Yesterday, among the email that came in for the launch of The Painter’s Post, there was a note from Pam Ryan of Wilmette, Illinois. She attached a letter she received from an anonymous juror after one of her works was rejected from an exhibition. It was a thoughtful, tasteful, perhaps boilerplate letter that said in part:
“Whether or not your work was included in this show should not discourage you from continuing your artistic pursuits.” The juror told how, in a similar situation, she had had her photographs rejected by four different jurors for four different reasons.
The juror went on to say: “It’s vital for any artist to nurture and protect that which makes their vision unique. One needs to go inward instead of outward and learn to trust your own inner guide.”
“If you have one rule to follow,” she wrote, “I suggest cultivating a dialogue with your inner voice, listening to the clues your own images offer.”
This is not unwarranted praise or gratuitous esteem building. It’s an expression of one of the basic truths of art. It brings to mind the very real question of how much one really needs from anyone else. It seems to me that the act of art is at its best when the interaction simply takes place between the artist and the work itself — outside the world of criticism and inside the world of inner knowledge.
I compare each creative effort to the solo ascent of a steep mountain where the path is jagged and crossed with crevasses and fissures. Only a strong shot of personal desire gets you to the top. No tour guide or outrageous misfortune can spoil the hike — nor can gratuitous praise or commercial success. Art just is. Each work of art is its own mountain, its own beauty and reward.
“Listening to the clues your own images offer,” is the key to the juror’s wisdom. While knowledge of tools and the love of motif may be in your backpack, and all mountains may be measured by their previous heroes, art must exist for you in a place beyond the judgment of others.
PS: “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” (Carl Jung)
Esoterica: This commitment comes in different supply to each of us. The imaginative may need to focus, while the naturally focused may need to develop and build the soft muscles of imagination. Here’s an exercise: Slow your breathing, review in your mind’s eye your vision, glance at the clock and fixate on the work at hand for an hour. Be deliberate, steady and patient. Be audacious, clever and generous. Let your strokes be sensitive and brave, as if you were participating in a mutual, loving act. Look, think, stroke. Leave your strokes alone. The circle will not be broken.
Andy’s rejection letter
by Dena Noble
I recently purchased an Andy Warhol purse just because I liked it. I was pleasantly surprised when I got it home and took everything out that was inside and there was a letter to Andy Warhol from the Museum of Modern Art, New York dated October 18, 1956.
Dear Mr. Warhol:
Last week our committee on the Museum Collections held its first meeting of the fall season and had a chance to study your drawing entitled “Shoe” which you generously offered as a gift to the Museum. I regret that I must report to you that the Committee decided, after careful consideration, that they ought not to accept it for our Collection. Let me explain that because of our severely limited gallery and storage space we must turn down many gifts offered, since we feel it is not fair to accept a gift of a work which may be shown only infrequently. Nevertheless, the Committee has asked me to pass on to you their thanks for your generous expression of interest in our Collection.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Director of the Museum Collection
P.S. The drawing may be picked up from the museum at your convenience.
Selling rejected art
by Veronica Greene-Lawless, Penn Valley, CA, USA
Two years ago I received a similar letter. It was bittersweet as I had already sold one of the pieces I was trying to enter. It went to the California coast and two others went to Canada. So by the time I had the rejection letter three pieces had sold. When I went to the show that had rejected my paintings I noticed that all the paintings that were there were by artists that had booths to sell their other art work. I guess you just have to learn what shows to enter and try to find out what type of art the jurors are looking for. How to do this? I have no idea. I just keep trying and know that my art gets better with every piece I do.
How many jurors?
by John Ebel, Tallahassee, FL, USA
I’ve always had a problem with exhibitions that are juried by only one juror — too subjective — I’d like to see exhibitions have at least three jurors, all of whom have to agree on entries and selections for awards. This seems to be more intelligent.
I studied under the British watercolorist Harold Hilton who advocated public vote only.
His reasoning included that the public cuts through the attempt of artists to make a particular subjective statement and sees a work for its artistic value. What do you think?
