Skidmore Student Exhibition
February 3 - February 29, 2004
Jurying the 2004 Skidmore Student Exhibition has been both an honor and a privilege. As a professor of art for over twenty-five years, I am fascinated and continually impressed by the fresh ideas, technical accomplishments, and conceptual breakthroughs that student exhibitions frequently have to offer; this is one of those occasions.
I was curious, as the selection process began, to see what young artists at Skidmore
were up to these days and if there was anything that set them apart from those working
at other schools. I also hoped, especially as someone with an outside perspective,
to offer this view back to the Skidmore community.
Given the strong reputation of the art department, I was not surprised to see a high level of skill and sophistication in the work, both technically and conceptually. I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and variety of paintings that were submitted (in a time when painting seems always on the verge of extinction) but also wondered if this was an accurate cross-section of the department - or if people working in other media may have been less inspired to submit their work to a juror known primarily as a painter.
I hope this wasn't the case. Although I saw fewer examples of work in communication
design, fibers, metals, photography, printmaking, sculpture and other media than I
might have hoped, the work I did see was impressive. I wondered if these pieces were
the tip of an iceberg; one that I would be very curious to see.
Nevertheless, I had my hands full as it was, and had to make any number of difficult decisions in an effort to shape a coherent but diverse body of work, with the added constraint of how much would fit in the gallery. While there is always the option of hanging the show "salon-style," it seemed to make more sense to give the work enough room to be fully appreciated.
As a result, I was especially concerned about which work we could not include. While
a juror is aware of balancing many factors -- what work he or she finds most exciting,
what work is better resolved, how the work fits together, the desire to include a
cross-section of styles and media, and so forth -- the individual artist naturally
reads the outcome in black and white -- "The juror liked/didn't like my work."
I won't kid you - there were pieces that could have been more effective at what they were trying to do, less familiar as a style or an approach, better crafted or presented, and so forth, at least to one degree or another. But there were many as well that I had a hard time letting go. These showed imagination, daring, ambition, and originality but perhaps didn't pull it off quite as convincingly as they could, at least in the eyes of one particular juror on two particular days in January, 2004.
To these artists I would say that next time, no doubt, will be different. In my view, just showing up and putting your work (and yourself) out there is laudable in and of itself and an essential part of what we do --so keep it up.
As for my initial question, the quality that finally came through as the hallmark
of the work I saw - and possibly a defining characteristic of the creative community
at Skidmore - is its high degree of caring, concentration, and conviction. I saw very
little, even among the pieces that weren’t included, that I would describe as off-handed,
half-hearted, or -- to put it in the vernacular -- half-assed. The work I saw was
hands-on, socially and culturally aware, alive to the possibilities of putting practice
ahead of theory, and possessed a bracing sense that “this matters.”
In a period of art-making in which little else will see you through, these are powerful characteristics and ones you should all be proud of.
With my thanks to all who entered, and especially to Pete, Deborah, David, Mary, Eleanor, Molly, and Bay for making my stay, as well as the jurying process, such a rewarding one,
Mark Wethli, Painter
A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art
Director, Visual Arts Program
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine