Five Tips for Getting into Juried Art Shows


In this simulated jury slide presentation from a theoretical show (above), Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, c. 1485–1576) might have presented his work in this order. Portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere would have been a good opener as a strong work facing right to direct the jurors’ eyes to the remaining pieces. Portrait of a Noblewoman would have been a good closing work, arguably stronger and facing left, directing the jurors’ eyes back inward. Between these two “brackets” are The Concert, Young Woman at Her Toilet and—among the strongest works—The Venus of Urbino.

The competition can be fierce. Hundreds (sometimes thousands) of artists vie for a limited number of coveted spots in a juried art show, and a group of your artistic peers decides who does and does not make the grade. Since the jury never sees you, but only images of your work and your application, these become your “audition.” Too often artists with talent get rejected because they don’t pay enough attention to the details that sway a jury to say yea rather than nay. Here are some pointers to help you make the cut.

1.  Apply for shows that fit your work
“It’s a big mistake to force yourself to try to make work that you’re not excited about, just to fit within the theme of a show,” says Jessica McCoy, an assistant professor of painting at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. McCoy encourages artists to submit work that they’re passionate about and comfortable making.

“For example, if you do large-scale abstract paintings and the show you’re thinking about applying for is seeking small-scale portraiture work, it’s probably not a good idea,” cautions McCoy, who goes on to explain that it’s obvious to a jury when the work you’ve submitted isn’t fully developed.

2.  Consider hiring a professional photographer
The advent of digital photography has made it tempting for artists to shoot their own slides and digital images for juried shows. But according to Gregg Hertzlieb, director of the Brauer Museum of Art in Valparaiso, Indiana, this can backfire.

“For example,” says Hertzlieb, “because of inexperience, someone may position the camera too far away from the piece of art, and so the countertop (or whatever the piece is sitting on) will show in the photograph, distracting from the artwork.” Hertzlieb warns that these types of easy-to-make amateur mistakes are red flags to a jury that the artist may not be at top of his or her game.

3.  Follow the application instructions exactly
In addition to submitting professional-looking slides or digital images, you also need to send in exactly what the application asks for. “Frequently artists submit incomplete applications or ignore the number of works requested,” says Jackie Reau, director of communications for the Hyde Park Community Art Fair in Cincinnati, Ohio.

For example, if the submission form requests images of nine pieces of your work, don’t send only seven because those are your best, or 12 because they’re all so good that you can’t decide which to include. Reau says that sticking to some basics on the application process will keep you in the running. Don’t forget to write legibly or type information correctly on the form so the description of each work can be read easily, and state specifically the process, the dimensions and the medium/media you used to create the work.

4.  Submit works that relate
Joanne Fox, an exhibiting artist for 30 years and a juror for such prestigious organizations as the Sausalito Art Festival in California and the American Craft Council, says it’s critical to submit works that relate to one another. “Even if you do different kinds of artwork, such as watercolor, drawing and collage,” says Fox, “you don’t want to present all those media in one show application.”

Fox says that artists need to present one strong body of consistent work for the jurors to be able to judge properly. “Everything should relate visually,” she says, “with similar colors and the same style.”

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5.  Carefully craft the order of your images
The most typical pattern for projecting slides in a juried show is three slides on the top and two slides on the bottom (see example on opposite page). “We have studied the eye movements of jurors,” says Fox, “and they read these slides from left to right.” For this reason, Fox says, a little thing like the order in which you put your slides can make a big difference in the impact they have on the jury. Fox recommends the following:
-Make the slide that will appear on the upper-left, top row (the No. 1 position) an image that faces in and to the right, toward the other slides, rather than left and away from the other slides.

  • Bracket your slides by making the slide that will appear in the lower right-hand spot on the bottom row (your last slide) something that pulls the eye in toward the rest of the slides.
  • Put your strongest slides on the bottom row, since, if a jury has time, this is where a jury will go back to take a second look.
  • If you send your images on a CD, keep the order the same as if you had sent in slides and number the files accordingly, using cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3 and so on).

Once you’re accepted
If you make it into a show, be certain you display your work in a good frame. When jurors are awarding prizes, Hertzlieb emphasizes that, beyond the quality of the work itself, presentation really counts. “There’s often a jarring disconnect between the work and the way it’s framed,” says Hertzlieb. “Once I sat on a jury that was determining the fate of a really charming folk art painting, but it was surrounded by an elaborate French-style frame. Those two things together canceled each other out.” Hertzlieb suggests artists find a framer they trust, or at least another artist who’s able to offer a critical eye.

Remember that most juries are considering the work of five to 10 times as many artists as they have space for. By following the suggestions listed here, you can put yourself ahead of the game. As Nancy Kirk, president of the Quilt Heritage Foundation, points out, “Very few athletes would try to enter a competition without really understanding all the rules.”


Karen Leland is the author of the book Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day (Career Press, 2008). She can be reached at kleland@scgtraining.com.


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