Art picking


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, I was an art picker. My fellow pickers were art instructor Victor Arcega and popular sculptor Craig Benson. I don’t know about them, but I think this was the biggest show I’ve ever juried. There were 852 works entered (with a fee of $8). The organization asked for 450 finalists, but we erred on the side of what we thought was quality and selected 320 (with a fee of $35 to hang). Quite a few reasonable works were left on the auditorium floor.

Crawling down the rows of double and triple-stacked works, we fretted about omitting a “sleeper” — perhaps some new kid on the block who could use the encouragement. We crawled back — three, four times. The job took eight hours.

I’m pretty sure the best way to jury is to have silent, independent jurors. Ones that don’t influence one another. Ideally the jurors don’t know the names or reputations of artists entered. Ideally, any single “in” vote gets the work in. By and large we met these criteria. When we came to the dozen or so finalists — the money-winners — things got more difficult. There were lots of candidates for best in show, juror’s choice, etc. To me it’s like parking a ’32 Bentley next to a ’99 Ferrari — I’d take either. This is where we talked them over — each juror bringing his own perspective. At the countdown, jurors “sell” work to one another.

Widely advertised, this show had a range of entries. It exemplified current trends — fewer landscapes, more florals — many in close-up format. There were a few sixties-type abstracts and many bright “vibrators,” a few thoughtful designy items, gold leaf, origami, collage, flottage, string-pull. One remarkable lithograph appeared to have crushed cranberries. Everything from photo-derived still life with buns, cakes and whipped cream — to the inevitable bottoms fresh from life class. Mixed-media is big in the current stew — artists these days are not afraid to throw paprika into the pot.

While collections like this are influenced by local schools and popular workshoppers, they also show the collective consciousness of a locale. But for us parachuted jurors, quality has to be in style. Competency, composition and craftsmanship are still big issues, and our gang picked these. I think.

Best regards,


PS: “I’ve never had an easy relationship with critics. I hold a lot of homicide in my heart. If this was another time, I’d be packing a piece.” (Jim Dine)

Esoterica: The woman from the local newspaper came in. She was knocked over. “I didn’t know there were this many artists around here,” she said. We told her that art is a growth industry. Victor was looking at a floral. “It’s too sweet,” he said. “But it talks to me,” said Craig. “Are you people friends?” asked the paper lady. “We are now,” I said.


Volunteer was there
by Carolyn Smith, Victoria, BC, Canada

I was there as a volunteer on the previous day when the work was brought in. I started bright and early at 8 am and by noon I was tired. You must have been exhausted physically and mentally. We started steady and slow. We had categories: watercolour, acrylic, mixed media, etc., in nice neat rows. Around 11 am (and it went until 8pm) we were running out of room! They kept coming and coming and coming. The rows doubled and tripled. Overwhelming. Huge, huge pieces to small 8x10s lovingly wrapped and all carefully moved as to not bump their special baby. Trucks backing in with sculpture on their pedestals. I pointed out to one artist that there was a black scrape on her painting she didn’t notice in the frenzy of admittance. “I need an eraser and a blade,” she demanded. She looked at me like I had one in my back pocket, she looked left and right, as if we all had damage kits or something! I put her on to someone else, as the next entry pushed forward.

I was astounded as artists from all nationalities, some nicely dressed, some haggard and needing a shave, some indignant when someone accidentally bumped their piece! Some reluctantly handed over their loved ones and stood momentarily empty as to maybe never see them again. I knew who was going to jury, as it was in the paper, but when I bolted for the door at the end of my shift, I didn’t know how you were going to pull off this mission impossible, and hoped all three of you had your ‘men in black’ suits on!


Who’s who
by Tricia Migdoll, Australia

Here in Oz, we have an annual portraiture prize called the “Archibald Prize.” Each year the country holds its breath to see who may win and why. We never get to hear why, and so I am continually puzzled. I figure it must be either because of the famous “who” who was painted — or the famous “who” who did the painting. I’m happy to hear that your process seemed to be fairer.

