Today, Paula Cravens of Columbia Valley, B.C., Canada, wrote, “I recently attended a gala art reception where they gave out awards. One of the participants had a super-realistic style with no visible brush marks. The judging committee questioned her in front of people. Eventually, the committee awarded her a prize. Negative comments were overheard. The artist was upset by the questioning of her integrity and the effect it would have on her reputation. She has requested a public apology. How would you feel if such an incident happened to you? What would you do about it?”
Thanks, Paula. As a frequent juror, I’m siding with the committee. We jurors are often confronted with excellent work that seems to be other than what it’s represented to be. On more than one occasion it has fallen upon me to phone an artist to get some info.
And on more than one occasion I’ve been met with anger and indignation. One time there was so much sobbing and tears on the other end that my own cellphone got wet. All I was doing was inquiring as to how the work was produced. One time a work purported to be a watercolour turned out, upon examination with an Agfa-loupe, to be a giclee. Another work that knocked the jurors’ socks off was a direct copy of an illustration in American Artist Magazine. Still another artist fessed up to “colouring a big photocopy.” Only some of us jurors knew what was going on.
This is just one reason why every jury ought to include at least one who understands technique and technology.
In the situation you mentioned, the artist was present and in a position to explain her process. It’s perhaps unfortunate that things were said in front of others. The further negative comments were probably a ripple effect, but the juror’s concerns were probably legitimate. I’ve worked with jurors of all stripes but I’ve never met a mean one. In my experience, they’re a naturally curious bunch.
Contesting artists need to realize that their work might be studied and picked apart. Those who don’t feel fit to endure questioning of processes and integrity should not put their work into juried shows.
PS: “Artists shouldn’t enter competitions until they are tough enough to realize it is only opinion and not a reflection on their worth. It is equally dangerous to lull yourself into thinking you are great just because you place in a show.” (Mary Moquin)
Esoterica: “I’m cancelling my entry!” shouted a lady after I innocently asked if her work was a photo or an acrylic. I explained that our jury was puzzled. Besides, the hanging committee needed to know where to put it. The lady also told me what I could do with the jury. Speaking of cancellations, we just had a (medical) cancellation and have a seat left on the helicopter of life. Please feel free to give me a call to discuss the possibility that you might like to go heli-painting in the Bugaboos this September 3rd to 7th. My studio number is (604) 538 9197.
More entry form details!
by Duane Dorshimer, Raleigh, NC, USA
Juried show entry forms are the problem! None of the entry forms that I have completed have asked how a piece was completed. They always ask for what medium and dimensions, but never how the materials were assembled. I would suggest to save everyone some time, stress, and embarrassment up front; jury forms should ask for details including method of application, materials list, and description of what parts of a piece were not fabricated exclusively by the artist. I believe that this is increasingly important when judging visual art as technology is, has, and can be applied in the creation of dubious “works of original fine art.”
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Learning by entering
by Alev Guvenir, Istanbul, Turkey
When you finally put your work in front of a juror, you have already achieved a lot. It means you are strong — you believe in yourself and in your work. It is easier to deal with technical criticism. In the end you learn a lot. You may hear negative comments, but it helps to clarify your personal choices. They are only observations and suggestions. You are in charge of what you do and free for your choices. The artist should be a maestro. Should have some level of ego to stand behind her work. If you are following suggestions all the time, you are not creating, but following prescriptions. You do what you do because you love it. You make a difference with your personal preferences. Learn from others, but stick to your own choices.
I think the artist here doesn’t need an apology, because she already received it. The committee accepted their misjudgement by eventually awarding her a prize. She should enjoy this wonderful achievement.
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by Karen Baker Thumm, MI, USA
Yes, I do think this artist deserves a public apology for the jury questioning her before an audience. She is right that it may damage her reputation. Although I see nothing wrong with juries contacting artists PRIVATELY to question them about their work, it was both unprofessional and tactless to question her in front of others in an awards ceremony. I, too, would be very upset if this happened to me. It’s one thing to subject oneself to a public critique of one’s work but an entirely different matter for one’s integrity to be publicly questioned as in this case. It’s one thing to point out why one work won an award and others didn’t, but quite another to basically ask the artist in front of an audience if she cheated. There is an enormous distinction between these two situations. As an audience member, I would also have been very uncomfortable.
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Clear guidelines needed
by Don Rankin, Birmingham, AL, USA
I have served as a juror on many occasions. In the past few years there has been an unbelievable outpouring of questionable works. One almost always encounters the copyist who either thinks they are smarter than everyone else or, even worse, one who is unaware that they have transgressed. Recently, I viewed a show where a painting was accepted as an original when it clearly was a digital print. In that case I fault the organization and the juror. They should know better.
Today we have new applications of art and digitalized work is a reality. Jurors need to be aware of the trends, and organizations should provide clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. These are teachable moments. I work alongside some very gifted digital people. Most of them can paint masterfully in a traditional manner as well as manipulate a computer program. They know their respective media. However, when they display or compete they don’t try to blur the lines. They explain their process. It boils down to honesty.
Juror’s social skills questionable
by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada
Presentation is everything. Fine food poorly presented is not as appealing as it should be. The same would apply to questions from jurors. If questions are poorly put, it should be expected that folks will be offended. Working in a world of technology I deal with ‘geeks’ on a daily basis and while ‘uber’ intelligent, their social skills leave something to be desired. I have met many painters that while unbelievably talented have trouble in public. Put them on a jury and, while perfectly qualified to judge work, they may not be able to handle the people side as well as could be expected.
