Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Selection, jurying and must-see lists

Last night I read a post post about jurying and criteria and this morning I got an email about another list of 100 must-see blogs (I'd been included).

What is it about selection, jurying and ranked lists that always generates a response in most people - including me?

For the record, I responded very positively to the reasoning that Tracy had set out in her post More concerning the Fine Art Department and less well to the email which 'thought' my readers might find it interesting and hence that I would want to mention both it and the fact that I'd been included in a list on this blog.

The back cover of the catalogue
for the
2008 RWS/Sunday Times
Watercolour competition

My thoughts on selection, jurying and ranked lists

Emotional response - The word 'selection' has all sorts of potential negative connotations - it's associated with 'rejection' as well as 'success'. It's both a 'turn on' and a 'switch off'.

Not surprising then that people can often feel twitchy and also feel a need to explain their reasons when consciously making a selection.

However when one person is chosen over another it does not mean that the person who is not chosen is 'not good enough'.

Who is the best? Who's to say? Juried selection may appear to "get it wrong" at times but that's only because assessment is subjective. My eyes and experience are individual to me - they don't see art the same way as other people.

If there's one thing I've learned from watching people enter work into exhibitions it's that the decision will vary depending on who looks at the work in a given context. What gets rejected from one exhibition will win prizes in another.

If I've learned anything from going to exhibitions with other people it is that we may all agree about certain works which we think are good - but in all probability we'll all select something different as our 'standout top prize' piece.

Ergo - who is best is entirely subjective.

- I know I always look very closely at the artwork chosen by people I respect.

If you produce good work - in my eyes - then I respect your judgement. If you talk intelligently about art - in my view - then I respect your judgement. Even when I don't agree with you.

If I respect your judgement and you tell me who you rate and provide a link then, in all probability, I'll check out the website.

The listing/linking wheeze
- If you turn up out of the blue with no name and no background with a top 100 list then I'm afraid I find it very difficult to take you seriously. Especially if you have no background with me, no name on display on the website/blog and no credentials on display (as was the case with the website/blog which was the subject of this morning's email.)

The ranked list wheeze is a very common tool used by those who are looking to optimise their own ranking in the search engines. It works like this:
  • list top ranked blogs (very often a 100 - because of course it's so much nicer to get 100 potential link backs rather than just 10!)
  • create a post about their top 100 list on their (often very new) blog,
  • email the list to all those listed and 'suggest' that those included might want to mention that their blog is on the list.
  • get a load of links
  • their own ranking shoots up. Despite the fact they've done very little to earn that ranking in terms of the creation of solid content.
This is why Google doesn't count links which are more than six months old. It's a wheeze which ultimately doesn't work unless you keep the content up to scratch and continue to generate links.

Well I'm sorry - but that's not the way I operate. Establish yourself, display or earn your credentials (eg by creating an archive of good quality posts) and only then create that sort of list. Then I'll take you very seriously and be pleased to acknowledge you and your list on this blog - even if my blog does not get included!

Lists and blogrolls
- You can find a list of blogs in the blogroll of most blogs. If you like the blog there's a pretty good chance you'll like more than a few of the blogs in the blogroll (unless the blog is one which does 'link swaps').

However I don't think anybody pretends they have all the 'best' people in their blogroll. They make a choice depending on their individual perspective. My perspective is that nobody has to justify who they are and nobody need justify their perspective or their choices for who gets included in their blogroll. However I do understand when you feel a need to explain and even do it myself! ;)

I'm thinking of giving mine an overhaul in the near future and one of the reasons is the new blogger widgets are making me think that I want to focus it more on people who post on a regular basis and produce good quality content - in terms of art or text or both.

Which isn't to say that people I like will not be on my Google Reader list or dropped off my Followers list.

Experience of looking at art - The more we look at art the better we get at selecting what stands out and deserves to be acknowledged as such - through awards or whatever.

It's why I go to as many exhibitions as I can. It's why I like looking at all the work on the website of artists I come across. I'm pleased to say that this year I'm on a roll in terms of selecting prizewinners before I know who they are! :) However I don't think I could have that small boast if I didn't look at art on a regular basis.

Jury credentials - I take a lot more notice of awards given by people who have earned their their jury credentials. The credibility of an art award often depends on who an organisation or art society can get to judge an award.

However I have some caveats about jurors:
  • there are a fair few people out there who seem to have made a career out of judging and I'm not sure how I feel about this any more. It seems to me they have the capacity to have an undue influence on outcomes and artists' careers. If they award an artist a prize in one competition, are they more likely to also award a prize to the same person in another?
  • Should people be allowed to jury people they mentor? It happens.
  • I'm also more than a bit concerned that some jurors apparently are unable to spot 'fakes' and don't know how to apply tests to detect digital fakery.
It's good to see a jury of more than one and a balance between different perspectives.