(RG note) Thanks, John. Agreed — one’s deadly, two’s trouble, three’s company, four’s a crowd. Regarding public vote or the “People’s choice” type of award, it’s undervalued by the experts and underused by the folks on the board who make the decisions. Scrabbling for expert opinion is a chronic human weakness.
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Worrying about what others think
by Bren Nichols
I have a fine arts training background and I’m dedicated to my painting but have never quit my day job. Hence, my art has been “part time” and although I’ve been in many shows, juried and non-juried, I’ve only recently approached a Gallery about my work. I’m awaiting their response and going through the normal process but I find that I’m too concerned about what they will think. I have to really kick myself psychologically because I do know better. Receiving your timely letters, that act as “reinforcements” for me, you could say, help keep me on the right track. So, I just want to thank you and your team for all the effort and time you put into sharing your wisdoms.
Free at last
by Elizabeth Concannon, St. Louis, MO, USA
This reminds me of years of such letters or notices. In the beginning I saved them with a file — and hoped that somehow they would provide some insight as I painted or something. Then one day it became necessary to clean out the file after a number of years had gone by — and I found all of those rejections and put them exactly where they belonged — I papered the bathroom of my studio with them. It was cathartic! Behind me! Free at last! Since those years, I have been in many shows and rejected by many as well and the letters are, as you suggested, a boilerplate style “sorry but don’t give up” stuff — which is even funnier after 50 years or so. If there are enough exhibits in which to participate regularly, those letters lose their power over us. Styles come and go, art appreciation is often quirky, we are who we are (at least for now) and our art comes from us.
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Remark hurt for a short time
by Podi Lawrence, UK
Oh that all Open Exhibitions had such a wise juror. After a successful career as an artist in Europe, where I won many commissions and, among several other awards, a Bronze Medal at the Salon de Paris 1994, I moved to Canada for a multitude of reasons. After slowly integrating myself in the local art scene by entering shows and exhibiting in galleries, I became a member of the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. In the Open Show of a well known Society in Ontario I received an honors mention and was encouraged to apply for membership. I received my letter of rejection and was summarily dismissed with the comment, “not being up to the standard of this Society.”
That remark did nothing but hurt, if only for a short time. I never applied to that Society again. I am currently licking my wounds in Panama — and enjoying every day I paint to my own inner self.
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Learning from rejection
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA
I’ve learned more from being rejected than from being accepted into an exhibition. Acceptance builds your resume and gives your ego a boost, but a rejection stays with you longer, and most importantly, you learn more from it. You begin to question your work, which is not a bad thing, and you explore what it is about it that got it rejected. On the other side of this questioning and re-evaluating, two basic things can be learned: that the work truly is not up-to-snuff and you understand more about why it was rejected and what you can do to make it better; and the other is that it IS a good work, and therefore keep working and trust yourself.
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Develop a thick skin
by Susan Liles, Missoula, MT, USA
Many of us fear criticism, but as artists we must develop a thick skin and realize that each potential buyer or juror has their own personal taste in art. A good juror should consider the art picked for a show in a gallery should have a well rounded variety of pieces; landscapes, portraits, still life, and abstracts to appeal to the buyers. All landscape paintings would make for a boring show. If a painting is not quite up to the juror’s standards as “compared” to other submitted pieces, then it is rejected.
We are our own worst critic and we should be. This makes us strive to always do better, but we should never beat ourselves up as we face one person’s rejection or harsh criticism. One thing to remember is that not all people understand what makes a painting “great art.”
Taming the beast
by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada
I feel honored when I am asked to jury, but also feel the pressure knowing that some of the juried painters will place too much weight on my decisions. It can be an onerous responsibility. When a painter looks primarily outward for validation, the pendulum swings from elation to depression and back again, as the result of a juror’s decision. Neither state is desirable if one is going to stay in this game. Those of us who do our painting for a livelihood have had to learn to tame that beast in order to continue. I really resonate with the “wise juror” whose letter you quoted. Validation needs to come from within first, and the jurying process feedback needs to be weighed by the individual receiving it, rather than attaching meanings to it that may have no basis in reality. If submitting to the jurying process feels a bit like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” then perhaps it’s wise to not enter that arena until better prepared. It does get easier with practice. Ask me how I know.
