion based on its qualities or do you question the parameters set for the show? Do outliers get accepted and why?
Behind the scenes behavior varies a lot. Sometimes jurors can’t agree and a piece I am deeply committed to is eliminated. Frequently there is a negotiation process if there are several jurors. Jurors can trade one elimination for an acceptance which can eliminate what one juror thinks is a great piece. I have had to eliminate work that just didn’t fit into the mission of the show even if the piece was excellent. I also have had to eliminate pieces that were too large for the exhibition space or would just suck all the air out of the exhibit.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am saddened by the closure of so many galleries. I know this is resulting in many exceptional artists giving up and moving to other professions. It takes tremendous dedication to be an artist or to own a gallery. If you want to work regular hours or make a good living, try something else for a career. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other but have to tell others this is not an easy road and the near future doesn’t look any better, and maybe worse, for the arts with government cut backs. I think the expression, “I didn’t choose ART, it chose me,” is still operable. Most artists I know would find this statement true. Fiber artists have an even harder path because of the prejudice against textiles in general.
- If you have the option to send various views or details, be sure to send a full component of images. If you have good images, the more information you can give the juror, the better chance you have of being accepted. Usually one object doesn’t represent you as well as the full component allowed. A juror wants to see what you are creating and a single piece can make the juror feel that you might have hit it lucky once but the rest of the work might be weaker.
- Always review what you are sending on a full computer screen and not on a cell phone. Look at how all the images look together.
- Be self critical and try to think how the juror will think. Even if you don’t get in a particular show, it might be good for a certain juror to see you work. I have rejected someone from a juried exhibit but felt that their work fit with a show I was curating.
- Before spending money on an entry fee, make sure what you are submitting fits within the show prospectus.
- Read all the directions and follow them carefully, especially the dates. If you are accepted, follow all the rules and don’t think you can be the exception.
- Put all dates on your calendar.
- When preparing your work for shipping, remember that the work will be shipped two times.
- All shipping materials should be new and able to withstand two shipments.
- Act like the person unpacking the shipment and repacking has an IQ of 30. Write out clear and concise directions for repacking and tape to the inside of your box.
- Put your name on shipping materials so there can be no mistake about which are your materials. Many times inexperienced packers are responsible for the return of work
Jane Sauer was a fiber artist for over 25 years before owning Jane Sauer Gallery. She has work in over 20 museums, has received two National Endowment for the Arts Grants, in addition to other grants. Jane is part of the Archives of American Arts Smithsonian Institute and has served on many art related boards including serving as Chair of the American Craft Council. Ms Sauer has spent her entire life making art and has spent her adult life supporting the arts and artists. She says, “I guess this is what makes me a qualified juror.”