Friday, February 17, 2017

On Being a Judge

Over the years, I have been asked to act as an awards judge for art shows large and small.  They all end with the same thing, explaining your process and justifying your choices. I'm hoping to shed some light for artists just starting to enter competitions and perhaps give s
The Critic by Normal Rockwell
ome ideas to neophyte judges on how to proceed.

In some cases, a juror is presented with only digital images and the original works are never personally examined. As discussed in a previous article on entering competitions, the honesty of the submitting artist is assumed. As a juror, it is correct to bypass a poor image. You can't be expected to try and interpret what the painting looks like if you cant see it in proper lighting and perspective. Many times, the images you receive as a judge are low resolution and this also helps to determine how precisely you can assess the work.

When acting as a "live exhibit" judge, the job is exponentially easier. Digital alteration, distortion and resolution are non-issues. You're able to get "up close and personal" to examine the actual paint layer. I much prefer to judge the actual artwork, and I can't imagine a juror who would not say the same. But in today's world, a judge needs to be prepared to go either way.

My first step is always to take a first stroll through the exhibit, either in the gallery or on the computer. This gives an overview of the relative quality of the work. Then I like to spend a few minutes with each of the artworks presented to me to judge. No matter how good or bad the first impression, each and every one of the works deserve the judge's focused consideration. This can be a lengthy process but personally, I would not feel comfortable with my final decisions if I skipped this step.  I'm looking for several things: Composition, an appropriate range of values, clean color mixing, perspective, proportion and consistency of these factors throughout the piece are all important to me. I make a valiant effort to not let my own preferences - what I would pick for my own collection - have bearing throughout this part of the process.

As I whittle down to final choices, even the smallest aspects can affect inclusion. In the end though, it does becomes subjective. When presented with two, three or more pieces equally excellent in all things technical, it comes down to preference. Which painting speaks to me the most? If there is a story being told, I might react to that more positively. Maybe the color palette is what sways me. When I do make final decisions, just one tiny element can  make the difference between a blue ribbon and a red one. In fact that's usually the case. Finding the top three or four pieces is far easier than deciding which one of those is "better" than the others.

I always try to make a Juror's Statement, either aloud and/or in writing about my process. I want the participants in the show or competition to know that a different juror would probably pick a completely different group of winners. Honestly, an extra cup of coffee on another day might have led me to select an entirely different set or order of winners. A different juror would almost certainly pick a different set of award winners.

In the end, I want and need to be able to justify my selections. By following the process that I've adopted over the years, I am able to do that, and to offer honest critiques to both the winners and those that haven't placed.

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