Entering juried shows

It's a major award! ...or the value of juried shows

Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence VII, 45 x 45 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
It has been awhile since I won a jurors choice award in a show. My piece Emergence VII was chosen as the juror's choice award in the Handweaver's Guild of Boulder show, Conversations. And I will admit that that made me happy. It also made me think again about the value of juried shows or shows of any kind.

This is what the juror, Jo Fitsell, had to say about my piece:
This show well represents both the way boundaries can be pushed and the intense beauty of working within them. The one piece which seems to bridge both worlds, Emergence VII, bravely struts out on its own with plenty to say. Yes, the shapes are large and graphic, but the artist also includes shadow with the power, and captures intrigue by communicating through color. A very powerful piece.
 So thanks for that! It is quite an encouragement to keep working, these little bits of recognition.
I have been thinking a lot about juried shows lately. There are moments where I am quite sure I'll never enter another one, though I've always changed my mind in the long run. This particular show was a local thing and I entered thinking that it was a way to show support for my local guild and to get tapestry out into the community.

I do think that shows are one of the things that can help us push back against the resistance that comes with being an artist. (See Steven Pressfield, The War of Art for a great description of resistance.) For many of us, having a deadline like a show we want to be in actually makes us sit down at the loom every day and produce inches.

Unless it takes us farther from the most important thing--our experience of our creation. I have also found myself working toward some specific show and losing track of what it was I was actually trying to express. I can't let the thought of my piece hanging in a particular venue shape what it is I'm actually working on. And to be honest, not once when I started working on a piece for a specific show did I get in.

I also think a lot about multi-media shows versus tapestry-only shows. When you go to see art, you don't usually see a whole gallery full of the same medium. I think tapestry-only shows are a bit odd actually. I do appreciate being able to go to a tapestry show and having so many examples of wonderful work to study and learn from. But when I stand back and think about the impact of the whole gallery, I wish for something else to challenge my interest somehow. Of course shows could be designed or curated in such a way to address a certain idea all in tapestry, but likely that wouldn't be your general-entry sort of experience.

All I'm really saying is that I think tapestry artists need to broaden their horizons. Let's enter shows about something and that likely contain various art media. Lets put our work out there where artists working in other mediums will see it. Where curators and dealers will notice it and say, "Hey, I didn't know anyone wove tapestry anymore. This is good!"

And if we continue tapestry-only shows, let's consider loosening the guidelines a little bit. Who cares if the warp shows? Isn't the idea the piece is expressing more important than that it follow a particular definition of tapestry? Let's be more human and open up conversations about what we make.

But above all, let's keep making things. Maybe we'll even win a major award!

Secrets of a tapestry volunteer (Part 1... "Don't worry")

I have learned a great deal about shows from being one of the co-chairs for the American Tapestry Biennial 10 this year (the American Tapestry Alliance's biennial international juried show). I have little to no decision-making power, but I do have an inside seat into how the thing works. And it has been eye-opening. I'm not going to tell all the secrets here because frankly, we need volunteers (and honestly, it has been totally worth it anyway). But here are a few tips for entering an international juried show.
  1. If the show is in the USA and the dimensions are asked for in inches, please don't send me centimeters. I have to go and convert each and every one of those numbers because the size of the show is measured in feet which correlates to inches. And I know that it is crazy we still use feet and inches over here when the rational world uses the metric system which frankly makes way more sense, but trust me. It is a lot of work to convert all you metric-people's centimeters to inches. (Don't worry, I converted all the centimeters.)
  2. If the prospectus says "show the edges of the tapestry if they will be visible when the piece is shown," then don't crop them out of your photograph. A photo with the edges showing looks very different than one with the edges cropped. (Don't worry, we took both this time... but next time, don't crop!)
  3. Photo sizes. Yoy. I can't believe the variety. Some photos were 35 KB (WAY to small by the way) and some were 20 MB (WAY too big by the way). This is just something I have to deal with, but try to find a happy medium. There are pixel requirements on the prospectus. (And don't worry, I fixed your photos or asked for new ones.) I see a blog post coming about how to resize your photographs! It actually isn't the easiest thing especially if you don't have the right software.
  4. Send photos. Seriously. Some people didn't. (Don't worry, I asked you for them if you didn't.)
  5. If the prospectus says that October 31 is the "received-by" date, this means we aren't accepting any after that date. It is not a postmark date. Many shows use postmark dates. Make sure you check! (Don't worry, I emailed you if you missed it.)
  6. If you are challenged by the online entry, consider getting your entry together and mailing it early. I would far prefer the online method as it is faster for me, but some people have weird browsers or old computers and the online entry just didn't work for them. And what the juror sees is the same in the end regardless of whether you entered online or through snail mail.
  7. If you use someone else's PayPal account to pay, especially if you have a different last name from them, please leave a note that it is a payment for you. (Don't worry, I think we finally sorted all those out.)
  8. And lastly, if you are snail mailing an entry from a place that may take a long time to arrive or may actually get stuck in some mail-person's carry-bag for a couple weeks or whatever happens to random pieces of mail, send your entry really early. There is nothing worse than having to tell someone they weren't considered because their entry took over a month to get here. (Don't worry, if I didn't tell you this was you, it wasn't though I am super disappointed for the person it happened to!)
But don't worry....

Disclaimer: All of this is completely from my head. Please don't hold ATA responsible for my random grousing! I do hope these little tips help when the next show comes around however. I know I'll follow them (lesson learned!).

Seeing the entries for ATB10 was enlightening. It reinforced something Thomas Cronenberg and Jennifer Sargent said in my rejection letter for ATB9. The juror may well be a person we respect who has worked a long time in the fiber field and who we desperately want to hope will like our work. But that juror is attempting to create a cohesive show and the work that gets in does have something to do with the other pieces submitted. Just because your piece didn't get in doesn't mean it isn't amazing (believe me, there was some amazing, wonderful, fantastic work submitted to ATB10). It just means it didn't fit the juror's vision for this particular show. Or maybe it just means that she ran out of room and those last 5 huge tapestries just couldn't be accepted. Or maybe he just doesn't like green or flowers or hanging installation pieces or whatever. Don't take it personally. Keep entering. And above all, keep weaving.

(What the ATB9 co-chairs actually said was, "Please keep in mind that the selection for this show is that of one juror. He chose works that fit his vision. Many tapestries not selected for this exhibition could easily be selected for another show.")