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3 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Juried Art Fairs

In my beautiful home state of Wisconsin, there is one juried art fair that rises to the top in prestige, crowd size, and reputation: Art Fair on the Square.


This art fair has been going on for 66 years. It attracts artists from all over the country and each artist makes a pretty penny in sales. If you've done any shows, you know that some can be hit or miss and applying to shows with a stellar reputation can help you avoid ones that are total duds. All that being said, when I moved my focus towards in person selling, this is the show I set my sights on.

I purchased everything I thought I would need to take a nice booth shot and made a crap ton of paintings to fill it with. I thought my submission looked pretty good, though I wasn't sure what to expect really.


Now the day results were finally delivered... I was not invited. 💀


You know what really sucked about the rejection though? It wasn't the rejected status, it was the wondering why?


Why was I rejected? Were my photos blurry? Was my booth shot bad? Was it my art? The sizing? THE PRICING? WHAT WAS IT THAT HAD ME REJECTED? Was I just not good enough?


That all leads me to today. This Spring, I was asked to help jury a larger art fair. I, of course, said yes so I could learn more about the behind the scenes and figure out what was generally looked for and what "no no's" I would find amongst the submissions. I don't know about you, but if you look to the internet for help when researching how to submit to these shows, you mostly come up empty.


I just knew the experience would be such a treasure trove of information that I could share with all of you.


THE PROCESS

I knew the process would be fast, but I didn’t know how fast. It was very much a 'go with your gut' type of judging. The statement the artist provided (250 characters or less) was read while you flipped through images individually. Each of us were looking at the same artist simultaneously. When the statement was over, the jurors would announce their individual score one by one and we’d move on. If there was a question or comment, it was deliberated over at the end. That was it. Then another artist's submission would be on the screen.


I'm guessing each artist got about 2 minutes or less of facetime with their work.


JUDGING CRITERIA

The work was judged individually, but all submissions were grouped by medium. So all ceramic artists were presented one after the other. And then painters, 2D, fiber, etc. This was the process for the entire day. Judging criteria is generally stated in the information an artist should have read before submitting. Most follow similar themes with originality, proficiency, professionalism, and technique pushing the best submissions to the top during scoring, but every show (and juror) can be different. Artists were scored on a sliding scale, 1-10. Most artists ended up at a 6 (pretty good).


There are sneaky things that can lower a score really quickly though. The most common ones were: identifying information in photos, poor photography, and no booth shot.

One point might be the make or break it for your submission so I'll go through the 3 most common mistakes I noticed while judging submissions.



1. The artist clearly didn't read the instructions.

You could have the most beautiful art in all the submissions, but if you didn't read the instructions and the submission criteria before submitting, you might not get into the show. Little things like removing your name from work, blurring or cropping out your logo, making sure your tent is white and your photos are clear, really does matter.



2. The photography was blurry and poorly lit.

It was very obvious who had submitted to shows before and who was just getting started with art fairs. Well lit, clear, and focused shots that showcased the color and textures made admiring and assessing the artwork that much easier. With paintings, the ones that were cropped crisp with no identifying signatures were scored higher than paintings being held by the artist that were slightly out of focus.



3. The artist identified themselves.

Jury processes are meant to be anonymous. This allows the no-name artists a fair shot into the show on their art and skill alone. Unfortunately, a lot of artists would forget the painting crop, take a booth shot from a show (with their signs and logos on full display), or write a statement with that was actually a bio.


When asked to write a statement about your work for submissions, the best ones focused on the interesting techniques, the goals for the work, and the individual choices that made the art stand out and draw the viewer in.*


*Bonus tip: don't say "my work is a one-of-a-kind, unique X" - everyone writes that.




THINGS THAT STOOD OUT FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS:


  • Screenshots of white tent product listings for booth shots.

  • Grid photos: i.e. photos of multiple objects rather than one things.

  • Putting yourself in your submission photos. Do not hold your work.

  • Work on the ground and piled up around tables. 

  • Presenting multiple mediums in your shot.

  • Using your statement to talk about what you make, not how or why you make it.

  • Booths with very little product in them (ex. one bench).



 

Hopefully this post will help you craft the perfect submission for your next show! If you want to hear more of my thoughts about being a juror for an art fair and other things I noticed (but maybe didn't write about in this post), check out this episode of Art Crisis on Spotify.



If you listened to and liked the episode, don't forget to follow my podcast and share it with your creative friends! 😊

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