Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Makes a Winner

Lamentation of the Spirits - Best of Show Illusions
It is that time of year again. No, not just the holidays, but when artists have to come up with some new work to submit to fairs, shows and exhibits. Judges for major fairs do not want to see the same work again and there is always this little line in judged exhibits - work must be completed in the last two years. To complicate matters one of the galleries I am in is having a retrospective of the original six female artists for its seventh anniversary. And the Moreno Valley Arts Council is calling for entries for a January exhibit. So while others are making the rounds of endless holiday parties I am trying to come up with at least three new and innovative works.

This always raises the question as to what makes a winner. A group of friends and I got into this discussion with photography recently. First it has to be a good. And this is true for all artistic endeavors, including poetry and music no doubt. Composition, which I would define as balance and proportion, is all important. And in painting or photography that balance and proportion extends to color and not merely the layout of shapes. A photographer can frame his shot and on the computer crop it to improve the composition. A painter gets total freedom over their composition.

The most important role of composition (and here I am going to expand and recklessly include poetry and music) is to catch the eye (or ear) of the viewer and draw them in. And move them deeper into the work and then release them. A static composition causes a subtle irritation in the viewer - a dissatisfaction. Admittedly their have been some movements in painting that sought just to slam the viewer against the canvas. Museums collect a lot of those.

I guess because I write I also believe that message or content is very important in the visual arts, but unfortunately has become rather back-staged (maybe it has something do do with those Slam movements). Art is so often today something pretty to hang on your walls. And those of us trying to make a living in these rough economic times are libel to pander to the masses on this. But this time of year, especially when entering a juried exhibit, we get to insert more message. It is by no means as obvious as in an essay but for those that are engaged in the work through composition it is there to be read.

When I am in the role of judge for an exhibition I always look for content. Does this very well crafted painting or photograph also say something to me? Those works that do make a statement will always win out over those which are just nicely practiced compositions of light and color. But judges are fickle. All viewers of art bring to the art their own experiences which alters their relationship to the work. Hey, I know people that don't like the Mona Lisa. Even the best of artists get rejected from time to time. And a prize winning piece can lose in the next competition.


  1. How do you know what a judge is looking for in a work of art.'

    If you give me a specific subject in a photography competition, then I know what I'm looking for. But then again I may like what another judge does not. Or is it that judges follow a set criteria?

    I know people too who are not moved by the Mona Lisa or The Laughing Cavalier. I know people who don't give a damn about van Gogh.

    So it's all in the eye of the beholder?jolas

  2. That 'jolas' at the end was supposed to be in the box that you have to type into to make sure you are areal person!

  3. Certain judges get a reputation for liking certain kinds of art. But that happens in all fields. I used to show standard poodles and there were judges that went gaga over long noses and those that didn't.

    You shouldn't even be playing in the sandbox if you cannot at least shovel sand sort of thing. And a lot depends upon your competition.

    I was at a gallery today and was thumbing through the matted photographs of a couple of photographers that insisted on signing both of their names to each picture. Cameras can be held by only one person and that sort of thing would get the tossed out of any juried show. But as I thumbed through I could separate their work. She, I am willing to bet, was the far better photographer. But she or he it was really obvious that they were not of the same level by far.

    So experience and quality is the first thing a judge is looking for. And if your competition doesn't have it you have won. If they do then you need an edge like a real statement in your work.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to explain. It all makes perfect sense.


I appreciate all kind comments on my art and poetry.