Judging art shows

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The opening and awards presentation of the Oil Painters of America National Show is underway as I write this. The prestigious show got me thinking about art show judging.

OPA has done a very good job of building into the selection process a level playing field for all entrants. All possibility of favoritism is kept to the absolute minimum. I’ve written about the subject in a former blog post HERE. Many shows now adopt a similar plan.

I’ve judged lots of shows over the years and it can be a challenge, particularly when the overall level of work is very high. I do not envy the challenge set before Kenn Backhaus as he selects the OPA National award winners.

Most shows are typically juried online for selection, and in person for awards. This should immediately throw up a red flag, warning each participant to take great care in presenting the best possible image of your entry to the selection committee. This does not mean enhancing the image in Photoshop until it looks better than the original. I have experienced this several times. When finally witnessing the original, the disappointment was palatable. So, I offer this word of caution when submitting work…only do enough Photoshop manipulation to accurately represent the work…no more, no less.

Judging art is not an exact science, thank goodness, and it can often leave room for second guessing oneself.

All representational/realism art has intellectual (communicates an idea/concept), technical (material and execution), and emotional components…and they all need to be considered as part of the judging process. When one component is overwhelming emphasized above all others, I’m not sure that makes for a great work of art.

When judging a show, my procedure is to walk through the show a few times, get an overall feel, and make note of the paintings that grab my attention. There will be a few, and those pieces generally end up in the final selection, but not always.

Next, I go through again and study each piece individually, being careful not to look at signatures. It is here that discoveries are made that were overlooked during earlier passes. The pieces that stand out are marked with a small piece of masking tape attached to the frame. When I feel all the best works have been marked, they are then more critically evaluated for concept, composition, drawing, values, color, technique…and when everything is equal up to this point, presentation becomes the deciding factor.

Respecting each artist’s work and giving them fair consideration should be a given.

I have seen judges totally disregard this important point. After one quick walk through they are done.

I dislike judging for awards by committee. All my experience of that has only resulted in what I considered an inferior show. Love him or hate him, I prefer one award judge. Good luck, Kenn Backhaus.

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John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.


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