The Fine Art of Assessing Artworks
Professional artists and teachers are often asked to judge at art shows or at demonstrations at art societies and guilds. If you have ever been a part of this process by bringing along an artwork to get an idea of how you are doing in your progress, you may have wondered what was in the mind of the judge as they looked at your work. You may have also, along with others wondered if there was any reasoning or process being applied as work was being judged or if it was a matter of the preferences and particular liking or disliking, prejudices or even alliances of that particular person doing the judging.
As I am now studying towards not only selling my work but also teaching in the near future, I thought it a good time to not only call on personal experience, but also training as a trainer and assessor and arts training to speak about how I would like to approach this subject.
First, it shouldn’t matter who is paying you or asking you to do the judging, your decision making has to be unbiased. You can not think about any friends you may have in the group, who is on the committee, who is going to be giving you your cheque at the end of the session. If you are going to base your decisions in any way with these influences you can not be considered a professional artist or art judge.
Second, If the competition allows for a variety of mediums, such as watercolours, oils, pastels, drawings in pencil or charcoal etc, you can not say that you only know about one or two of these and only judge based on what you feel you know. This leaves out other entries who may have better technical expertise and which may or should be selected for a place or win. Just saying “oh, I only work in watercolours so I can’t tell if those others are of high enough standard”, to me is a cop out. If you are there to judge all the work, you must consider all of them. If you are not qualified to look at all mediums, you either need to increase your own training or not take on the job.
Third, If there is a topic or theme, you must stick to it. If people have taken the time to create work to comply with the guidelines of the competition, it is an insult to their hard work to allow work to be entered that does not meet this criteria. You have to be strong enough in your convictions as a professional to disallow a work. This may annoy someone, but will gain you respect from others, and frankly you are not there to pick up friends as your main objective, you are there to judge professionally and respectfully.
After this follows the criteria that I use, and hopefully others do as well (of not more criteria that I am still learning about) which are:
- Composition (understanding of the variety of methods)
- Tone (understanding of light and shade and modelling)
- Colour (use of)
- Colour (understanding of colour theory)
- Understanding of chosen medium
- Style (understanding of the style used – such as impressionist or realist etc)
- Subject (understanding of the subject – such as anatomy etc)
- Perspective (understanding of single or multi point, understanding of colour perspective)
- Materials (understanding of materials used)
- Presentation (if framed, the selection of frame and/or matts, if unframed, the sides and back of the work and hanging mechanism)
- Creativity and interest
Finally, I would add to all this an understanding by the judge of the general level of the group which you are judging. It is useless to apply the expectation of the level of ability and presentation of a thirty year veteran of painting to a group of beginners, social painters or kids just starting out. A lot of art groups have divisions for the different levels at which their members are working, which helps a lot but you need to make sure you understand what these are before you start.
Also, make your decision making clear. I have been at a lot of events where the winners have not known why their work was chosen. If you are allowed the time, and I suggest that you make it a requirement that you have it, tell the group what it was that made one piece stand out for you, and go through your process with them. Have a check sheet if you need it so that as you look at the works, you keep everything clear in your mind as you may be judging and presenting at different times during the session. Be prepared also, to tell others where you feel they can improve their works if you have not selected them. Some may want to know what they need to work on so they can do better next time. Offer to do that if it has not been made clear.
If you have been engaged to do a demonstration of your work, I understand that this adds to the workload of preparing what you will present, preparing the materials and probably doing some practice and preliminary sketches. It may mean that you are at the event a little longer than normal afterwards. You are, however, being paid as a professional, and can only gain in reputation as a solid, reliable and knowledgeable (and generous I might add) presenter if you apply these tips at every event you go to. I know that I have been very grateful for any extra time that demonstrators have taken to give me a few ideas on improving my work, after they had finished painting and talking to the group.
I know there are probably established demonstrators who may read this and disagree with nearly everything I have just said. I am OK with that. This is the basis of how I will be applying my arts practice in the future for any demonstrating and/or judging I may be called upon to perform. It will be transparent and hopefully done to the best of my ability and with all the training that I am now doing used as the foundation of my decision making (plus with a big dash of respect and kindness – and maybe a little humour to round it off).
Feedback and comments about this article are welcomed as are new follower to the blog site. The next article in coming days will be about the demonstration at McCelland Guild of Artists for the month of November 2013.