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How the Jury Chooses Work - Peak Behind the Curtain of a Juried Selection

In today's post, Alison Antelman, President of the San Francisco Metal Arts Guild offers some insight into her experience as a recent juror at Sun Valley Center for the Arts (now Sun Valley Museum of Art) in Sun Valley, Idaho. This first post describes the jury review process, Wednesday's post describes the math behind jury ranking systems by Harriete. Thursday's post by Alison itemizes how an artist can improve their chances of being selected in a competitive environment. She says, "I want the message to come across that, while we throw our applications out there and hope for the best, following obvious guidelines and structure will increase our chances of being in the pool that is selected---because it's very easy to rule applicants out."

Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Alison Antelman, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is implied.


Over 700 applicants sent five images of their work and one booth shot through the Zapplication digital online jury process for a national juried show, Sun Valley Museum of Art in its 42nd year. Digital projectors illuminated six images on a large screen in the front of the room. We also had our own Macbooks for viewing the same images and voting.

On the first day, we viewed all of the images by category; ceramics, paintings, mixed media, textiles, etc. Then in the second round of viewing, we looked at the projected images on the screen and voted on our computers (our computers also had smaller images of exactly what we saw on the screen).

We scored between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest, and were told to try to have a strong opinion instead of giving every artist scores of 3. There were no names associated with the images, just categories. In addition, a 100 character artist statement was read aloud to us. We were allowed to ask questions or pause before going to the next image.

As a metalsmith, I ended up describing certain metalsmithing techniques to the other jurors such as forging and repousse'. Other jurors were able to describe the difference between several types of printmaking like monoprints and reductive woodblock printing. We got through the entire lineup on the first day and the scoring tally was left for the art center staff, who worked on it through the evening.

The second day was for eliminations and balancing out the show. The art center staff scored each entry with a break-off point for each category. For example, in ceramics the break-off score may have been 21, so all those entries scoring under this total did not get in. Entries above 21 were still in the "running" at that point.

We went through by category again to look at all of the accepted artists. Then with the next break-off point of scores, we went through the waiting list and could add an applicant to the accepted pile.

BalancedsJURY Once again by category, we discussed those in question in order to eliminate a few more entrants. With the idea of a well-balanced show, we tried to eliminate work that was similar to already accepted work. For example, between four artists who paint landscapes with diffused light, we would go back and forth. Their statements were read aloud and we would look more closely at booth shots. We asked ourselves, " Are the jury slides representative of what is shown in the booth? Is the work truly hand-crafted or are they buying parts? At the end of this grueling period, we ended up with our accepted list of artists and those on the waitlist.

I’ve always wondered…do the jurors really see all of those images? How can one person view 700, 1000, 2500 entries? I am confident that I saw all images many times. Some of the artwork really stuck with me. We were given breaks and healthy food.  We stopped if a juror had to use the restroom, so no one was left behind. Given the number of applicants, the best you can do is take the time to honor the applications, with the care, critique, and professionalism that you'd give in a job interview.

Alison B. Antelman

Thank you, Alison, this has been very insightful. The next post from Alison Antelman on Thursday may improve the artist's chances in a juried situation. In addition, I want to recommend reading the TOP TEN TIPS for Getting Into a Juried Exhibition, Show, Book, or Magazine in the Professional Guidelines.  The document Exhibitions: Artist Checklist and Juried Exhibitions, Exhibition Contract may also be helpful in deciding whether you apply to a show.

If you are interested in learning more about numerical ranking systems to review images, read the document Comparison of Jury Ranking Systems on my website. There are many different ranking systems that jurors can use to select work.

When there is more than one juror and/or a large number of entries, a numerical ranking system can be an efficient way to select the best works.  The recommended system is to use numbers 1-7. Jurors should consider “1” as the lowest score and “7” as the highest score in the ranking system.  Jurors should be encouraged to use the full range of the 1-7 ranking system when evaluating the entries (or work) submitted for review.

Read the entire document to learn the impact of using 1-5 to review work. The answer may be shocking!!!! 

Occasionally someone suggests removing the middle number from a 1 – 5 system (e.g. eliminating the “3”) and to use only 1, 2, 4, 5 to “force” a selection outside of average (as suggested above).  However, using fewer score choices actually increases the possibility of ties (regardless of the number of jurors).   Mathematically, there is no difference between 1, 2, 3, 4 and 1, 2, 4, 5 since the number of possible sums (or outcomes) is identical. 

Most artist types (I include myself among this group) do not embrace math sufficiently to fully understand the impact of various numerical ranking systems such as 1-5; 1,2,4,5; or 1-7.  I had a lot of help in creating the Comparison of Jury Ranking System in an effort to inform the arts community.  I will talk about this more tomorrow.

This post was updated on January 18, 2022, to provide current links.