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A Conversation with 2007 Long’s Park ZAPP Juror
Mary Jane Q. Cross

Would 23 Seconds be Too Much to Ask For?

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I was honored to be chosen to be one of four 2D jurors for the 2007 Long’s Park Art Show. The jurors are picked from the previous years exhibitors. I want to start out by saying that this is the first time I had ever juried a show, digitally or with slides. It was important for me to come into the experience with no expectations or agenda, completely a blank page. “Tell me what to do. I’ll do exactly what you say and I’ll be equitable and follow the instructions and do the job as best I possibly can.” Other jurors have done as much for me in the past and I wanted to fully give back to my industry. It was such an education and a privilege for me and I loved every minute of it.
We saw two images projected over two images with the booth off to the left. The booth shot led you into the four, and the four were in a square. My eyes started with the booth, circled then ended with the booth. This was a great balance and very comfortable visually. As best I can recollect, all we saw on the monitors were the thumbnails, artist statement and scoring template. There was nothing else to distract us.

In each medium, there was a five second preview followed by a 15 second slide show for scoring. And that preview was truly a delight to see because you’re not under any pressure to be making decisions during that time. I was deliciously experiencing the work of my peers. The time that you really are under pressure to make decisions is in the 15 seconds round, which I would have liked to be a little longer. I think there were 457 2D entries, with four pieces of art each plus a booth shot. So the volume of work that you’re seeing is substantial.

I was looking for work that was well done and consistent, a cohesive body of work with an established palette. I consider having an established palette to be somebody who’s not all over the place color wise so that the work looks like it’s by the same artist. It has a style and consistency that is apparent, a tonal harmony, a body of work. Those are the kind of things I was looking for.

The instructions we were given were to look at the five slides all at once and decide whether or not it is good work and give it a score from 1 to 5. We were to judge the quality of the work; nothing else. You don’t have to judge whether they’re going to be in the show. You don’t have to think about what the balance is, like do we have too many painters or photographers. You just have to judge whether or not it’s good, strong work.

I have criteria that I use for judging work. I’m not saying “judging” in the sense of judging shows, but judging individual pieces of artwork for whatever reasons they’re good or bad or whether they pass my muster or not. They’re the standards that I’ve been using since art school. Basically its composition and theme and impact and color and skill and all those things kind of rolled into one. I also like to see strong technical ability.

I wish there had been an elimination round to narrow it down, but our jurying was one day and that was it. Though the jurying became instinctual after a while, there were times we would say, “Hold on, can you go back?” And they did. But there were also several other things that I wished we could have slowed down for. Like the occasional artist statement, intriguing media, unusual subject or booth, or just to gaze at fine art work.

I would have appreciated an instruction that said, “Choose the best you can; however, know that for any reason you can also vote no, ‘No, I don’t feel that that’s what I’d like in the show.’” And though it may be good work, I would have rejected them as not meeting the vision of the show as I understood it to be.

Initially the artist’s statements were not read aloud. I’m a good speed-reader so I was able to read every single one of the statements on my monitor and still be able to look up at the art work. I remember one of the other jurors saying, “I can’t read those and look at the pictures at the same time.” So we began to spontaneously read many of them out loud. We as artists are people who are incredibly visually oriented. Doing two things at once, reading analytically and seeing 2D elements, is a real reach, especially under such constant visual stimulation. Remember, all this in 15 seconds. That’s because the people who are running the show aren’t us. They admire, respect and trust us, but it’s our livelihoods we are determining, a responsibility I took very seriously.

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An ethical question came up at lunchtime. Another juror, who knew that I was a strong, traditional painter, asked, “Did you feel like you were going to give a low score to somebody whose work you were in direct competition with?” And I said, “Gosh, I’m glad you asked that question. With my hand on the mouse, at the very first strong, traditional artist’s work I saw, I was shocked, then mesmerized by the quality and how good it was.” And I said to myself, “if I’m going to do a good job at this, I’m going to be as deadly honest as I possibly can be.” They’re good; they’re in as far as I’m concerned, and so I gave them a very high score. It became my standard.

And so the people at lunch, when they were asking me this, said, “Wow, I was dealing with all these ethical questions and wondering, what everybody else is doing?’” I guess my personal take on this is, “I have a much bigger judge over my life to deal with than a judge at an art show.”

 I was a little surprised at the results after I walked the show. Though the show looked as good as it usually does, I was disappointed that the quality of what I saw in a few of the booths did not quite live up to what I had seen in the slides. A few booths had more abstract, bright, flashy color and I realized that the time constraints of the jury process made it more difficult to see the technical skills of those few artists

And now I’ve got to say that the people at Long’s Park were thrilled with our judging after walking the show.

There is much more emphasis on the artist statement than most artists can possibly think. That short artist statement grabbed us more often than not. We were all rather quiet to begin with, there was not a lot of discussion, but then every once in a while one of us would say, “Did you read this artist’s statement? Do you realize you’re looking such and such?” And everybody said, “No.” And so I would advise applying artists to consider this part carefully, don’t blow it off by saying, “I like to paint nature because it speaks to me–” I’m sorry but that’s just a bunch of malarkey and double speak. You want to avoid broad statements like that. Being more thoughtful and specific is more important than you realize. I also think the allowable length of it (100 characters) falls short. It needs to be longer in length and needs to be read aloud by someone other than the jurors while we look at the work. I think educating the promoters might be as important as educating the artists who are applying. The promoters have to give a little bit more time and allow more words to describe our artwork. 23 seconds might have made me happier. And that was eight seconds more than we actually had.

In closing I would like to thank the volunteers and staff at Long’s Park for having a deep respect for the artists. They are one of the best shows in the country because they have an artist first mentality that is refreshing and works.

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