While no single person is the same, there tends to be a handful of defining moments in an artist’s life. It could include picking up a new media, be it in the flick of a paintbrush or the snap of a shutter. It might be the first visit to a professional gallery, where looking over each Matisse, Judd and Giacometti fills you with inspiration. Or perhaps it’s simply the mental snap that occurs the 79th time your work is ruined by the salty tears seeping off charcoal and fixative covered cheeks. Oh… just me? Okay… nevermind then.
However, there is one event that many Hope students do actually think back to time after time. Each fall semester, art majors, minors and those in every other conceivable academic pathway alike submit their work to the DePree Gallery for the annual Juried Student Show. The popular gallery exhibit, which typically stretches for a handful of weeks in late October and early November, follows a professional yet simple process. First, you submit work. With students offering a few pieces each, the amount of paintings, sculptures, films and photographs rises into the triple digits. The guest juror, who is typically an accomplished artist in one form or another, is then brought in and spends the better part of the day looking everything over. Work deemed ready is marked accordingly, and that’s pretty much it. A few workshops are offered to help students prepare their work for gallery display, but at this point, the trial is done. There are deadlines, hard votes yes or no, and an objective third party. The whole format, while streamlined for an undergraduate level, begins preparing students for what an actual gallery experience will entail.
Where the show really shines is in the feedback. I have had the pleasure of submitting art into the show for the last handful of years. For both the works that were fortunate enough to be accepted, as well as those that weren’t quite there, I received wonderful written insight into why each decision was made. Further so, the jurors often spend some time in the gallery following the deliberation and are always more than happy to have their brains picked.
In previous years this has been a simple process of leaving the work in the actual gallery, but with current restrictions, this year has necessitated a few alterations. Now, a tiered submission process takes place. Students first provide digital documentation for up to five pieces they wish to have exhibited. The juror (more on her later) will peruse the submissions, and then, after selecting a smaller amount, view these selected pieces in the gallery as normal. So while uniquely staggered, the new procedure maintains the curatorial process.
The special ingredient to each year is the juror. This year, the role is filled by Executive Director of Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency Shannon Stratton. The accomplished artist has curated dozens upon dozens of shows both locally and nationally and has funded organizations to promote burgeoning artists and inspire interests at every stage.
Currently on track to graduate in the spring with both art and psychology majors, senior Kathryn (Kat) Henry shared her experiences with the event. As I sat surrounded by the painting covered walls of her studio, Henry told me about her entries into the past three juried shows. Each year she rolled the dice with her hard work and let a complete stranger determine whether or not it was “gallery worthy.” Henry was overjoyed to tell me she has gotten at least one work in each year, but she has also had to deal with the possibility of failure. “That’s the hardest part,” she offered. “You know there is a chance of possibly getting your feelings hurt.” While it is so very easy for those working creatively to internalize criticism and rejection, the triumphs can be so very high.
Henry was also excited to talk about the great variety of folks who end up submitting work. While all of those involved in studio art classes through the art department are required to submit a few pieces as an exercise, many come forward on their own volition. Engineers, business majors, biologists and chemists alike present their work and, with well-deserved excitement, have their names placed on placards.
The Juried Student Show is a mainstay of the arts experience at Hope; it’s both a practice round and a proving ground. The art world is cutthroat enough, so every sliver of experience is not just encouraged but necessary. Beyond the professional influence, the show is pivotal for a young artist. It means confidence, acknowledgement and, more than anything, rejection. Before I left her busy studio, Henry shared how she felt about the student show: “It definitely encourages me as an artist because I see my work in the show and people can then see what I have been doing… You feel like an actual artist and not just a student.” You don’t need to be center stage in a gallery opening to be an artist, but you do need to be honest with yourself sometimes. You already are one.