Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

A Uniform Body of Work

What gets into the best shows?

Of course the stock answer is, “it depends”. Juries like different things, and what gets into a show one year may not work the next year. Many shows change out the jurors yearly to keep things fresh.

Three things that seem to run through any body of work that will help get you into the better shows:

Theme

one clear theme that runs through the work helps. It can be general or specific. Barns, landscapes and palm trees, while obviously thematic in nature, are somewhat overworked, and are harder to execute to stand out in a jury room. Different counts to a jury. If they see that your approach to flowers is obviously different from the other twelve entrants with flowers, your chances are better of getting into that show.

On the other hand, if the theme is TOO narrow, the jury will think you have no depth. Choosing shots that present you as a three-dimensional artist will help. Point and counterpoint — melody, chorus, coda — to borrow a musical motif.

Style

As someone pointed out earlier, it helps to be unique or even “extreme” in how your theme is handled — the more unique the better. Color versus black and white — pick one. Juries tend not to like a presentation that has both. I know of one photographer who uses a Holga and all of his work, while not done specifically with this instrument, tends to follow along with his painterly approach to light and subject. Sepia toning is another example, or infrared x-ray photos… A unique aspect ratio — square or panoramic might work. Always working with green. Many photographers have adopted the “Tuscan” style — large florid canvasses of light, depicting the Italian countryside and architecture. It sells, it’s a style, and they get into shows.

Presentation

while closely tied to style, is more about consistency of execution and tying it together with your booth shot. Some juries view all of the slides in a row (simultaneously), others will group them over and under (3 + 3 simultaneously), and yet others will show them sequentially. Knowing this can help you choose images that present your work in its strongest light.

Quality helps here, too. Technical quality in the work, and technical quality in the slides. Dust, scratches, crooked horizon lines, muddy contrast — all of these, while artistic in your mind, may telegraph unprofessional to the jury.

What works for one jury may not work for another jury. As a last thought, it’s silly to chase after what you think a jury is going to like at the risk of abandoning your artistic vision. After all, you got into this to be a photographer, right? It does help to drive your vision to think about these three elements however, as it will focus your work and help you refine your craft.

December 6, 2006

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