Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fuzzy Math

Remember that phrase from some long ago presidential debate? I am sure it had something to do with the economy and taxes but my use of it refers to how my brain is currently processing numbers. Actually, just about everything in my brain for the past week has been (and continues to be) fuzzy thanks to a congestion convention currently residing with the confines of my cranium. If humans could hack a hairball, I’d be an Olympic contender for sure! Hence the reason no show reviews or other relevant art related postings have appeared here for quite some time. I promise to get back on board in April!  

One art and math related issue did find itself surfacing into a coherent thought however as I ran errands on autopilot. The concept of how some juried show submissions are priced has always perplexed me so this post will try and make sense (ha!) of that idea. A common price point would be the 3 entries for $30 application, meaning an artist can submit up to three pieces of work to the jury for a flat fee of $30. For an open show which has no theme or overlying concept behind it, just an annual showcase style show, this makes sense.  Few artists work within the concepts of a limited theme so they may have many pieces of wide appeal as far as topics but all are representative of their personal style. The juror may select one, two or all three because the pieces are good enough to make the cut of available space and number allotted. Most artists would be fine with paying the flat fee and filling the three entry slots on the application with a selection of quality pieces representing their body of work. The fuzzy part happens when such a fee applies to a show with a very narrow point of view or purpose. When a specific theme is at hand, would it not make more sense to price each entry at a flat $10 fee per submission and make the maximum number of entries allowed be three?

The reason being, the quantity and quality of entries is likely to rise exponentially.  How so? Well, artists may have in their inventory only one piece which dovetails with the theme, or the time and interest to create only one piece for such a show but ends up not entering at all because the thought of paying $30 for one piece is not really fair. So what happens? One quality piece is not submitted because the artist does not want to pay for 2 empty slots on the form. The artists who have many pieces or even just enough to fill the three piece limit stand a far better chance of having their work in the final selection accepted category but the overall quality of work is not be as great as it could be because not as many pieces were sent to the juror. At least that is what I think I figured out somewhere along the way today. If each piece were counted as one price per entry, then many more pieces may be part of the selection process and the overall quality of the show would likely increase because the pool of potential entries from which to jury is much greater. Artists may create a specific piece for the theme show that is spectacular but also toss in a couple of clunkers just to justify the three for $30 plan. The judge then has to waste time viewing pieces that even the artist would probably admit are not the greatest. The artist also runs the risk of the judge liking a clunker piece and including it in the show even though the artist would rather not have had the piece seen in public.

Some shows which have similar fee structures will have an addendum entry price plan so artists can add more works to the jury pool at a one for one fee, usually seen as each extra work submitted costing $5 per piece up to a total of 5 or 10 more works. Talk about stuffing the ballot box! Poor artist A sends in his 3 pieces while artist B may have sent in 13 for the juror to choose from. It does not seem fair. However, if A can only afford one at $10 then B should have to pay for his 13 at $10 each too. Somehow that math makes just a bit more sense to me as far as putting the power of work quality back into the hands of the artist. If I know that each one is costing me the same amount of money, I will pick only my best, not waste money on filler pieces. Getting selected into such a show then seems more meaningful in that the competition was stiffer and the artists selected are showing their best works.

Some will argue that the juried show that requires entry fees is only a vanity exhibit. In some cases, that is probably true. But over the past 15 or so years, more and more upper end venues are requiring fees to cover the loss from dwindling sales, donations, grants and other sources of revenue. Some locations are even requiring a fee for a jury review when submitting a portfolio for exhibition consideration. In times past, those types of submissions were free. Museums and galleries are feeling the pinch so they are asking for a contribution to look at your work.  I am not a math wiz, but I am a lover of logic. So…logically, would it not benefit artists to be able to send one piece each to three different locations and in front of three different jurors if they cost a one for one fee, as opposed to three pieces to one location for only one juror costing the same amount of money? When no option exists to send only 1 or 2 pieces, then the artist is the loser right? (And you thought story problems ended in the 5th grade!). If “exposure” is the big la-de-da word of the art world, then why are venues working against us in pursuing that goal? 

Believe it or not, all this made sense somewhere between the tissue box and the air soap bottle perched precariously on my lap in rainy day traffic. I just hope I did not put the mail into the ATM machine and the checks into the mailbox.

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