Whether you choose people from your own church to jury or go to outside artists, forming an understanding of what is important to your community as the sponsor of an exhibit is important both for curating an exhibit and dealing with problems that arise. Jurors need guidelines ranging from how many works will fit in the space, to the expectations and purposes of the exhibit.
For information about the practicalities of receiving artwork to jury, see Creating the Call for Entries.
Jurying for Aesthetics
As you might guess, I have an interest in excellence. It really upsets me when "Christian art" is the object of jokes and sneers, not least because some of it deserves to be.
Artistic excellence in visual art includes, of course, mastery of craft: skillful design, use of materials, and presentation. But the content of an artwork is an even more important aspect of artistic excellence. We long for imaginative, creative work that is deeply felt and deeply reasoned. Cliches, whether intellectual, visual, or cultural, distress me more than an imperfect decision about color or form.
Artistic or aesthetic excellence is not equivalent to prettiness. We often exclaim over the "beauty" of something when we mean its attractiveness to the eye, its pleasing colors and form, and its ability to transport us away from everyday banality or ugliness. This kind of beauty is one way to be excellent, but it is not the only way.
For a long time, this kind of beauty has been out of fashion in the secular art world, and it is tempting to the Christian artist and juror to respond to the violence and unprettiness of such art with a rush toward the soothing and familiar. I think this is not the only valid response and can even become a wrong response. What we need to do most fundamentally is to counter the hopelessness in that kind of art with the beauty of Christ. And Jesus was no pretty boy saying and doing pretty things. He spit in dirt to make mud to heal a man’s blindness.
We at Hope Chapel have attempted to expand our understanding of beauty beyond prettiness. To remember the cross, not just the resurrection, when deciding what is aesthetically good. Art that makes the viewer feel pleasant for a moment is not wrong, but how much more powerful is art that contains within it layers of meaning. I heard one artist say that he feels he has succeeded with a piece if a viewer looks at it for 15 seconds because most often people just glance and move on.
Jurying for Content
Content can be judged in two ways. First, each artist communicates a message via the work. We as a church are responsible for what this message says, not only by deciding what we exhibit but also by mentoring artists. Each church will struggle with this aspect of jurying in its own way. HopeArts has mentored by means of classes on theological and artists’ issues, small groups for prayer and discussion, talks and panel discussions by professional Christian artists, and individual relationships, as well as the exhibits (and performances) themselves. What is important to us to communicate has come into focus over years of praying and working through stuff together.
The second way of jurying content is to consider the sponsor’s purposes for hanging an exhibit. Here are some examples of purposes we had at various times:
Communicating the purposes to the artists in the Call for Entries and to the jurors helps prevent misunderstandings and stress.
Jurying for the Location
The location of the gallery determines the audience most likely to see the art. Austin has dozens of restaurant galleries, and the art in them varies as much as the food. In cafes near the UT campus you may see student work; in Mexican restaurants, art by Latinos; in upper-crust delis, light-hearted illustrations; in coffeehouses, dark or offbeat work. In the same way, a church has to look at its space and audience when sponsoring an exhibit.
Because Hope Chapel uses the walls of the sanctuary as the main gallery, we must keep in mind the idea of sanctuary. People coming to services there may be hurting from any manner of injuries in their lives. Children come there. Therefore, we have a strict "no nudes" policy, as well as a sensitivity to dark or difficult work. Although our pastors have been open to considering exceptions for specific works, we have sometimes had to jury out entries that are skillful and thoughtful because we must care for our audience who is worshipping and praying in the same space. Occasionally those difficult works end up in someone’s office for the duration of the exhibit; other times we decline them altogether. Sometimes we hang them in less visible places, such as in another room or in the back of the sanctuary so they are not in anyone’s face during worship.
Another reason that a location requires jurying is simply limited wall space. When you have more work than will fit, some otherwise acceptable works may have to go. We in HopeArts have decided to accept at least one work from each artist in juried shows, and this policy sometimes means we must reject strong pieces from artists who have submitted multiple entries, due to limited space.
Rules do not lead the way; they are only a shorthand for the thinking and working we have already done as we planned and carried out those plans and then pondered the results. Loving the artists who are taking the risk to lay out their deepest feelings, thoughts, prayers, and doubts in a work of art is always primary. It is not always easy, as there are a lot of other people to consider and we aren't always sure what is the most loving decision or act or word. That is where praying together in groups of two or three or ten is crucial, both planned and spontaneous.
David Taylor, Hope Chapel's former arts pastor, once spoke about the ideal elements of an arts ministry and used six adjectives he believes should modify any undertaking, large or small, that a leader envisions:
thoughtful gracious charitable generous honorable harmonious
If we can take the the passion of a plan and, rather than immediately start thinking about who could do what and where the money’s coming from, begin to modify our plan with these concepts first and keep them in the forefront in the making of every decision, how differently the final product turns out.
Here are some practices that have helped to prevent problems and to solve them when they arise:
Hope and the Visual Arts by Kate Van Dyke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.hopeva.weebly.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.hopeva.weebly.com.