Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Show, or Not to Show: That is the Question (My Grappling with Juried Shows...)

... Last night, as the clock on my computer screen ticked closer to 11:50 pm, I was frantically trying to finish, resize and upload my images to OnlineJuriedShows.com for entering Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show. And tonight, I opened my emails -- and happily found out "April's Passing" and "Island Beauty - White Plumeria" are accepted. I've just learned several days before that "Peppermint Rose" was also accepted into Debra Huse Gallery's Holiday Treasure Salon 2012. So, it looks like I will have a bunch of small paintings shipped down southern California for the holidays...

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, 2012 #52

Accepted into Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show

Bid in my DPW Auction (Starting Bid $95)

With all these great news, I do not want to sound ungrateful. But after the initial ecstasy faded, the practical side of me cannot help but wondering -- should I really be working against the clock to enter so many juried shows?

Asking a full-time artist who is trying to make a living making and selling their art, you are likely going to get a very passionate answer about this question -- and ask a hundred, it's likely you'll get fifty yes and fifty no, with very good reason on both sides. I've had quite good luck with juried shows this year, getting into many and sold quite a few works with much higher price tags than selling online (mostly because juried shows often requires a minimum size of 10" x 14", much larger than what I usually sell online, and these larger pieces are also framed). However, doing the hard math often suggests such sales are not necessarily economically viable, contrary to my initial belief: take "Peppermint Rose" as example, its label price in the Holiday Treasure Show is $400. If it is sold, Debra Huse gallery takes 50% (which I think they fully deserve for spending time, efforts and money putting on such a great show and doing all the marketing for it, not to mention the huge gallery space a show like this will need also costs money), so what I will get is only $200. Now if we calculate the framing cost (I used a $50 frame from Randy Higbee frames shop for this one, since they have great quality frames, and they also do all the fitting for the paintings juried into the Holiday Treasure Show for free), entry fee ($45 for three images), shipping ($15 each way), handling fee (a very reasonable $10), packing material -- you can see the profit quick go down the drain on my side. So, is it truly worthwhile to spending that much time photographing, uploading, submitting my artwork, and packing/shipping it hundreds of miles away to exhibit in these juried shows? Is there any real benefit for me as an artist to sell my artwork this way versus simply selling by myself online, or in local galleries?...

Island Beauty - White Plumeria,  
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2012 #12

Accepted into Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show


After almost a year's exploration, experimentation and contemplation, I think the answer to that question is more likely "yes", but the reason does not lie in the economic side. In stead, I think it maybe worthwhile to enter juried shows for the following two benefits:

-- Exposure. Juried shows in different regions of the country may expose your work to local buyers, who may not have a chance to see your work otherwise. Often it is not practical or even possible for an artist, especially artists who are just starting their career to have representations in galleries across the country, therefore, juried shows can bring your work in front of potential customers in the regions far from your normal reach. Juried shows also often showcase larger-sized works whose scale is hard to fully comprehend until the viewer is standing in front of it, instead of looking at it on a computer screen. Some work are definitely more powerful and awe-inspiring when viewed in person. I think this is why my larger work are often sold in juried shows instead of online. 

Peppermint Rose, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140# Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 8"w, 2012 #36

Accepted into Debra Huse Gallery's Holiday Treasure Salon 2012


-- Recognition. For artists who are just starting their career, getting into juried shows, and getting awards may open a few doors leading to wonderful opportunities. Art magazines, art book editors and curators may see your work and approach you for potential possibilities of writing an article about you, using your work in one of their art books, or even suggesting a future show opportunity. Art communities may see your work and invite you to give a demo, teaching a class or even a workshop. Adding national juried show acceptances and awards to one's resume also definitely make that road to gallery, artist-in-residence or grant application a bit easier. What's more, it is a demonstration that you are continuously making an effort presenting your work as a professional artist, which serves as a strong evidence in case you file your tax return as a professional artist, but cannot generate profit three out of five consecutive years. (Often, tax agents are quite flexible regarding applying this standard to artists, as long as you demonstrate the "continuous effort" toward becoming more professional and making steady progresses.)

Crimsonscape - Red Poinsettia
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

Of course, one can also add that simply putting one's work "out there" to compare with all the wonderful professional artwork submitted to a juried show can serve as a measure of one's current level and progress through time. However, I would definitely caution taking this measure too serious, as more often than not, acceptance or rejection in a juried show with only one juror reflects more on the juror's taste and preference than the absolute quality of the artworks entered, and it can (surprisingly) be quite subjective. Therefore, whenever I am accepted into a show I really like, I would always caution myself that this by no means is a certificate that I have "made it" and better than all the artists that did not get in. Instead, it more likely just means that I am lucky enough that my artistic expression happens to fit in the vision of this particular juror...

To show, or not to show, that seems to be the eternal question for an artist struggling to establish his/her artistic career. To answer it, one really has to reach deep down, and ask oneself -- what is the purpose and driving factor for me to enter this show? What are the biggest benefits? What are the draw-backs? How much time and money am I likely to spend for it? Can I afford such time and monitory expenses? What can I get in return? Who is likely going to see this show? And are these people who I would like to show my work to at this stage of my career?... It is not an easy answer, and only you -- the artist can answer it for yourself...


  1. Your reasons for your "yes" would be my reasons for saying yes too. Especially for all the really good artists out there such as yourself. Congrats on all your acceptances.