Perhaps sales people or psychologists should be selected as juries. The artists would not be offended but there would be more paintings in shows that would look like Herb Tarlick’s suit.
by Lynn Digby, Ohio, USA
The problem with this particular scenario is the tactless way the juror publicly questioned and cast doubt on this artist’s honesty. I am all for questioning the artist when clarification is needed, or if there is some doubt as to the credibility of the work. But to do so in public before the facts are determined, and to do it in such a way that others hearing it might get an impression that turns out to be quite false, is indefensible.
A juror is going to ruffle feathers in any competition. There is always going to be some kind of disagreement about how the show was chosen, and who won what prizes. I think you expect that. What you would not expect is to have your work publicly suggested to be a cheat, a copy, or a plagiarized work, unless there is certain proof that this is true.
I must agree with this artist. If what I understand happened, she most certainly deserves an apology. And she (and anyone else, for that matter) would be quite foolish to enter any competitions where this sort of thing was allowed to go on.
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Stretching the idea of ‘art’
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
I was at a showing recently and, quite bewildered by what I was looking at, I began to ask a few questions. The artist’s process starts with an original collage which is enlarged as a giclee, over which she adds a good deal of actual painting. The resulting images were stunning, dream-like, and powerful, but I did not really know what to think about them.
Technology and art have always been close allies. And, I have never been a purist or shy about using mechanical aids such as an overhead projector, transfer and tracing paper, etc., but, I couldn’t help feeling that this artist had gone too far. But, where is that line?
This question will only get more and more complex as technology advances. Our common definition of “art” will likely be stretched and stretched again. A hundred years ago, people thought that photography would replace painting. It didn’t, but it now seems that these new reproductive technologies are at least undermining our concept of painting. Does the image in the frame justify the means? I don’t know, and I do not envy art jurors these days.
(RG note) Thanks, Peter. I agree. Eschewing technology stunts creativity. But artists need to identify media properly. In the example in my letter the painter had called her work a “watercolour” and wanted it to be included in the watercolour section, when in reality, as a painted-over photocopy, it was “mixed media.” Some jurors need to know this sort of thing in advance.
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Ignore them both
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
In the poster by Eleni Kalor Koti, an artist is sitting back to us working on a drawing. On one shoulder is a character telling her the work is amazing, on the other side one that says it is awful. The punchline is “Ignore them both.” That just sums up how confident you need to be in your own work. Jurors’ opinions can only provide an inkling of guidance; artists must follow their inner compass with complete focus and conviction. Take the advice/criticism in, analyze it as impersonally as you can, and then if it resonates as true, incorporate the advice/criticism, otherwise don’t give it a second thought.
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The wisdom of never exhibiting
by Joseph Jahn, Nibe, Denmark
I attended an opening of an artist friend one time with my wife and her friend who are both non artists. In the course of the evening my wife mentioned that she did not like these works as well as the artist’s earlier works. This was overheard by the artist’s wife and the next day the artist asked me not to have my wife or friend make such comments at his openings. I said my wife or her friend could express their opinions on any subject they wanted in any venue that suited their fancy, and thanked the artist for his friendship and never visited or talked to him since.
Many such incidences occur in everyone’s career, at least anyone that produces art that matters. Defending your ego is less than attractive in most cases. Security is always a painting well done and a day of productive work. Knowing art history and the critical outrage that rained down on artists such as Manet helps. Standing near one of your paintings in a public showing is almost always interesting, and for the over sensitive not recommended. The only way to avoid negative critiques of your work is to never exhibit.
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Paying the price later
by Mark Wangberg, Wallingford, PA, USA
I teach in a very rigorous AP Studio Art program at a Pennsylvania high school and about 8 years ago I was confronted with the work of one of my students who was suddenly doing much better work than was normal for him — more accurate, realistic figurative work… I couldn’t figure out why all of his work was done on such thin paper, they were always wrinkled… I even asked him why he didn’t use thicker paper or canvas for these acrylic paintings… No real answer came from him…
A few years later one of my students in the same class said to me — “Didn’t you know? He always painted on top of inkjet photos he had taken!” I felt kind of silly, and also perturbed that he “got away with it.” But, I did find out how hard he had to work in college to really do that kind of accurate drawing and painting… i.e. he paid for his laziness with harder work later, and with the added threat of failing a college class.
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Featured Workshop: Gordon MacKenzie
Sky’s the limit
oil painting 36 x 48 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Pamela Kaufmann of Detroit, Michigan, USA, who wrote, “No doubt the jury was demonstrating no malice and was just gathering information. While it may be a bit inquisition-like to question the artist publicly, artists should, nonetheless, be able to speak about their art articulately and describe their process and inspiration without embarrassment or indignation.”
And also Ortrud K. Tyler of Oak Island, North Carolina, USA who wrote, “Oh Robert, I thought by know just about everybody knew that not all artists are good (but different), not all jurors are knowledgeable, not all juries are balanced and life it not fair – but interesting. Luckily I have been juried in and out by some very good jurors and learned that it is always just the opinion of one. If you want unconditional compliments, ask your mother. Mothers are obligated to love everything their children do.”
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