A fortnight ago I spent two days closeted in a room with four colleagues, passing judgement on some 400 artworks, trundling before my eyes in the hands of a human conveyor belt. It was the eleventh Welsh Artist of the Year (WAotY) submission.
Now I’ve fought shy of this kind of judgement since I nearly presided over a village Easter egg decoration competition. Luckily then my Health Visitor warned me off and told me of a midwife who’d been drummed out of Dodge by angry villagers after a Bonny Baby competition. Why didn’t I remember that when the very persuasive Ruth Cayford of Saint Davids Hall asked me to be a judge? Luckily I had back up in the shape of Walter Keeler, Christopher Brown and Owen Griffiths and Ruth feeding us biscuits (the closest I’m ever going to get to a rock rider was asking for lemon puffs).
The sugar rushes were definitely necessary as the human conveyor belt ferried the 2D submissions past our eyes and we finally grasped the enormity of the task ahead. There are always so many things to take on board – the space, the audience, the balance of the overall exhibition – but the overwhelming feeling was that all of the judges wanted to ensure that the selected artists would be well represented by their work, and sometimes that involved some tough decisions – all consensual I might add. But before you get over excited, I’m not going to emit any behind-the-scenes leakages, though I hope, by the power of the blog, to point up some things to think about when attaching cash money to a submission and sending it in, hoping it’ll be picked for exhibition or even to win.
As the submissions rolled past, what left me a bit perplexed was the very variable quality of works submitted, even given that there’s a built in duality to the competition as it’s open to amateur and professional artists. There were a few terrible framing and mounting choices, some effectively killing off the content; photographs that were cockled, badly cropped or that had slipped on the their mounts; works that I was familiar with in the context of the body of work they come from that looked odd as sole images.
The 3D works were also a bit of a challenge: some came with such complex installation instructions that it was clear that the entrants hadn’t considered the space in which they might be shown, others were impossibly fragile. And again the out-of-context nature of single works often fought against their ambition.
Meanwhile the new media category pointed up the problems of showing film or sonic work, originally intended to be embedded in a wider body of work and shown/experienced in a white box gallery space.
So here are my pointers, for what they may be worth, and I hope that with some time elapsed since the arrival of the rejection letters, this advice will help future applicants to sharpen up their submissions and win, win WIN!
- Consider the context of the exhibition and the constraints of the space where the work will be shown – will it work? Will people be able to see it and understand it (especially if it’s one of a series)?
- Take a long cool look at your submission: Does it do you justice? Is this the work you would like to represent your practice?
- Ask a critical friend to have a look and give you honest feedback – what are you not seeing because you’re so familiar with the work? Are there flaws that could be dealt with or other works that would be more appropriate?
- Consider the ultimate presentation: Are your installation requirements easily achievable? Are mountings/frames/plinths working with or against the work?
- Does your technology work? Test CDs and DVDs on different computers and platforms and make sure that they open on everything.
- For moving image work: Is it as crisp and tightly edited as it can be? Do sound and image quality match up?
Of course rejection is tough and we’ve all been there. My toppest of top tips is to go outside, kick something that won’t bleed, then ask for feedback and take it on board for next time. There are so many opportunities for you to send your work out into the world, with a cheque attached, that it’s worth taking a bit of time in considering which of the many open competitions and exhibitions would be the best investment for you.
And if these top tips are preaching to the converted, but you’d still like to get cross about something, have a look at what Maya Ramsay about has to say about pay-as-you-show opportunities in the latest Axis rant The Art Lottery.
The Welsh Artist of the Year winners will be announced on Sunday05 June
Update: And the winner is… Paul Emmanuel
Congratulations to Paul and to all the category winners, the runner up, Pamela Rawnsley, and all the honourable mentions.
Other open submission shows to check out:
Mostyn Open 2011 21 May – 09 July
National Eisteddfod of Wales, Wrexham 30 July – 06 August