Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives.
A while back, we asked curators, editors, and presenters (aka artistic gatekeepers) for one piece of advice they’d give to artists. This month, we’re turning the tables and asking artists, What is ONE THING you wish more gatekeepers would incorporate into their selection process?
Dana Filibert, sculptural artist
I appreciate when curators have a unique vision for an exhibit yet one that is not especially broad nor too specific. When work is chosen not only for being conceptually interesting but aesthetically compelling as well, the result can be captivating. In instances where the curator takes an in-depth interest in the work, fully reflecting on the artist’s vision, the exhibit tends to become most engaging. This allows for the best representation of the work in a proposed setting. Although time consuming for the curator, I find in-person studio visits beneficial allowing for the opportunity to gain a broad sense of the artist’s work and process.
Daniel Johnson, poet and executive director of Mass Poetry
I wish that more gatekeepers would provide one-on-one feedback on artist applications. As a poet, I recently went through a highly competitive fellowship application process. Following the nomination, I threw myself into the application, drafting an artist statement, revising work, and making the case that a two-year fellowship would help me finish my next collection of poems. I even solicited application feedback from peers in my field. After submitting, I felt proud of the work I had pulled together.
In the end, I wasn’t selected to receive the fellowship. I did get the chance, however, to schedule a one-on-one session with a program officer in which she relayed direct feedback from the fellowship jurors. My application was very competitive, the officer shared. She also relayed juror statements such as, “Johnson is a masterful storyteller” and that I’d compiled a “robust portfolio.” One juror, she mentioned, felt that I hadn’t made it clear how I would spend the fellowship money, if I received it. All in all, the feedback was targeted, encouraging, and helped me strengthen my application for future opportunities. In the wake of this one rejection, I received another fellowship opportunity followed by recent grant funding.
Ralf Yusuf Gawlick, composer
Most composition competitions embrace/invite/solicit musical entries of creative originality, high artistry, craft and significance. As commendable as such criteria are, judging artistic quality and merit remains a delicate, even precarious affair since the differences of artistic expression and aesthetic directions may vary greatly from work to work and thus complicate assessments of comparative quality. Over the years, I value those competitions whose selection processes recognize/award not just one, but several composers/compositions. In my mind, this acknowledges the merits of artistic and musical variety and best serves our community of composers since a greater number of composers receive worthy recognition, both financially and in terms of critical publicity. Such commendations go a long way because competitions frequently serve as important professional launching pads. A competition might still opt for tiers – for e.g. winner, honorable mentions, etc…, but at least vital and deserving recognition is afforded to several works of exceptional quality. Competitions that have embraced such an award model include the Mass Cultural Council Fellowship Awards and the American Prize.
Leslie Sills, visual artist
I do think that is important for a visual artist to know a curator’s or gallerist’s point of view, interests, and/or past projects when introducing him or her to one’s work. However, when an artist applies for a grant and doesn’t know in advance who will be the juror(s), it seems meaningless to send one’s “strongest” work.
If I could change anything, it would be to know in advance of applying who is going to be judging what I do. Rejection is a painful part of an artist’s life and can be debilitating. To me, it makes most sense to apply to shows where I know the juror(s) might appreciate the values with which one is concerned.
Dana Filibert is a sculptural artist who recently had work in the BCA Ball 2018 Small Works Show and Art Sale and is currently exhibiting in Fun House: 2018: Art of the Surreal, Fantastic, and Bizarre at Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie NY (thru 6/23).
Ralf Yusuf Gawlick is a composer who has twice received Mass Cultural Council fellowships and recently won The American Prize in Composition, in the vocal chamber music division.
Daniel Johnson is a poet and a City of Boston Artist-in-Residence. He was recently named as executive director of Mass Poetry, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to bring poetry into the lives of people from across Massachusetts.
Leslie Sills is a visual artist whose painting LE MARCHÉ (pictured above) was selected for the exhibition Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms, currently on view at The Roosevelt House in New York (thru 9/2), after which it will travel before exhibiting at The Norman Rockwell Museum in the fall of 2020.
Images: Dana Filibert, BILLY (2012) steel, found objects, carved foam, epoxy, 18x17x10 in; Leslie Sills, LE MARCHÉ (2016), oil on panel, 18×24 in.