Fresh eyes are always good too. Hence why the ING Discerning Eye award is so interesting each year. For once we don't see all the 'usual suspects' winning yet more awards! :)

Those are my thoughts but how about you? What do you think - about the process of selection, jurying and jurors and those ranked lists?


  1. Katherine, Interesting topics to ponder. It's been my experience when entering juried competitions that some judges have pre-determined what type of paintings they will allow in. For instance, I was rejected twice in two different shows only to learn later that these shows were "contemporary" what I think of as "out there" art. But when asking for artists applications, this was never stated what type of art they were looking for. I've learned to research the background of judges before entering.

  2. Fabulous posts and I agree with what you have to say. I have not yet read Tracy's post as I just sumbled upon and read yours, but I will click on it next.
    We were just talking about the jurying process at my art club meeting last night.
    I think I will forward your blog to the club so they can read it too!

  3. I totally agree with you on the subjectivity of juried shows. I have had paintings be rejected in one show only to win an award in another. Now I paint for me, not awards. Awards are nice, but entering shows is not cheap so I more selective as to what I enter.

    I also find the entire blog-list thing interesting. While I lived in China, I started a blog on MSN (blogger would not work well in China due to filtering) to let family and friends know what I was up to as well as post photos of my experience. I had few followers. Now that I am back in the U.S. and I have over two years of posts about China on that blog, people want to know what I am doing. It took two years to develop a following. What is ironic is that it happened when I returned! Developing a following with a blog takes time - there really are no short cuts.

  4. I agree that the best results seem to come from having more than one judge making the selections. Having been on a jurying panel, and hearing one of our selectors state his reason for not wanting a particular painting in the show because, "It has too much blue. I don't like blue", and at another exhibit, the judge indicate "clouds are never that white", I sometimes despair about the process. I believe that if an organization is mounting a juried exhibit, that they have a panel comprised of about three individuals to act as a measure of checks and balances. I strongly recommend that judges be asked to state the criteria they used in their choices for awarding the various prizes .

  5. Good post Katherine.

    Those 'link wheezes' as you aptly call them do make me laugh, mostly because, as you rightly say, they don't have a lot of effect unless they're very large scale and, as you also rightly say, they're backed up by quality content that builds links naturally over time.

    One point though, you said "This is why Google doesn't count links which are more than six months old", but I think you meant the opposite, since long standing links are given more trust in Google.

    As an ex SEO consultant myself, and a somewhat jaded one at that, I decided to do no optimisation on my own blog at all. There was no profit motive behind it, still isn't, and I wanted it to stand or fall on the quality or otherwise of the posts. It seems to be standing ok so far. Google has become much better at spotting obvious unnatural link building these days, not perfect but much better. In the long run, the best way to build a site that's successful on Google long term is just to build a good site.

    I very much agree with your comments on the way the jury for the Discerning Eye operates. I think it's good that they rotate jurours, take them from three different areas (artists, critics and collectors) and that they ensure a good spread of opinion this way. I'm new to this juried show lark, but I'm pretty sure the only reason a complete unknown like me got into the show at all was because of the open and balanced nature of their jury. More power to them I say.

  6. Paul - I'm trying to find a reference for the 6 month 'die-off'. I know it works like that from watching how my ranking works in Technorati which in turn is based on how Google works (as far as anybody can work out!)

    I pour over the webmaster guidelines and observe what is said elsewhere and they all say
    * Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighbourhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links. (Google webmaster guidelines)
    * Do not promote or participate in viral linking schemes. (Technorati DONT'S)

    I agree with you the best way to go is just build a blog with good content and people will find you.

  7. I recently had my first experience jurying an exhibition and blogged about it here: http://didrooglie.blogspot.com/2008/11/jury-duty.html
    What I found most interesting about the process was that my co-jurors and I were mostly in concensus about the intial 'weeding out' jurying (cutting the wheat from the chaff as it were), but when it came time to choose awards not so much! As the other two were the more senior jurors and more in agreement than I was with them I felt no need to exert my decision above and beyond having an opinion about it, and then respecting their position and conceding.

  8. You are right about generating a response with lists and awards. That is why I came to this post, right? Very good observations and I agree. You just never know what the whim of the moment will be.

    Richard McKinley judged our Austin Pastel Society show last year and he said that the selections he made could have been different on another day.



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