  2. Arena, you've laid out your reasoning very well, and it makes sense to me. Juried shows can be a great opportunity to get your work known to a different audience than people who follow art online, but the fees involved are quite a discouragement.
    I've had the additional issue of being told by gallery owners that I can not charge more for work that I sell through them then what I would charge if it is listed online. This is a real discouragement for me, and I don't really agree with this anyhow. Someone who purchases a work they see online should get a real deal, in my opinion. They are trusted the image but haven't seen the real work, and it is always sold unframed.
    Another issue I have with juried shows, and perhaps here I'm being less kind than you, is that I think they are used as a way for a gallery or museum to make a lot of money off the backs of artists. Th makes me angry, so I will not enter them on principal.I think your $45 entree fee sound really high. Think of all the artists who spent this money and did not get in- and those who got in, but did not sell their piece. I am SO glad that the internet has made it possible for many artists to bypass this whole system.
    Hope you didn't mind reading my rant! :)

    1. I'm just starting out (again after many years away from painting). This is a great topic and I'm grateful for all the input. I'm trying to avoid the stress part this time, so it's good to know about the juried shows. I know that to get more exposure and credibility, I will need to do at least some. But I really want to paint for myself this time around, and I've already refused commissions for this reason. It's so much more fulfilling doing what ever I choose that week or day, and not having a project hanging over my head. I also know that is a big luxury. I have a full time "regular" job.

  3. A very interesting post, and just as interesting discussion. Thank you for starting it. It is great to see different points of view, as people have different criteria. I am very far from the world of art shows, but it is interesting to know how it works.
    What I really wanted to say, is how stunning "April's Passing" turned out! All four paintings are amazing and I wish you much luck with them!

  4. I have sympathy for the galleries and art centers that need to make money, but since the advent of the internet we artists have fortunately become less dependent on their approval. The financial life of an artist is usually so difficult- grindingly so- thus I have to be very, very careful about juried shows.
    On the other hand, we need to have something to put on our resumes other than "sold X number of pieces through Daily Paintworks"!!!

  5. I really love the thought you've put into this Arena, shows you are truly a professional. I broke my cardinal rule and entered two juried shows this year (the Randy Higbee one, so we'll be hangning together!!) but it's not something that I plan to do a lot of. My main reasons at this point in my life is that it is too time consuming (takes away from the time I could have with my kids, by painting larger, going to framing, openings, traveling, shipping), too expensive with not enough return, (initially, I do agree with you long term wisdom about juried shows), and finally and most importantly I just don't like to. I don't like them and entering and painting for them was stressful for me. So I agree with Taryn, having the chance to sell our work online has been a HUGE blessing for me, and is what I've chosen to do. I don't think juried shows are wrong, or that artists shouldn't enter them, but for me, my own decision, they aren't for me. :)

    COngrats on all those acceptances Arena!!! Well deserved.

  6. Hi Arena, Congratulations. It is an excellent post. Yes to juried shows!take care,Diana

  7. Your analysis is spot on...thanks for sharing this at length. My goal is not sales...don't paint enough...and I'm not into marketing myself. I challenge myself by entering shows, and have gotten acceptances more often than not. Have even sold a few paintings through exhibitions. I must confess that the expense involved is disheartening. I've learned to price paintings higher, at least to cover the cost of framing and the high commissions, so should a piece sell, I won't end up at a loss. I only once tried entering a "major" juried show (where there is more than one juror) and was not successful. There is a certain politics involved...few acceptances go to new entrants. Entering the majors should be my next goal, if for nothing else than for the challenge. But, I do need to get more serious about improving my work and producing more.

    Have also read the commentary above and all are legitimate. Everyone has different feelings and different goals. I am amazed at all of the shows you have done this year and all of your successes. Wish you many more!

  8. Your reasoning is spot on, and work must be seen in real life rather than online. For a start the Internet can be too international which has pros and cons itself, and also as you say, work can often look much better in real life (or sometimes worse..!) than on screen. There are more ways to do it than juried shows though, like self-organised exhibitions, local group shows, fairs and non-juried events, shops, cafes, restaurants... the list can be endless but as you say the organising time can take a lot longer than the time to paint, which is an important factor. I could spend all of the year doing nothing but exhibiting and not creating anything new!

  9. Hello Arena:) Thank you for sharing this information. If I red your post correctly you aren't going to be a millionaire. To be honest; I was surprised how little money there is left for you at the end.
    Anyway: congratulations with the acceptance of your three paintings and I hope you will sell them at the end:)

  10. This is just plain masterful work here Arena. Next time I go to paint a still life with flowers I will need to come here to be inspired.

  11. Thank you for your honesty. It helped me decide where I best sit on the issue.
    But I will admit to a "deep sigh" because it is hard on an artists soul to make these decisions.

  12. congrats on your acceptances :)

    I think it all boils down to the time you have to be recognised and heard of other than in your own immediate circle of friends. if you are in no hurry then you do not need to enter many shows but if you want to 'become more well known' on a faster timescale the exposure you get from the big exhibitions is worth all the expense and it is expensive.

  13. I agree with your take on juried shows. I have entered some in the past; got in some, rejected from some. Being is a gallery is also tough when you sign an agreement not to sell less than the gallery charges. I have also sold in art fairs and that is a really tough job. I wish someone else would do my marketing, but I could not afford that.


Thank you so much for taking time visiting and commenting on my blog! Your feedback and encouragements are things that keep me going with I am feeling down or frustrated... I will try my best to reply to every comment ASAP but sometimes life gets in the way and I am a bit slow in my response. I would like to apologize if that happens...

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