Thursday, June 25, 2009

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!

So I judged a show!
What are you going to do about it? Judge me!

I dare you!
Seriously, I dare you.

A simple way to explain how art is created is through a discussion of critical judgment- Visual judgment. Proportions are determined by relational comparisons- "Is that bigger than that?" "Is this too wide for it's height?" You can do the same for everything in a picture, including color, value, edges, and so on. Criticism is how good work is made, it is how the artist is made, it is how we get better. I can't think of a more loving thing to do than to spend the time offering your views on someones work. So, when I criticize, I do it because I love.

Group Hug!

Anyway, my wife still made sure to tell me to be nice before I left the house the morning of this show. I did my best.

This is an action shot of me in full on judging action.

I thought I would talk a bit about my experience judging a show in Hillsboro, Ohio last weekend for the Brush and Palette Guild. This is my home town, it is out in the country, and my Grade School art teacher is a member of the Guild. So it was like a home coming of sorts.
It was an interesting show, with a wide range of abilities and talent. Over all the show was very good for such a small group. Some work there that every bit as good as that seen in some city galleries and large studio buildings of full of "artists". It helps that they are a lovely group of people, interested in art, struggling to produce and supportive of each other.

I was a bit surprised by the shear number of awards given, but I have to admit it made my job easier. This was more of a show to demonstrate what the group is doing and to cheer them on to do more. So there were 30 something artists, around 300 pieces of art, and I gave out over 200 awards. It was very much divided up into categories- I had 6 pages or so of them listed with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th for each of them.
So, I imagine, or at least I hope, everyone got some sort of prize. It was tough as there were occasionally 10 pieces in a category, where the top 4 were by the same artist.
I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss how I judged the show and the trends I saw or problems that I most often saw in the work.
The show, luckily was representational so I did not have to worry about being biased towards realism, as I obviously am very biased. So I only had to look at the quality and intent of the pieces.
As I had to judge 300 works in 3 hours, and give out a wheel barrow of ribbons, I had to work fast. Composition and power of the piece from a distance was my first point of consideration, next was color, next was drawing ability, finally was whether I just plain like the piece for what ever reason, including subject matter.
I am sure that some of my choices may have left a few scratching their heads, as small, comfortable, simple pictures with weaker drawing occasionally won out over large flashy painting that were more photographic.

After judging the show, and after lunch, I was to walk around with the artists, and discuss and critique my choices. First off, this was amazingly fun and a great exercise for me. The group was a lot of fun and pretty receptive to my ripping their art to shreds.
The crazy thing was that I got paid to do it. I was handed a Judges Guildlines sheet, that I suppose I was suppose to read. I was to critic the work from 1:00 to 2:30. I did it from 1:30 to about 5.

My comments on their art was probably not very different from comments I might make on most art done today.
So, what were the over riding issues and problems with the work?
1) Lack of Design and a strong center.
A drawing or painting has to first and foremost work in design. This is one of the hardest things to teach, to learn and to explain. It is obviously one of the hardest to do as I see some wonderful painters working today, that are just not designing- at all. Many very talented figure painters seem to believe that a painting is designed if you get the pretty, nude girls butt close to the center. While that is part of it, there is a lot more do creating a good abstraction.
One could write a series of books on the subject, so I will do little more here than mention these things, and suggest that you read on the topic. Also, make sure you look at good pictures. No, let me rephrase that- Great pictures.
The tendency to work from photos is a big part of the problem. A photo rarely is good design. It maybe an accurate representation, people usually get the subject roughly in the center of the viewfinder, but that is not necessarily a reason to paint from it. A photo can be a good tool, but nature does not design for us, we design from nature. I also feel this trend of a "painting a day", which is a good exercise in painting, for effect, quickly, often has completely neglected design. A pear in the middle of a color field canvas is not a good design unless you are painting a bulls eye for an archery club. A line of pears is also not a good design if they are all treated equally haphazardly lined up. Maybe if you are painting a pattern for a wall paper border, but I still think that design is not considered as much as it should be.
Some books on the topic: Pictorial Composition by Arthur Dow, Figure Composition by R. G. Hatton, and Composition by Cyril Pearce. Most good art books have a chapter or discussion on composition. Make sure the artist writing the book either has had great training, is a great artist themselves, and I suggest that they probably should have been dead for a long time. Some are out of print, but check your library or if it is posted online for free somewhere.

I will discuss more of the issues in later posts. Just to get you ready, these issues will include Lack of Light effect, Silhouette, Rhythm, and some discussion of presentation and framing.

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