Frustrating to many is that awards to artists in juried art shows are often times determined by a single judge. What if that judge is a watercolorist and you are a welded metal sculptor, or vice versa? Can you be judged fairly when the judging party knows little to nothing of what you do? In the atmosphere of visual art, fraught with bias, how can a judge be fair?
Here’s what happened to me as the solo judge of a prestigious art competition and how I learned to deal with it.
Although I have no degree in art or title to suggest qualifications, I was asked to judge the prestigious Annual Bay Area Art Competition at the Wm Bonifas Fine Arts Center in Escanaba, MI. Maybe it was because I won a couple awards before at Bonifas art competitions and work in a number of different mediums. Does that qualify me to judge your art? The answer is a resounding NO, but in this case, I had a secret weapon. That weapon was knowledge of how a number of other artists with experience perceive art.
Years ago, bothered by the dilemma of bias, I contacted a dozen or so of whom I thought were the most gifted artists in my community and asked each of them, “What is most important to you when it comes to art?” The varied answers led me to believe that everyone looks at art differently. So, I thought, why not create a way to look at a piece of art as though any number of people is looking at it for the first time?
By organizing the strongest considerations by other artists into categories on a critique sheet, I felt confident in knowing that each piece of art was given a thorough examination. From this (if needed), I could take each qualitative assessment and assign it a quantitative value. From that total, with everything considered, I could confidently rank the best of the best. Here is what that critique sheet looks like.
|Artworks Critique Guide|
|CATEGORIES||ARTWORKS CRITIQUE GUIDE© by Earl Senchuk||VALUE|
|Visual appeal||How much does it make you want to take a closer look? Does it grab your attention?|
|Originality/creativity||High mark if you have never seen this style or concept before.|
|Use of the medium||Is this a unique way to express this medium, or combination of mediums?|
|Degree of difficulty||How difficult does it appear for the artist to execute? Complexity/simplicity (as in minimalistic)|
|Quality of presentation||Is it well presented, or just something to get by? Does it look professionally done?|
|Due diligence||Does it appear the artist was enthusiastic throughout the process or in a hurry to get it done?|
|Attitude/composition||How would you rate the pose or composition. Is it interesting? Does it draw you in?|
|Forethought||How much thought does it appear went into this piece before executing?|
|Use of color||If applicable, how would your rate this artist’s use of color?|
|Thought provoking||Does it make you think about the artist, the technique, yourself, or the message?|
|Attention to detail||If applicable, how much does attention to detail add to the expression?|
|Overall artistic expression||How would you personally rate this piece?|
|Scoring||1-10 (lowest to highest) 1=not much new here 5= average 10= superior|
|n/a= not applicable|
|Add up total of values assigned and divide by the number of applicable categories.|
|Name of artwork|
Now, not all art in a show is going to get this kind of attention. It would take too long. To be a qualified judge, it helps to have some background that will allow you to narrow the field quickly. A gallery walk-through gives the judge an immediate overview. As I peruse the gallery, I place a piece of tape next to each piece that I want to spend more time considering in detail. It is from those contested pieces that I will make judgment. Only the crème-de-la-crème gets the awards and the numbers dictate the level of the award winners. Sometimes the numbers are very close.
As you might notice, there is bias still incorporated into this critique by asking your personal opinion, but it limits bias to just 8% of the total picture.
At the awards ceremony, the speaker introduced me and then informed the audience that in all the years that the Bay Area Art Competition has been in existence, I was the first and only judge that ever showed up to attend the reception. You can imagine my deer-in-the-headlights look! There were a number of excellent artists in that room that are used to getting awards. A stack of critique sheets were placed in the front of the room and all were invited to see the criteria from which their works were judged. All went well. At least I’m still here to tell you about it.
This critique sheet is not something I recommend to everyone who is a judge. It seems to me helpful in that it informs any viewer that there are other considerations to defining great art and offers a manner of thinking when doing your own art.