I recently served as a juror for New Glass Review 41. In the interest of making the art world more transparent, here are some of my insights from that process.
I was honored to be invited by Susie Silbert, Curator of Postwar and Contemporary Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, to be a guest juror for New Glass Review 41, an annual exhibition in print.
To be totally honest, I was surprised by the invitation. My practice infrequently overlaps with glass. But I trusted Susie’s instincts as a curator and that the perspective I could bring was welcome—that it was OK for me not to be an expert in glass or a glass practitioner, but that my art practice and writing practices could be a good launching pad for worthy contributions nonetheless. I’m OK with being a weirdo outsider in this process (though I would love to return to making hot glass again in the future).
There were four jurors: Susie, me, a US glass artist/writer, and an international curator. (I’ll let CMOG reveal the full list of jurors.) We all brought different bodies of knowledge, interests, and perceptions to the table. I found the mix of our backgrounds and where our curiosities lie to be very educational in the jurying process. I was a little intimidated at times, but I also knew it’s OK to be humble and honest about what I don’t know. By the final round, I felt that all our perspectives were different and valid, and that was very freeing for me. I am learning that approaching with curiosity is always a good way to go.
The process was fascinating. There were 978 total entrants. Each entrant could submit one to three images, so we reviewed a total of 2,599 images! The jurors were asked to select 100 images for inclusion in New Glass Review 41. See the art competition odds here.
I was curious as to how this would be accomplished in two full days of meeting in person at the Corning Museum. As with most feats, it was possible because of the invisible labor of support staff—namely, Violet Wilson, Whitney Birkett, AV crew and others. They had done a lot of preparation and were heavily involved in technical, behind-the-scenes work to make the jurors’ jobs smooth and on schedule. (I also appreciated that there was catering to help keep our energy and focus up.)
Round One: Overview
In the first round, we did a quick look only at images; we didn’t look at statements or the title, year, media, dimensions, etc. This was just to see everything and get familiar with the entries. If you can believe it, we started at just after 9 AM and finished by noon.
A note about the format… In this first round, each ‘slide’ of the deck contained one entrant’s images. If there were three images, it filled the ‘slide’ well. Some people submitted photos of one artwork: an overall view, and detail views. Others submitted three different artworks. This is not a distinction that made a big difference to me. But, if there was only one installation view, with no details, it seemed to be a missed opportunity to fill the screen with more visual information. Conversely, when only cropped views were offered, I wanted to see an uncropped image to understand the full extent of the object.
Round Two: Initial ‘Keepers’
In the second round, jurors were asked to voice whether we’d each like to keep none, one, or multiple images to see again in the next round.
We went through all the entries again, this time, with supplementary texts. If I remember correctly, titles, years, media, and dimensions appeared under each image in this round.
An artist’s statement was shown on a large monitor. To be honest, we really could only skim the statement in this round. The shorter, clearer statements, with headers identifying sections, worked better for me. When entrants submitted works that looked disparate, brief statements about each work or project were helpful. I found long, narrative paragraphs too wordy and rambling for my tastes.*
We also stated if we had personal connections with the artist in this round. We recused ourselves or shared relevant context if necessary. I recused myself from advancing artists who I had personal connections with in this round and round three.
Round Three: Cull to 250 Images
The next day, we spent the morning narrowing down the number of images to 250. We went a little slower, spending more time reading the statements. I think this is when we really got a sense of the artist’s intent. Spending the time in this stage really made the final round easier. We went past our scheduled lunch time, and I’m grateful that the support staff bore with us.
Round Four: Final Selections of 100 Images
In preparation for the final afternoon, the staff printed our selections of 250 images and taped them to the walls. Then each juror was given a colored dot sticker and asked to select 25 images to make up the 100 selected works to appear in New Glass Review. Jurors are also asked to write a few sentences about 25 works, and it was generally agreed upon that the works we picked in this stage are also the ones we would write about.
There’s an element of chance in this final stage. Some works that I wanted to choose were already picked by other jurors by the time I made it to that area of printouts.
Full disclosure: In this stage, I selected some artists whose work I had previously recused myself from. I felt that if the other jurors advanced it to this final stage, it was fair game for me now.
