April 12, 2011

The Smithsonian Craft Show, The Jury Process

It is the time of the year again for one of the handful of fine craft shows in this country, The Smithsonian Craft Show, that draws an attendance of people who come and BUY what they perceive is quality work, simply because it is being exhibited at this show, or shows like it, which can be a false perception. This also goes for prizes given at all shows, which may or may not be the best work, but those artists make sales based on this false perception of what is good.

Every year artists need to apply to be juried into these shows, by submitting 5 photographs of their work, and rely on the jury the show has chosen to be knowledgeable enough to make good choices, based on craftsmanship, integrity of design and so forth. This is difficult, as I have noticed artists that get in on 5 pretty decent looking slides, and then you go to their website and see shopping carts where you can purchase a bunch of stuff for $39 and you know they are not making it, perhaps even importing it. Yet it is perceived to be good work at fine craft shows, because it is there. Is this fair to the public?

And if you don't make the jury cut, your livelihood suffers tremendously, as the number of shows that attracts this kind of clientele is so few.

Sometimes the show committees puts a charge to the jury to find "new exhibitors", as they want a fresh show. This is fine if the work qualifies, but often times a more seasoned craftsman would be the better choice. Dianne Muller said it well in a comment on The Berkshire Craft Fair website.

"By purchasing something from an artist/craftsperson, one allows that person to continue in their field. This means they are in the position to inspire others to take up the same craft or at least be exposed to craft, which may awaken their “inner artist”. I have always been struck by the Japanese identifying great artists as national treasures…it seems to me we should be doing that here as well."

So of course, as leather designers running a small studio as we do, it is frustrating that we have only been chosen to exhibit at The Smithsonian 3 times in our 30 year career. The work we so carefully make is totally represented in the slides we submit, and am proud to say I think we do a pretty good job at our craft. Any challengers?

So what do you think? Should show committees, juries, prize judges be more accountable to let American Craft be truly represented if that is what their shows are selling?

Should the process be more in depth, going beyond the 5 photos that may be taken only for "jury slides"; such as studio visits, website visits? Have the jury take notes at the show to put in a national database, a "National Treasure" database, where all jurors of all shows can go for reference?

We are a young country, still developing our culture.
How do we want to be studied in the future?

1 comment:

Toshiki and Maryszka said...

This is an interesting article in Ornament, discussing some of the issues of creating shows of the best seasoned makers, and including the new exciting talent.