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The St Louis Image Workshop
February 25, 2012
review by Robert Wallis

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This material has been discussed in Larry Berman's posts on Art Fair Insiders many times. This time it is coming from a set of judges at a major art fair. I'm going to try and summarize what I gleaned out of the workshop, and what is applicable to most artists.
It was a long workshop. It started off initially with the organizers expecting 25 artists, and it grew, and quickly swelled to over 190 artists submitting work. Very much to the credit of the organizers, they agreed to address each and every artist. It started at 9:00 AM and was slow to get started, as was expected, while the judges got used to the public forum and personal critique and start picking up steam. Instead of the one hour lunch break, the judges got twenty minutes, and soldiered on with a few potty breaks tossed in until after 8:00 PM. I stayed there until about the last three or four artists were reviewed, and then the judges talked one-on-one to the few remaining artists that needed some additional help. For the artists, who weren't present, a webcast was available and instant messaging allowed questions and clarifications to be put to the judges.
Much of what has been preached in these forums about cleaning up the booths and consistency of work was hammered home by the judges.
A Consistent Body of Work
Consistency of work doesn't mean all identical pieces or same subject material, but it does mean that all the pieces need to be in the same style. Two bodies of work or occasionally three bodies of work would be evident in many of the submissions. All B&W photos of a waterfall, a couple of flowers, and a meadow are not the same body of work, even though someone might think, "They're all outdoors shots of nature, and they're all in the same style; i.e., Black and white". Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Many repeated examples of it does drive it home that the pieces need to be strongly connected and not tenuously connected by a wish. A comment was made by one of the jurors that they don't want to see examples of luck in getting some pretty pictures. Wood workers, as an example, were in for the same reasoning. One artist had a couple of outstanding tables and wood sculpture. The two different bodies of work could be enough to block them from going past the first round. They want to see a unified body of work whatever the media. One of the painters had some plein air work that had the consistency of subject material, where water was a unifying theme, but the style of brush work was sufficiently different from piece to piece that it would be difficult to make it into the second round. There had to be consistency that linked everything together.
One of the comments I picked up was that a strongly consistent body of work would stand a better chance of going forward than some outstanding work of higher caliber that was not consistent as a unified body of work. It may not have been spoken in that fashion, but that was the distinct impression I picked up. It has to do with the vision and direction of the artist. It's hard to understand the direction and vision of disjointed work, but the unified body of work is what will grab the understanding and appreciation of the judges in the brief moment of time they have. If they have to stop, think, and ponder what you're doing as an artist, you're done for the day as it were.
The Artist Statement
You can't slack off on the artist statement, contrary to what some of us have thought. For the photographers, you can skip the part about what printer you're using as part of the statement. I heard that quite a bit and it's irrelevant. If there is a part about materials, place it there. If anyone uses something recycled or repurposed, that seemed to register highly with the jurors. If you draw on influences from whatever movement or an artist, place that in the artist statement. Whatever you can say in the materials statement or artist statement that will make it easier for the judges to understand what you're doing and understand your vision, the better off you'll be.
The Booth
The much maligned booth shot turns out to be a much more critical piece of the puzzle. It can make or break your entry at the get-go. Don't slack off on it, or you'll be wondering why you're having to apply to so many shows just to get into a few. The issues that have been preached ad infinitum really are true. Here's the mantra I heard the entire day; Simplify and unify. I don't care if it seems false advertising, it's the same thing you do when you want to sell a house; stage the damn thing. If you don't get past the gatekeeper, it's all academic. Here's the big secret about staging the booth shot; it gives you an opportunity to submit more of your work and show the breadth of it. You want the jury shots in there, or you're screwed. No visible jury shots and they wonder what you're selling. No one says the jury shots have to be front and center, place them on the side (still visible) and get some more work in there on that back wall. Now you can have 4 to 6 more pieces with which to impress the jurors, and yes the work in the booth slide is visible.
An awfully high percentage of the booth shots were just not good, and more than once (actually many times), what was good competent work would have been knocked out because of an atrocious booth shot. Different work from the jury shots would seem like a no-brainer, but it happened many times and that would have been enough to be knocked out in the first round. The judge's comments were frequently, "You don't need to show or hang everything you've ever done in the booth shot".
Keep the booth simple, keep it clean, and get the frou-frou plants and tables out of there. You're not selling plants or casual tables with a guest book on it. That stuff can go back in during the show as far as I can tell, but they don't want to see it in the booth shot, and particularly as frequently the artwork was blocked by the extraneous stuff like that. One particular issue is make sure that work doesnít extend above the sight line of the top of the wall, and do not crop off your work at the edges of the booth shot. Whether a framed piece or wearable fabric, show it in itís entirety. Cropping it off diminishes it and reduces the effectiveness of the booth image.
Grid walls came in for their share of grief in the comments. Not because of what they were, but because of how they were used. Fabric artists seemed to get the worst of that, as only two or three shots of their booths made effective use of the display. Most wearable fabric booths had clothing on hangers packed in tightly, and the grid walls would obscure the work. The most impressive wearable fabric artists had their work hanging flat and straight on to the viewer, and would hang a piece of the grid wall more like a retail display. Show the work, not the grids.
Potters seem to have a problem with the work all merging into one undistinguishable mass. Arranging pedestals in descending order from the back corners forward seemed to be a good visual method of separating them out away from each other. Jewelers seldom had display photos across the back, and those are relatively inexpensive to have printed.
A key issue in booth design was to make sure the booth had a visual rhythm to it. As the jurors pointed out, you're spending large amounts of time and money on your work, don't blow it with an amateurish display, Some of the booth shots had 2D work sitting on the ground, and that received a fair amount of scorn as it looked like a trunk sale or yard sale. Place the same amount of thought and art design into the booth as you do your work.
The salient points of the booth shots are to get in close, crop out the ceiling as much as possible, show all the walls as best as possible (no corner shots), light it well, no open back walls showing the landscape behind, keep it clean and neat, and minimal.
The Art Images
Much of what has been said about the jury shots themselves is what we've been hearing around here. Use gradient backgrounds, don't use a white background, and keep all the jury shots in the same lighting style and make sure they match. Don't get too fancy with the Photoshop lighting effects to the point where the lighting becomes the focus of the shot. If the work itself is dark, make sure the image will separate out from the darker background and not get lost in the ZAPP black surround.
The two key things to take away from the workshop are the consistency of work as a unified solid body of work along with the consistency of lighting for 3D work, and to have a clean, simplified, and unified booth shot that utilizes principles of aesthetic design itself that will promote yourself and your work in a completely professional manner.
A shorter version of this review has been posted to the blog section of Art Fair Insiders. Sign up if you're not already a member.

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