Sunday, April 25, 2010

More about juries and statements

The garden at the Writer’s Villa, Los Angeles

I can’t believe I’m sitting here in the SoCal sun, listening to the trickle of water in the fountain, and still thinking about critiques and artists’ statements. But that's the lot of one who checks her email assiduously. So here is a comment from CAP regarding my last post: "Art Jury, but not really":

Like “Concerned,” I'm puzzled why the panel disparages artists' statements, and then picks out one of which they approve.

Why not just address the work/slide?

Fair enough, the artist's intentions, are often not reflected in the work, may be poorly articulated in any case. But if I liked the art, this would not put me off. Their interpretation is simply not mine.

All feedback on work is useful of course, and if it comes from recognized figures in the art world, it at least helps the artist get some idea of the terrain. But my experience has been that occasional opinions tend to vary so widely it's hard to put much credence in any single remark.

Why not just address the work? Because the statements were submitted as part of the package, and we were there to evaluate the presentations. I’m not against artists’ statements per se, but I believe that everything anyone puts out into the world as a professional should be of a certain standard, or it doesn’t serve them. Duh! I shouldn’t even have to say that. Maybe if CAP liked the art, a stupid artists’ statement wouldn’t put him off, but it certainly puts that artist at a disadvantage against someone whose art is just as impressive and has an intelligent presentation. Further, few will be surprised to learn that being a critic is a labor of love. I write because of what I learn from the time I wouldn’t otherwise spend with certain work, and in a way I’m investing in that artist’s career—as I am when I’m on a panel and recommending someone for the honor that will advance it. Furthermore, whatever it is, my name is on it—I can’t afford to take a chance on someone who could turn out to be a dud.

Also it may seem to those who’ve had varying critiques in the studio but who haven't spent time on panels, that opinions in these situations could be widely disparate. The surprise (although not if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) is that they're not. Regardless of the number of jurists and entries, the first 70-80% are eliminated with complete consensus. It’s only when you get down to judging the finalists that there’s any discussion whatsoever. In this case I was overruled by my co-panelists and let stand, as one of the three “winners,” one artist whose work I found completely trite. But that’s not usually the case.

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