Every once in a while artists will ask what I look for when judging a show. I like that. It gives me a chance to teach artists to consider their work as a whole package. I feel disadvantaged, however, because oils are my specialty and other mediums and art forms are not. As a result, I’m a much harsher judge when it comes to oil painting.
When judging unfamiliar art forms such as weaving, I look for uniformity of weave, unless variation is a contributing factor in the design. In woodworking, I look for fine finish and smooth curves, unless ruggedness is critical to the sculpture. Also in woodworking, I look for how the grain of the wood is incorporated into the planning of the piece. Traditional quilting asks for fine small hand stitching, a plus over machine stitching. In contemporary quilting, I am tolerant of a wider range of stitch types. Watercolor is perhaps toughest for me to judge, and here I simply look for how well the painter supports the subject and mood with the paint.
In oil painting, brushwork and application of paint are important to me. Oil painting by its very nature is luminous, and I want to see that. Oil paint that is watered down with turp or clogged with sand had better have a reason to be so, and that reason must be more obvious than that the artist is cheap. Required reading for all oil painters should be Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit.
In all work I look at the total presentation—how well the artist’s use of materials supports the underlying concept of the work. Do the color and composition get the message across? Do I recognize copied (or nearly so) work in an original category? Does the work adhere to the rules of the competition? Generally, I try to give latitude in the choice of frame, but if several works are of equal quality, presentation becomes the determining factor. Sloppy presentation is always a negative, and includes dirty mats and glass, poorly cut mats, paintings that are loose in frames, dusty old Mediterranean frames from the 1970’s. Kitsch is a major turn-off.
I suspend my personal preferences as much as possible. They are not relevant when judging a show. Every time I judge a show I am humbled, and wish I knew more about art. I would like to leave comments on many of the entries as to why they won an award—or why they didn’t. Without that, what is learned?
"Lavender and Gold"
Phil and Jennie at Jack’s Fine Art gave me the nicest bunch of compliments today. He is grateful for the general uniformity of my frames (most of my frames are the same style with a few exceptions.) Phil also appreciates my consistency in measuring where I place eyelets and wire, which makes hanging faster and replacement of sold paintings a cinch.
In my framing tool box is a chart that specifies by frame size how far down from the top of the frame to install the eyelets. I stretch the wire moderately tight. If I deliver a bunch of 18x24” paintings the Gallery only has to measure one painting, and all the rest will hang at exactly the same level.
Phil also thanked me for never bringing in wet paintings (artists do that???). On previous deliveries Jennie was pleased with my typed inventory of new paintings. If I annoy them, it is probably because I chat too much when I take in paintings—they are nice people, knowledgeable about art and the community, but they do framing in addition to the gallery and are busy. Still, I enjoy our lively conversations about politics, the abysmal economy and our hopes for the future.
Develop the best possible relationship with your galleries: Be consistent and thoughtful in how you present your art to them. And enjoy it when they pat you on the back.