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Lonely at the leading edge
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA
Everyone quoted in this writing touched upon the essence of our relationship with our work. Work/Play, Discipline/Freedom. My favorite quote and philosophy for living is appropriate here. Without needing elaboration, this thought from Lao Tzu teaches, defines and inspires in two sentences:
“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
It is sometimes lonely on the leading edge. An opinion, a harsh critique, a gentle nudge can catch us off-balance. What others think is a fine thing but it’s not the only thing. I KNOW when I’ve done well. I know when I have produced less than I can do. I am my own standard, enjoying both directions — behind me and beyond!
Holed up after report of ‘terrible work’
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada
A few months ago I received comments on a rejection which stated that the work was ‘terrible.’ I was gutted. Prior to that I had a number of pieces accepted and even received a prestigious award for one. The comments have caused me to hole up in my studio, to paint for the love of it, and to forgo any more submissions for now while I lick my wounds. I find it interesting how there are times when my work receives accolades and others when it is rejected — it tends to feel that I am personally being attacked.
I took a small hiatus from the art world but refuse to give up my love of painting.
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Beyond the judgment of others
by Antoinette Ledzian, Stonington, CT, USA
Recently I was invited to juror a photography show on Cape Cod, held by a local Camera Club. As there was no theme, and an eclectic assortment of entries from traditional to photo transfers to photoshopped versions from which to choose, my job was challenging.
Also, the organizer of the show happened to be my “host” and had submitted pieces which were unknown to me. My biggest fear was that I would choose his work above the others, and be stoned to death at the opening! The moment I set eyes on the exhibition, I knew intuitively which piece would receive the blue ribbon, but continued to spend a few hours making sure I wasn’t reacting soley on that spontaneous feeling, and fearful the image might, indeed, be that of my friend/curator. At another point, a wonderful photograph, well deserving of a prize, seemed to have a tea stain on the mat and I wrestled with another decision. I judged on composition, balance, interestingness, technique, mastery of medium, value, color, creativity and emotional impact . . . bottom line — did it speak to me, grab hold and leave me breathless!
At the opening, I had constructive conversations with both winners and non-ribbon getters. Some people were surprised they had won first place in other shows and not even placed in this one! I wondered how and why they resubmitted? What were they trying to accomplish . . . a reinforcement that their pieces were “definitely” prize winners in the eyes of ALL judges?
It all had a happy ending, in a way! I was relieved I hadn’t chosen one piece by my host, although he kidded me for the next two days about not even placing (and didn’t poison me before leaving town). What I “thought” was a tea stain on the mat of a piece I did choose for honorable mention, was on the glass and removed with a lick of a finger (I recommend CLEANING glass before the judge enters!).
And yes, I AGREE, “art must exist beyond the judgment of others.”
watercolour painting, 26 x 17 inches
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, 2013.
That includes Anne Elisabeth Nitteberg of France, who wrote, “I really started to paint when I got over the part that it meant a lot to me that other people’s meaning was the real judgment of my work. Now I judge myself while I’m painting. If I discover that it is impossible to have a dialog, I paint over what wasn’t meant to be.”
And also Susan Bainbridge of Ramona, CA, USA, who wrote, “I was curious as to who might have written the wise words you quoted, so I googled around and I believe I might have found your “anonymous juror”: She may be Jane Fulton Alt.”
And also Jon Rader Jarvis who wrote, “Writing about art-making requires different skills while touching that inner child and communicating that contact.”
And also Asma Abbasi of Pakistan, who wrote, “I bless you, I pray for you and I read your letters with my deepest concentration.”
Enjoy the past comments below for The wise juror…