SHAUNA: This month, we have had a marvelous, and enlightening experience observing two very different judges going about the work of choosing a show. Adam Baumgold, who judged the Bendheim show, granted us an interview before the fact, which you can read on the archived pages at the end of this article. Although we had visited his website, none of us had ever met him and were astonished at how he went about the task. The first thing that he did was to look carefully at each of the 318 entries, one by one, very slowly.
KAREN: Yes, he didn’t make even one decision until he had seen all the work. I have worked with over 20 judges and had never seen one do that before.
SHAUNA: He decided that he wanted to put “the possibles” into the GAS Gallery and went around and around looking at each piece over and over, choosing one here and there. He had looked at each work about 7 times when we felt we needed to ask him if he could eliminate a few so there would be more room. He said that was fine and eliminated maybe 3.
KAREN: Although we had indicated we wanted him to pick the best show possible, he kept insisting that the exhibition needed to reflect the variety (scope – range) of work submitted.
SHAUNA: He did say some interesting things along the way. One was his reaction to an artist entering two pieces, about which there has been at least one complaint since the show went up. In several cases, he did not take what he thought was a good piece from an artist because the second work was of much lower quality than the first. He said he always looked for consistency of quality. When he saw that, he several times took both pieces that an artist entered.
KAREN: That certainly made me re-think submitting two pieces to a juried show. Years ago I would have submitted two different pieces and hope one was good enough and the judge liked it. Lately it has become apparent that I should only show my best work. I am seeing that judges do think of even two pieces as a body of work, and that any body of work should be of consistent quality and work together.
SHAUNA: The Exhibition Committee and the Board has discussed at length the issue of 2 entries per artist and instructions to the judge about them. Here is the thinking behind the policy of both allowing 2 entries per artist and allowing the judge to take both if he or she so chooses. If 2 works can be submitted, and the artist must pay an entry fee for both, is it fair that only one can be chosen? If we allow 2 works to be entered but not allow both of them to get in aren’t we just taking people’s money for no good reason? The Exhibition Committee decided that if we allowed a work to be entered, it should have the same chance as any other regardless of who created it. Otherwise, we should only allow one work per artist to be submitted. We vetted this last idea and it was met with strong resistance, thus, the current policy. (We welcome your input.)
KAREN: All judges are different. Some judges, like Dede Young last year, chose to immediately eliminate one for any artist submitting two as a way of reducing the choices quickly. Adam Baumgold’s comment shows us that submitting more than one can be a disadvantage with some judges. We could increase the entry fee, allow more than one submission whether you submit one or two, and insist that only one gets in. But that would discourage and not be fair to artists who wish to only submit one. In the end we have been interested in having the best show possible and keeping entry fees as low as possible while still covering our costs.
SHAUNA: The way that he awarded prizes was interesting, too. It seemed to be the most difficult part for him, so much so that he decided to split some prizes to achieve the balance among media he was looking for. He wanted very much to both pick a show and award prizes representative of the whole of what he saw. Ultimately, he ended up awarding prizes for, by medium:
1 pencil drawing
2 realistic oils
2 abstract oils
1 realistic acrylic
2 mixed media
roughly corresponding to the number of entries in each area, save for mixed media which had the largest number of entries.
KAREN: He wanted to pick a balanced show that reflected the submissions as a whole. He mentioned many times that the caliber of the work he had not accepted was very high.
SHAUNA: Patrick Collins, the judge for the Gertrude White show had a different process. First he said that he was going to choose works based on how strongly they suggested a story.
KAREN: I was surprised that as with Adam Baumgold, his first step was to take a look at every piece then he began choosing the “definites.” At several points along the way, he stopped to consider the chosen group as a whole. As we came nearer to having an appropriate number of pieces, he chose a group of “possibles” and brought all the “definites” into the gallery so he could view the show as a whole. The remainder of the pieces were chosen with the rest of the show in mind.
SHAUNA: We’re sworn to secrecy on whose pieces came first!
KAREN: When we asked him to award the prizes, he seemed to have considered that already and immediately named them.
SHAUNA: We spoke at length at lunch about what is required of art for illustrating children’s books. It really is all about characters. Landscapes and portraits, even though he did include a few in the show, are difficult unless they really create a unique, evocative mood. Imagination and color helps, too. He said he did not pick photographs that could have been snapshots, even if they told a story.
KAREN: We asked Patrick about what he would recommend in a portfolio to submit to publishers and the most important thing was including a character and showing that character in several different scenes as one would have to do if illustrating a story about that character. They really like to see the interaction between 2 characters.
SHAUNA: We also asked about submitting manuscripts and were delighted with his response. The thing to do is make up a card with an image or two on it that can be easily filed or put up on a bulletin board for future reference. Make sure there is a character in the image and that it suggests a story. Don’t send anything large or elaborate and don’t “follow up” with a phone call. Send another card in 6 months.
KAREN: The great thing about Henry Holt Books for Young Readers is that they review portfolios without an appointment every Monday. You can drop off a portfolio and it will be seen the following Monday. Alternatively, you can make an appointment with Patrick about three weeks ahead of time. Check their website (and please follow their guidelines) at http://www.henryholtchildrensbooks.com
SHAUNA: Patrick told us, with a laugh but in all seriousness, that they get the most submissions just after New Years (the “Resolution Effect”) and in September (the “Back-To-School Effect”.) I think May and November are the perfect time to have things together to send in.
KAREN: I didn’t realize any children’s book publishers were still accepting unsolicited manuscripts and portfolios. Certainly any artist or writer interested in producing children’s books should take advantage of the opportunity. Be sure to follow the company’s guidelines in your submissions.
SHAUNA: And, as always, remember to keep in mind that each and every one of us creates, each and every day, the community in which we want to live and work. The Greenwich Art Society would really appreciate your volunteering to help us. We will be needing people in the coming months to help with office duties, computer work, website and public relations. Please call me if you have some time and expertise to spare.