We were also given the chance to add an unlimited number of dots to other juror’s selections, so our initials would appear next to the works. This also had some element of subjectivity—I noticed that sometimes jurors spoke favorably about some works in early rounds but didn’t add their dots in the final round. For me, for better or worse, the many small decisions, considerations, and a certain level of decision fatigue gave way to gut instincts by the end.
I think this process is really efficient for the time frame available. One constraint is that some images that may have benefited from clarifying statements were cut in round two. But given the enormous task of whittling down images, the various subjectivities, positions, and interests of the jurors, and Susie’s varied concerns related to the history and role of New Glass Review in the glass field at large, I’d say there’s a generous mix of rigor and chance in the process. No artists should be discouraged from applying again in future years.
I appreciate the democracy and transparency embedded in the New Glass Review.
In the process of preparing to be a juror, I reviewed New Glass Review 38 and 39, as well as New Glass Now (sort of a super-version of New Glass Review 40). The juror’s selections varied widely. I would not want any potential applicants to feel that New Glass Review favors any particular look, style, medium, or technique.
This year’s jurors were fortunate that the jurying coincided with the New Glass Now | Context exhibition on view in the CMOG Rakow Research Library through January 3, 2021. This exhibition is a great overview of the history of New Glass Review and how it and CMOG have been formative in fostering the field of glass art. It’s also interesting to see how Susie is shaking up things with new energy.
I see applying to competitions as a skill that artists develop with practice. Personally, I think it’s fair to advance entrants who are skilled in photographing and presenting their works to their best competitive advantage; writing clear, concise statements that add to the works rather than undermine them with cloudy thinking or contradictory info; arming themselves with knowledge about the formats of the submission and review process (hint: this is the point of this blog post!); and strategizing appropriately.
This skill can be learned by attending professional development workshops (and applying that knowledge!), going to info sessions whenever available, practicing the art of writing, investing in good documentation, not waiting until the last minute to apply to an opportunity, being strategic about which opportunities you apply to rather than taking scatter-shot, cut-and-paste approaches, and asking fellow artists to give feedback on your submissions.
The jurors were asked to share feedback about the process. It sounds to me that the organizers are interested in making improvements, so the application may shift slightly in the future. These notes reflect my experience, during this one particular jurying session of New Glass Review, solely.
Each juror will submit an essay on our perspective, as well as short statements about 25 of our selections. I appreciated the opportunity to articulate what I’m interested in as a viewer, and what I saw in the works I selected. I think this is a unique aspect of juried artist’s competitions that makes a jury feel less de-personalized. As an applicant, I always appreciate getting any feedback or encouragement, but most organizations don’t have the capacity to give feedback. I can’t think of any that includes jurors’ direct responses like New Glass Review.
I felt honored to be part of the process. I am coming away with a lot of images and knowledge about contemporary glass art from the past 18 months. I’m very grateful to learn about so many glass practitioners around the world, to be exposed to so many artists’ artworks and practices. I hope that New Glass Review 41 acts as a starting point for readers to learn more about these artist’s practices.
I’m grateful to all the artists for preparing entries with care and intention.
Huge thanks to CMOG, Susie, Violet, Whitney, support staff, and the fellow jurors for such a wonderful opportunity, the great support, and generous hospitality.
*Addendum: Unsolicited Advice on Writing Artist’s Statements
If you’re interested, here are some writing strategies I’ve picked up over the years.
One strategy is to print out your artist statement, use scissors to cut out each sentence, and then cut out any words that aren’t necessary or communicative. This is nice for artists who like to work with their hands. Also, taking it off the screen and making it mechanical can help you focus on individual words and phrases.
Another method to try is to use journalists’ inverted pyramid. (See graphic and link at right.)
The last tip is to use headers. Think of them as signposts for navigating a text. Usually, setting the header in all capitals and extra space are enough to distinguish it from body text, if you can’t style the text otherwise.
(While Susie emphasized that we’re selecting artists, not writers, to me, clear writing is an indication of clear thinking. I like to know what artists are thinking about their work and what they are trying to do. If they can’t articulate it clearly, I can’t understand the work as well. I did allow some leeway for non-native English entrants in this regard.)