Much chatter in the fiber art blogosphere these days about quilt show entries, as many of us are getting ready to enter Quilt National and a few of the smaller art/quilt shows. On Terry Jarrard-Dimond's blog I've learned more than I wanted to know about JPEGs vs. TIFFs and the potential dangers of image degradation as you use your picture over and over for multiple show entries (or other purposes). Also discussion of how strange it is that many quilt shows prohibit, on pain of death, any color correction or other tweaking of an image, while shows in other art disciplines don't seem to care.
All this makes my head hurt.
I have chosen as an artist to work in fiber, not photography. It chops me to be told to worry about the nuances of image quality when I should be worrying about the nuances of my quilting stitch.
Now one valid response to this whine is to say get over it, photographing your work is important if you want it to be seen in public -- whether than means in a juried show, in a gallery, or on your own website/blog. Photography, whether you do it yourself or pay to have it done, is a vital part of marketing your work, and you remain ignorant at your own peril. I know this is true, and I have always used professional-quality photographers for my work.
But another valid response is to say that some show organizers are asking entrants to jump through way too many hoops, and the "reasons" behind these requirements may not stand up to scrutiny.
For one, the requirement that all images be a certain size and/or resolution. (Please forgive me in advance if I don't use the exact technical terms in discussing these issues. I told you already, I'm neither a photo wonk nor a computer wonk, and I kind of want to stay that way. I hope you will know what I'm talking about.) Yes, it's nice for jurors if all the images fill the screen neatly, but it's hardly going to kill them to see different images at slightly different sizes. And images can't all be the same size, even if people follow the directions perfectly -- if you're supposed to have the longest side no more than 1800 pixels, a square quilt is going to end up a lot bigger on the screen than a long, skinny one.
And yes, maybe it's nice if jurors can see every quilt photographed perfectly -- no momentary frustration because one is a touch fuzzy or the left corner isn't properly lit, no momentary eyestrain because one is shown on a black background and the next one on pale gray.
But I would like to think that jurors have enough good sense and discernment to look at the quilt, not the photo. Does that touch of fuzz make it impossible to tell a good quilt from a bad one? Is that left corner the difference between accepting and rejecting the piece? I get the feeling that sometimes jurors penalize good quilts simply because of bad photography, and if so, shame on them.
Many of the high-end shows such as Quilt National and Quilt Visions publish catalogs with juror statements, which I always read carefully for insights into what's going on in the field. Or at least that's what I want to read. But for a while I noticed that many juror statements said little about art and much about photography; indeed a few of the statements seemed like insulting lectures to us dummies who dared to offend the jurors' rarefied sensibilities by sending in less-than-perfect slides or images.
Here's a Quilt National juror statement from several years back: "Slides that were too dark or those showing backgrounds (such as people or furniture) lost their chance of being considered." Yes, it's amateur hour when somebody holds the quilt up for photography rather than pinning it to a nice clean wall, but what if the quilt was really great? Take off points, sure, but to automatically disqualify it? I don't think that's the proper role of a juror.
How about the show requirement that images have no color correction or cropping? I do agree that it's bad practice to make your quilt square by cropping; the last time I juried a show we were frustrated by not being able to see the edges of the quilt to learn more about construction and finishing. Yet I wonder if jurors really like to see everything that's going on in the margins of the original image, like the ropes suspending the bar from which the quilt hangs or the edge of the gray felt backdrop. (That's the way I sent my images in to Fiberart International last year, because they demanded no cropping at all.)
I don't understand the big deal about color correction. Even though I wouldn't know how to do this if I wanted to, I take the word of others who say that sometimes without color correction the image doesn't properly represent the quilt. As an object lesson, see my post from yesterday about the purple sweater.
But who cares? If a quilt has good design and good workmanship, does it matter whether it's a bluish red or an orangey red? I've often seen entry images where the detail shot differs greatly in
color from the full shot; the jurors may remark on it but it never
stopped us from accepting or rejecting a quilt on its other merits. The quilt shows up and the organizer says "I thought from the photo it was going to be blue, not green" -- so what? Don't tell me the jurors so closely calibrated their choices that a green quilt will ruin their plan.
And finally, the requirement that images be submitted in two different resolutions, one "for jury" and one "for print." This might be for two reasons -- the show wants to use the higher-quality images either to print a catalog or to provide to publications for coverage of the show. Fine, but why not request images from the people who are accepted instead of from everybody? It's just like requesting artist statements from all entrants, even though the statements will never be seen by the jurors, because they'll eventually be needed for the catalog or the wall labels. Or like requiring you to send in not just your CD of
images but a printout of color thumbnails. Since the thumbnails are
labeled with your name, you know that's not used for jurying, but
presumably is a help for the people who are going to hang the show.
Translated into English, these requirements mean "our time is more valuable than your time, so race around and give us something we probably won't use just so we don't have to ask you for it after you're accepted."
Quilt National can get away with it, because they're number one. But can other shows afford to annoy their potential entrants with unreasonable demands? Maybe artists should vote with their feet -- and follow up with a letter to the organizers saying "I'm choosing not to enter your show because I don't have a color printer and it was just too much hassle to get my friend to print out these stupid thumbnails that you won't need till next year even if I'm accepted." Hey, maybe it's not too late to send that letter to that show I didn't enter last spring for precisely that reason.