Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Letter from the President: The ACGA Jury

Before I became president of the ACGA, I was on the Board of Directors for many years. One of the many persistent, ongoing issues that are brought up from our members and from the Board itself is the jury system. Everybody knows jurying into the ACGA as an exhibiting member is a tough process. Prospective exhibiting members have to haul their work to San Francisco, hang out for a few hours while the jury considers their work, and then drive home late in the evening. It's trying, and nerve-wracking. Most people in any group of candidates do not get in. Many exhibiting ACGA members have had to jury two or three times to get in.

The jury's judgment about work is subjective, but it is not capricious. I've been on the jury several times over the years and I've always been impressed by the seriousness of purpose the jury members bring to the process. The ACGA's mission statement is to establish and maintain high standards of craftsmanship and design in clay and glass, and as the jury considers each person's work, that standard is held first and foremost in each juror's mind. Matters of personal taste are put aside as the work is evaluated. Long discussions ensue when the jury is split. Work is held and examined from different angles. Jurors step back and examine the body as a whole. And then, when everybody has had time to formulate and opinion about the work, there is a vote, and the majority rules.

Even with this careful process, there is no doubt that it is imperfect. Most members of the jury do not feel happy to turn away so many. I know as a former juror that I walk away from the process feeling a bit deflated that it is not perfect, worried that the people who get turned down will not be willing to try again. I think it is always worth a second or third shot, even more if it is important to you. But I hear from people, and I know that there are people out there who are not willing to go through the process again. I often wonder of there is a more perfect way to jury work, of making sure that people do not fall through the cracks.

I like to hear about people's experiences with the jury, whether good or bad. Members, both associate and exhibiting, should know that the jury process has been refined over the years and changes made in response to feedback. There are certain things that cannot change, we cannot lower the standard. But there are always tweaks that can be made, ways to make the jury process more perfect. What are your ideas?



  1. Thanks for being candid and honest about subjectivity and ACGA's desire to be as serious and fair as possible.
    Maybe add a critical discussion component to the process where each applicant has, say, 5 minutes to discuss their work with the jury. It would make for a more lengthy process but might be beneficial. Maybe 2 minutes or so of presentation then a few minutes of Q&A. No critical discussion of work by the jury. Just presentation from the artist and questions from the jury.

  2. Hi James,
    On the face of it, I think this is a good idea. It would be nice for people to have the opportunity to educate the jurors about their process, inspirations, background, etc. I know that right now we try to keep the jurors separate from the candidates so as to not bias the jury in any way. So that could be a complicating factor, especially if someone did not give an articulate presentation. Humans have this tendency to make judgements based on all kinds of information that may not be relevant to the issue at hand-- in this case judging the work of artists-- so that would be a concern to me if people were allowed to interact with the jury in that way. Thoughts?

  3. Suggestion as an alternate to the ACGA jury process:
    Since juried shows generally have National or International artists, curators, or art educators, selection of a members work for multiple shows, for example (6 - 10) might be used as another way of demonstrating over time that a member can be recognized for elevation. This would be a less subjective selection method involving multiple independant jurors. It also would demonstrate a committment over time.

  4. Re: The ACGA's mission statement is to establish and maintain high standards of craftsmanship... On the face of it this goal seems problematic because it closes the door on work that may have an appreciation by a narrower interest group. Some Japanese tea wares come to mind, pieces that are made to look naive, rustic, wabi-sabi. If a juror knows nothing about chado, then how could they possibly judge the merits of craftsmanship or design of a tea bowl, a kensui or mizusashi. They may be thought to have been made carelessly. I have heard people say while looking at a piece of abstract art, "my 5 year old could have done that!" They haven't had the exposure or education to have an understanding. A jury may look at a piece and decide it is lacking in craftsmanship or design, but if the intent and use of the object is not understood, it is impossible to make a fair assessment of it's merits. I wonder how Peter Voulkos later work would fare in a "craftsmanship" assessment. Craftsmanship was pretty much rejected in favor of the expressive and spontaneous use of clay. Unfortunately educating the jury in 5 or 10 minutes is out of the question, so the work selected will likely continue to fall into the accepted norms as perceived by the group in general. It doesn't mean that good work won't be selected, but interesting work, work that may have a narrower appreciative audience, will fall through the cracks.

  5. Actually the whole notion of a jury becomes counter-productive if there is any sort of goal to foster and support the ceramics/glass artists of our community. When someone is deemed "unworthy" they often just drop out of the organization. I have seen this with two experienced potters, each with at least 30 years of potting behind them, and I'm sure there are many more like them. The notion that a group such as ACGA would judge these experienced artists' aesthetics as inferior seems the ultimate in hubris. If I were to say that there is plenty of mediocre work at ACGA shows, that would be my own sense of aesthetics at play, but I certainly would not advocate that those people not be allowed to show their work. If anyone wants to see how a high quality show with no jury can work, look at Portland OPA's Ceramics Showcase. With access based upon points earned though work and attendance at meetings, this is a huge and successful show which has been going for more than 30 years. Sure, you might see a few booths with work you don't care for, but there is so much excellent work it doesn't matter. If you go, you will see that is is every bit as good as an ACGA show. The great thing is that any potter feels welcomed into the group, and anyone can earn points towards participating in the show. I think that the founders of OPA where quite progressive with a high priority to support of their arts community by structuring the organization as it did. ACGA, by contrast, has probably alienated hundreds of artists over the years by rejecting them from the "preferred" membership status while trying, with only moderate success, to "maintain high standards".