Art by committee

January 21, 2011

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Zehava Power of Halifax, Nova Scotia wrote, "I work for an 
art-sales-and-rental gallery that represents over 200 local artists. Attached to a 
public gallery, it's a volunteer-based operation with a few paid staff. We have a 
committee of volunteer jurors that meets every two weeks to select from an average of 
60-70 entries. Years ago, our volunteers used to notify artists over the phone and 
explain their decision. Due to tears, arguments and anger it was decided to make it 
less personal. Nowadays rejected artists get notified by mail with a generic 
blurb--"not this time; please try again." Due to the mysterious rejections and lack 
of feedback, some artists have given up dealing with us. How do we keep our artists 
happy and keep running our operation efficiently and professionally?"

Thanks, Zehava. Your problem may be in the way your jury is formed. Semi-permanent 
volunteer committees soon become suspect of favouring certain styles, subjects or 
individuals. This causes all kinds of discord, unhappiness and disgruntlement, not 
to mention the production of catered work. You need to inject new juror blood and 
outside expertise to avoid perceived possible chronic incest. 

If you have a committee of, say, four regulars, you need to add new guest jurors. 
Paying someone to come from another city will add integrity and win the respect of 
your membership. If you have a really large committee, you might consider giving an 
outside juror more than one vote. 

Regarding member communications, you are quite right to avoid the slippery slope of 
post-rejection intercourse. "The decision of the jury is final," and a pink slip is 
all they need. Many big co-ops work best that way. If people are consistently 
rejected, they always have the option of applying to other galleries. Creative 
people know and understand the principle of selection of the fittest, the 
possibilities of becoming an endangered species, and even the threat of extinction. 
Like the stock market, the art business thrives on differences of opinion. The 
painted ponies go up and down. Artists just need to know that wherever they choose 
to hang out, they need to have a level playing field. 

Best regards,


PS: "An expert is an ordinary fellow from another town." (Mark Twain) 

Esoterica: A jury that thinks it knows what will sell is the most dangerous jury of 
all. Even a jury that selects for "modern" sensitivities is suspect. Better to give 
your stuff to a commercial dealer with questionable taste than to subject yourself 
to a committee. Sales-and-rental galleries generally send puny cheques to artists 
anyway and, curiously, the work always seems to come back with damaged frames. 
Further, by renting works, they interfere with the legitimate commercial market that 
serious artists need to survive. With the exception of gallery darlings, most 
successful artists never submit for any other reason than to help out in the