A Juror's Perspective: Interview with Allison Lynch

Recently I was asked to jury the Winter Member's Juried Exhibition at Newburyport Art Association.  I had an interview with NAA Gallery Associate Allison Lynch about what the criteria are when jurying art.  Here's an excerpt below.  Full interview on the NAA blog.

The Newburyport Art Association's gallery
Image: Jim Vaiknoras, Newburyport News

Allison Lynch: You said you’ve juried many shows before; what are your criteria when looking at an artwork in a show? It must be hard to go into a show without your partialities to certain pieces of work.

Lucas Spivey: It is, it’s a really tricky game, because sometimes people will specifically submit work for the juror. It doesn’t make sense as a juror to come in with your own taste, because some people don’t know your own taste, so that’s unfair. It also doesn’t make sense to go in and not have any bias, because I’m a human being, and certain things are going to be more interesting and more merited than others. What I do look for when I come in are sincerity, specificity, and risk; those are my three guiding principles in what I think merits artwork.

AL: Can you elaborate on those three criteria? Sincerity, specificity, and risk?

LS: I think that work has to be sincere. It can’t be about something you don’t understand – it needs to be about something you’re passionate about, something you care about. It’s hard to know when you jury a show whether someone is really passionate about it because you’re typically only looking at 1 to 3 works [by each artist]. Therefore, I choose work that demonstrates to me that the subject matter of the painting, whether it’s a landscape or person, is something that [the artist] is really passionate about, not something that’s simply cool. It’s something they’re really interested in studying over the course of their life and refining over time.

The specificity part of it is that you have to declare what your intention is with a work of art – it can’t be slapped together. Intention is really big with me, in order to do that I have to look at your work and be able to know what your goal was, rather than looking at some kind of accident unless your intention was an accident.

The other thing is risk: it needs to be something I haven’t seen before, something that nobody else is doing, something that took a lot of work, something that’s very personal or emotional, or perhaps something very big or expensive to make. The bottom line is, why should I care? If you didn’t take some kind of risk then why is it more merited than someone who did take a big risk with his or her work?

AL: Do you think it’s difficult to decide if an artist is being sincere? Or to know an artist’s intention?

LS: Yes, specificity and sincerity are very hard without an artist statement, and without seeing the whole body of their work. It’s pretty hard to judge in one sitting. Risk is easy, it’s easy to look at someone’s work and determine if someone took a big risk with size, materials, or process, such as an extremely detailed watercolor painting.

I think specificity also asks, did you submit this work specifically for this show? You can usually tell that. I’ve juried work before where I can tell that if they’d only known the venue they wouldn’t have submitted that. I don’t know how applicable it is for the NAA show, but I’ve juried street art festivals before, and those take a particular kind of work that make it really exciting. For the NAA, it’s a family friendly environment, so I’m probably not going to pick work that is going to offend anybody. You have to think about that as well, so it’s difficult for artists to submit work that is inappropriate.

The NAA Winter Members Juried Exhibition will be from January 11 - February 2, 2013 and the reception is Saturday, January 12, 7 - 9pm