(RG note) It’s unfortunate, but if entrants had to know “why,” in writing, the jury process would take weeks. It seems to me it’s best that entrants know that the jury business is a shaky field. It’s a consolation that one of our jurors, Craig Benson — who is now highly successful and well collected, mentioned that his early experience was nothing but rejections from group shows. Incidentally, the winners of the show we juried are secret and will not be announced for a month. Four of the 32 finalists for the 2003 Archibald are shown here — the winner was the fourth one — with the orange background.


 Archibald Prize


“Rachel Ward”
by Jan Williamson


“Rabbi Apple”
by Robert Hannaford









by Martine Emdur


“Richard Flanagan”
by Geoffrey Dyer









Next time
by Donna Brower Watts, Aloha, Oregon, USA

I have entered many juried shows — gotten into some, been turned away from others. The first few rejection letters were pretty tough to take. Then I began to realize the terrific job that the jurors have in coming to those final decisions. So now I tell myself that it’s not that my painting wasn’t good, just that someone else’s was better. As I tell friends, when I get a rejection letter now, first I cry (yeh), then the determination to succeed next time sets in and I get back to work. I think we need to applaud the folks who take on the gigantic task of jurying, especially for some of the large shows where there are so many really excellent works to choose from.


Don’t encourage mediocrity
by Sue Bauman, Michigan, USA

I think it’s important for jurors not to choose a painting from a beginner who simply needs encouragement. While encouragement is always good and necessary, it is not fair to choose his/her painting if there is a better painting on the floor. In other words, you are telling the painter of the good painting that an amateurish, poor or fair painting is better than his/hers. I’d like to know others’ thoughts on this subject.


Just being there
by Naomi Shriber

I’ve just recently retired from a 9-5 job and can now totally devote myself to art. I’ve always been an artist, but was never able to work consistently. I just finished an art workshop where the underpainting was yellow and the drawing was in red (acrylics). When overpainting and filling in details, much red showed through, adding a zest and zing to the otherwise green and yellow landscape. Also, I’ve just entered my paintings in a local art show (to be judged in September) and even if I don’t place, just being back in the art world again is worth everything to me.


You never know
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA


painting by Julie Rodriguez Jones

A couple of years ago, I entered a competition in New York that ended up having a couple of thousand entries. They selected 23 pieces to be exhibited from an even fewer number of artists. Imagine that task. It was early on when I was just figuring out how to paint an astronomical piece so I only had a few images to choose from. When I prepared my entry, there was one slide that I was going to toss out but didn’t want to waste my $25 entry fee so submitted all 3 slides. That piece was one of the 23 that were selected. There were press releases and hubbub. Funny though, I didn’t think it was my best piece. You never know about jurors and what they might choose. Though I have work accepted across the U.S., what one thinks is a worldwide outstanding piece, another might not even consider for a local show. It taught me a valuable lesson about jurors. It really is all about individual taste.


Too sweet
by Marney Ward


painting by Marney Ward

Just that one comment of Victor’s, “it’s too sweet,” made me see red. What is wrong with our society that sweetness, loveliness and beauty are not acceptable, while darkness, dissonance and chaos are? So often I have been told that my work is “lovely” and I sense the comment is not a compliment, but a put-down, a dismissal. It’s not serious art if it’s beautiful. Pity. Fortunately there are enough members of the general public for whom “it’s lovely” is a genuine compliment. Anyway you all deserve a big round of applause for that mammoth task of jurying.

PS: I bet at least 75% of the artists who submitted to the show were women, but all of the jurors were men. Do you think men jury differently from women?

(RG note) I recommend that women be included on juries. I did so this time. Also, three jurors are okay, but five are better.


Let the public judge
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA


painting by Sandy Sandy

I have mostly given up on the juried group art show circuit. It just isn’t worth my precious time and effort. I have instead entrusted the public as my judge. When they reach into their pockets and proclaim my work as “best in show” by purchasing a painting, it fuels my fire and affirms the direction of my path.

