Saturday, January 16, 2010
Stark County Artists' Exhibition
Where do I begin with this one? I just got back from the opening night of the Stark County Artist’s Exhibition on view at the Massillon Museum. (Jan. 16 – Feb. 28, 2010). It was wall to wall people which is wonderful for the art world. There were young people (those I classify as 16 to 25), there were couples with very small children, there were the regulars in town, artists of all kinds, and the friends and relatives of the entrants. Quite the party and place to be for sure! Because I am in the show, I don’t want to comment on it as far as winners, losers, entries and so forth, go see it yourself and make your own judgments. I was surprised to find my piece with a rope around it, though nice, it is rather funny because the item on display is made of plastic bags for gosh sakes, and I just know some of those guys wanted to give it a squeeze to see if they really were that big. You will have to wonder what I am talking about right now because I won’t rise to the occasion and toast my own luck at being included.
I learned a valuable and lifelong lesson from one of my early mentors. As an art teacher, when a project needs “help”, one has to be careful how to go about making suggestions. A teacher should never, ever touch a student’s work. Nor can we criticize or judge, which is really hard to do when something is in dire need of some good advice. His approach (and one I completely stole from him) is to stand there and say….”now if it were mine, I would ____________” and off he’d go with much needed input that never felt personal or negative. So with that premise in mind….allow me to say, “If I were in charge of the show….”
1) Split the show into two categories. I counted 18 of the 53 entries that were photographs or so darn close to digital media that they should be in their own show. Only 35 were of “traditional” media meaning paint, sculpture, drawing and so forth. By the way, where are the clay pieces in town? Don’t we have a potter’s guild? Don’t you all participate? Two shows would pull in the strongest of both media and give many deserving artists a better chance to exhibit.
2) When selecting multiple entries from one artist, hang them together. Better yet, don’t take two from the same person. Hanging all of one artist’s work in one spot allows us to see the differences in the images and appreciate how style remains the same, but subject and compositional solutions may change. Does a department store put its one designer’s dresses in three different places? No, because you need to compare them, see the selections. Art is no different. But preferably, one by each artist is fine. When a judge picks two or more it says to me…”dang it, most of this stuff is crap so let’s take two or three of this person’s stuff because we like it already and we need to fill the space….”. A juried show is not a showcase of the select few; it is a representation of all who are worthy. Think of it as chocolates (sorry Forest), one is good; two are good, but not always good for you, so savior the one selected.
3) Framing should be part of the composition and overall presentation (like Carol Mendenhall’s work) or not noticeable at all (like Karen Hemsley). Frames that are just plain ugly, overwhelming, don’t match the work or even damaged, should not be used. The higher end juried shows will explicitly tell entrants that frames are to be simple and are subject to rejection of the piece upon arrival. Sell the art, not the frame. Make the buyer go to a local frame shop (like Cyrus) and pay him the big bucks to get it done to your liking. Stimulate that economy! Something that looks like it came out of my Grandma’s living room is not doing your work any justice at all, trust me on that okay?
4) Work by students and work done under supervision should not be allowed. Again, the higher end shows don’t accept it, why? Because student and class work have had someone else help with the judgment process. The pieces may have been subject to critique, able to be redone, had help in making them better via outside advice and so forth. The “professional” artist or those who work alone don’t have such luxury of judgment unless a friend is nearby to tell you it stinks. Soloists must rely on their own instincts, training, judgment and eye to decide if a piece is worthy of submission. Establish a student division of entries and let us see what is coming out of our art schools and how the next generation is looking at life.
5) Beware of the digital submission process, especially where realism is concerned. Some pieces can look a whole lot better on a CD than they do in person. It is both a good and bad thing to happen in the art world. Back in the day of the dinosaurs, slides were the only way to enter a show and one could not enhance them. Now, with digital media, (and I am as guilty as the next guy so this applies to me too) we can perform a bit of plastic surgery via the adobe doctor and make images just a bit prettier than they really are. Again, the top juried shows hold a second round selection process for this very reason. Once the work arrives, if it is not as good as the submitted entry, bye-bye baby.
6) Paint the walls of the gallery a flattering color for the art. I was saddened to see that some of the pieces were not well presented due to the color of walls upon which they were displayed. Case in point, the textile by Catherine Theodore. It was a gorgeous work, very subtle and difficult to do on a loom, but it looked awful on the teal wall. Also, Carole Mendenhall’s work in reds, blacks and grey was not done any justice by hanging on a purple wall. Artists work hard on their color selections, so the venue should not overwhelm the work. Stay neutral and let the art make a statement.
7) Always include a juror's statement. Tell us what you were thinking during the selection process and what you were looking for while making choices. What are your overall impressions of the show and what words of advice do you have those not selected? As artists, we give over our visions to your judgments, the least you can do is provide some feedback. In a way, we are paying for that with our entry fees along with the award money passed out to the winners. All I know about you is your name and your job title. This time around, the show allowed us to submit statements to assist the jurors in understanding our work, then give me something back so as to understand yours.
Okay, I am getting far too long on this entry. But I do have one more word of advice for judges. If you accept the job to judge (and you work for a gallery) then the top prize should also include a solo show for the Best in Show winner (Congrats Michele, you are a visionary) and a dual show for second and third place. If the pieces are good enough for you to put on top in our museum, then they should be good enough for yours too. My husband has a theory about this aspect of shows, and perhaps I will share that another time.
Finally, words for a few of my fellow artists: Jennie Lambert, “Awakening” is a great photo for us nature lovers and looks like it could be a scene from the SyFy channel, good job!; Brian Robinson, the rainbow was a joy, thanks for putting it in there. I am learning pastels and I learned from you this evening; and Diane Belfiglio, you don’t know this, but I have followed your work since your days at Akron U, I am glad you stay true to your vision even though your media of choice has changed.