Entering Juried Exhibits and Shows

By Anne Copeland

Do you feel stymied about what to enter in juried exhibits and shows? Are you getting consistent rejections? Here are some ideas that might help you to get better results.

The television program, American Idol, provides an interesting analogy for any fiber artist wanting to be accepted into juried shows. In a recent season, thousands of singers lined up and waited for a very long time to get in the door and audition. Some had hocked whatever they had to get there. And as you might suspect, there was tremendous stress and lots of tears and anger for those who didn't make it.

But a glimpse at the auditions in every geographic area gave us some very powerful clues about why so many didn't make even the first cut. It was pretty clear that many of those contestants had not really given a lot of thought to the nature of the competition itself. Singers came wearing bizarre costumes or clothing, sometimes even shocking the judges. Some just wanted to be able to say they had auditioned apparently, and for some, it was a big joke to be on television so that they could perform in some manner. Some came to dance, and others came with totally inappropriate songs, or voices that the singers themselves had apparently never even heard. They argued with the judges when they were not selected, and some even cursed the judges or acted in other entirely unprofessional manners.

While this example may seem far fetched from entering a juried fiberarts competition or challenge, there are actually a lot of issues that can apply. For example, how much time do you dedicate to determining whether a theme and guidelines of a competition or challenge, or whether a particular venue is actually appropriate for you, given your overall skills and experience? What is your motivation for entering the event? Are you just doing it to be able to let your friends know you have entered a major juried competition or challenge? Or do you perhaps have another personal agenda for entering? Have you researched the exhibit history of the particular competion or challenges, and if you know who the judges are, have you researched any other exhibits they have juried? It is usually pretty easy to find out about the judges as they are generally well-known artists and have a list, not only of their own exhibits, but those they have juried or judged.

Many contestants tried to copy the style of a favorite singer's style, and they failed to make it. Simon, the judge with the harshest tongue, would often say something to the effect of, "You cannot touch a song that has already been done so well. How much of your own style is really totally your own and not a classroom derivative or derivative from someone else's work you have seen and admired?

Some contestants forgot the words to their songs, or became so stressed while they were singing that they ended up in tears, or trying to make excuses for their errors. Are you honest with yourself about your work and your current level of accomplishment? Can you take a constructive critique without coming apart, or do you feel too fragile?

When asked by the judges before contestants performed why they wanted to be the next American Idol, many of them stumbled for words and ideas. They clearly had not thought beyond simply getting an audition. Can you speak articulately and enthusiastically about your work? Can you help others to feel excited about your work from what you are saying about it? Does your statement adequately fit your art, or have you just written something up to get the job done? Do you have a clear idea where you are going with your art?

As noted earlier, many rejections resulted from poor choice of costume or clothing, messy or inappropriate hairstyle, and the general way the contestants presented themselves. Do you have a professional appearance if you have to do present yourself in person? Can you remain calm and collected even as excited as you might feel about being accepted? Would you become flowery in thanking the jury and gush endlessly? Would you need to apologize to the jury for anything that is lacking on the fiberarts piece, such as a proper sleeve or backing that is bunched and inadvertently folded in places, or that perhaps has quilting that does not look very good at all on the back? Or would you be apologizing for getting your piece in late? One judge on American Idol told a contestant who apologized for forgetting the words in a song that you should never apologize for an error. You don't have to make excuses for anything either. Just stand by your quilt and realize that you got to this point with what you have.

Do your slides, or whatever other method of giving the judges that one quick moment to "get" who you are, really serve you well? Are they clear and taken in good lighting with no distracting backgrounds, folded over edges on the quilted art, wavy edges, or hands showing holding the art up, or a photo taken from a poor angle so that the perspective of the photo is distorted? What about your entry form and other printed literature that you might be required to submit? Is your entry form clean and legible? And is the literature you use to present yourself appropriate for the particular venue?

I remember a gallery show where some of the artists had sent their business cards to be placed out on the table by the entryway. A couple of the cards listed that the artists taught quilting classes, and it was stated in that manner. It was really inappropriate for such a venue where the artists are being presented to other artists and to potential collectors. To state that commissioned work is accepted is quite appropriate. So again, when you are submitting your literature to a jury with your entry form, etc., be sure you submit appropriate literature for thet particular venue you are trying to enter.

The contestants who end up in the finals are strong professionals. They don't complain and whine about long practice sessions, how tired they are, or anything else that might jeopardize their relationship with the judges. They come prepared, give it their all, and if they end up getting eliminated, they accept it with graciousness, knowing that there will be another time for them.

They have identified their goals for being part of the event, and they are focused entirely on those goals. They have committed to giving it their all, and they realize that getting to the top takes an incredible amount of consistently excellent work, and that they must always stretch themselves more each time they go on stage again. They have a strong belief in themselves so that when things don't work out as they planned, they can turn and go another direction. It isn't the end of their world. They are winners even if they don't win because they are not afraid to give their all to what they want in life and they also understand that even winning is not a permanent thing.

Regardless of what direction you are headed with entering juried venues, just remember that getting there doesn't end with making the work. That is just the picture. You have to provide the frame for it.