Some artists today do wacky mixed media experimental things and “push the limits of their media” merely to stand out and attract attention and awards from jurors who won’t understand it or are simply looking for something different. The chances of finding someone who wants to purchase this type of piece for their home or office is generally slim. I see artists becoming frustrated because although they are an award winner, their work does not sell. I need to sell, for the money and for the personal, emotional and professional encouragement.

Robert Henri wrote, “The pernicious influence of the prize and medal giving in art is so great that it should be stopped. History proves that juries in art have been generally wrong.” Henri then goes on to point out how most of the impressionists couldn’t even get past the jury of admission. He adds: “The reason for the survival of the award system is purely commercial.” From your figures, it does seem that your show sponsor stands to make a tidy bundle from this event! Many art associations couldn’t exist without them.

(RG note) In this case the hanging and submission fees go toward the prizes. There won’t be much left over, and that, I think, goes to the local Community Arts Council. Also, in this case, the full amount of any sale goes directly to the artist. There is further input to this subject at  Fortress artist.



I live in a small university town. It’s very political here. Our club made the fatal mistake of inviting university art professors to jury a show. This had the result of excluding the work of popular and successful artists of our community. University students who had less than a dozen (although large) paintings to their credit were chosen over seasoned veterans. I’m one of the seasoned veterans who has supported a wife and family by my art. It seems that the ivory tower prefers work that shows little or no competence, is devoid of composition, and thumbs its nose at craftsmanship. Our group is disappointed and we are going through a great deal of anxiety as several members have resigned and others are threatening to.

(RG note) An academic or two may lend a valuable “cutting edge” flavour to the jury process. The idea is to balance the jury mix — some practicing, professional artists definitely ought to be included. I like the idea of dragging in the mayor for “mayor’s choice.” That’s not political, that’s fun.


Depressing exercise

I’m a professional painter who is frequently called upon to jury shows for various organizations. I do it out of community spirit and curiosity. But I have to say that mostly the exercise is depressing. I personally never enter competitions. These shows are generally entered by hobby painters who can only dream that they will sometime have fame and fortune. Prizes, no matter how large, give false hope and have no relationship with the reality of being an artist. Also, low priced work in municipal venues interferes with the commercial gallery system and in the long run lowers standards. To be fair some artists get a viable kick out of taking part in competitions — for others it may be the only chance they have to be in front of the public. A lot of art should be kept hidden away. As I am well known please leave my name out.


In praise of clickbacks
by David Lloyd Glover, Hollywood, CA, USA


painting by David Lloyd Glover

I always look forward to the clickbacks for the surprisingly good art that is posted. It never ceases to amaze me, the vast array of interesting work that is being produced these days. I am not sure how many are in the professional “making-a-living” category of working artists but that doesn’t take away from the qualities of the pieces. All painters know the struggle it takes to create new and well executed works and it is gratifying to see the successes achieved by so many. In my professional travels I find so much of the same because of the proliferation of dealers who want essentially copies of the big star painters. It gets tiring seeing variations on the same old stuff so I enjoy fresh ideas.

(RG note) Thanks for the appreciation. This site is valuable because it is quick on a subject and doesn’t waste artists’ time. Everybody tells us that it has “personality.” While we are pretty heavy on the edit, it’s also democratic. By far the majority of new artists come here because they were forwarded by friends. Either the letters or sections of the Painter’s Keys site were copied and sent, printed and handed out, or, it appears, forwarded to a group. Please feel free to go ahead and make someone’s day.







Juno Doran, Manchester, England


“Black #6”
by Juno Doran


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.

That includes Gail Werschler who wrote, “Knowing there is that much wonderful art out there makes me wonder why artists put so much pressure on themselves to sell their work.”

And Victor Gerloven of Leland, NC, USA who asked, “Why was this show or any show “juried”? Makes no sense.


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