This morning Kerim Kahyagil of Istanbul, Turkey wrote, “I used to evaluate paintings by looking at composition, technique, color, tone, texture, perspective, etc. Now I realize that even though these are important, they are really about craft and artisanship. I now think they come at a lower priority than the totality. I’ve rewritten my evaluation process: 30 points when the passing viewer comes to a stop. 30 points if viewer gets the point — message, feeling, mood. If too explicit, I deduct points. 35 points to artisanship as before. If, after a year, the viewer still enjoys looking at the painting, it’s worth another 5 points. Does this system make sense?”
Thanks, Kerim. Not really. All rigid evaluation systems eventually get the heave-ho. There are so many reasons to accept or reject a work of art. In your complex percentage system, it would be impossible to get real thoughts and feelings from collectors. Further, collectors are not everybody — there are the vastly different points of view of artists, investors, decorators, critics, mothers, etc. Sometimes a painting has everything wrong with it and yet it totally rings someone’s bells. Inexplicable.
Yesterday I was one of five on jury duty. While the entire slate was already chosen and hung, we had to choose thirteen winners of cash prizes. As painters ourselves, we all started with the knowledge that our choices might not be the public’s choices. Also, because the collection had both realistic work and cutting-edge modernism, there was the need to present an open-minded balance. Some of the paintings definitely stopped us dead in our tracks, although they didn’t always get our votes. Scratching my head, I couldn’t help thinking my old evil thoughts. Why not let everyone who comes to the show — both artists and the general public — vote on the work by secret ballot? Give out the green stuff accordingly at the end.
As all evaluation systems are suspect, there’s another way for creative people to approach the game. Pay no attention to what anybody thinks. Set your own standards. Paddle your own canoe. This includes not putting yourself at the mercy of kangaroo courts. Simply become your own jury and prize-giver. The real prize comes to the artist when the work is made, and if it’s truly worthy and anyone wants to vote for it down the line, maybe they’ll track you down.
PS: “The King, not wanting to appear a fool, said, ‘Isn’t it grand! Isn’t it fine! Look at the cut, the style, the line!'” (from the story by Hans Christian Andersen, The King’s New Clothes, as told by Danny Kaye)
Esoterica: If expert opinion is suspect, so is that of the general crowd. Public opinion polls are notoriously faulty. People will say they want to buy small, economical cars — then they go out and get gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. In art they give lip service to imagination and creativity, but when push comes to shove it’s often security, conformity and provenance that win the day. One can only conclude that we are a deceptive lot. A friend of mine just had to have a Rauschenberg and went to New York to get one. He didn’t care so much what the painting was about, as long as it was a Rauschenberg. When I asked him why he wanted a Rauschenberg, he told me he liked saying the name. “Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg.”
by Steve Morvell, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
On the question of how to judge or evaluate an artwork, one needs perforce to ask the artist themselves for their opinion. Art is by its very nature subjective; subject to the individual nature of its creator and no other should ever claim the right to place a value judgment upon the art of another person. Art is one of the last refuges of the true individual and should be jealously guarded against shows and people who would judge its worth on whatever grounds. Expressing a like or dislike is fine and also very personal — but that is making a statement only about our personal preferences. Only the artist who created the work can truly know if it is successful. Judging an art show in many mediums is like comparing apples with squashed possums. Pointless!
There is 1 comment for Pointless jurying by Steve Morvell
by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA
I had a conceptual piece of Kinetic Sculpture at a Sculpture Show for the Texas Sculpture Association. On opening night the participants who attended the gala could list their 3 top pieces as their favorites. My piece, Followers of Fad, won best of show. One participant who I thought was a friend, came up to me and interrupted my conversation with some other artists to tell me bluntly that “Your work isn’t art, I don’t know what it is — but it didn’t deserve First Place…” In her shoes I would have come up and congratulated her — instead of being a tipsy, and mean-spirited loser. However, I must admit that her criticism had its effect upon me, and I didn’t stay in sculpture for too long past that period — a year or so maybe. Lots of lessons to be pointed out here — a whole can of worms.
Faults in jury/prize systems
by Peter Shulman, NY, USA
In a short well-written piece you have summed up the fallacies and some time hypocrisies in the jury/prize systems commonly in use throughout the art world from the local art associations to the high prize upper echelons of the art world. I have always declined service on juries when invited and will continue to do so for the reasons you stated and others. Thank you for tackling a subject that is held somewhat sacrosanct by some parts of our profession.
That special something: talent
by Karl Heerdt, Lockport, NY, USA
I have just been asked to be on a show committee and have been wondering myself as to how to go about evaluating paintings. As previously stated, there are many ways of looking at and judging a painting. Some have a long list of criteria for the painting to meet while other judges have few. Some will favor more modern or abstract, while others more traditional. I have come to the realization that when I judge a painting, I look at only one thing, talent! Unfortunately, this is the one ability that cannot be taught in any school. When we look at a painting that was created by a talented individual, we respond differently. There is often something in the painting that we cannot readily identify, yet we are drawn to and need to keep viewing that painting over and over again — sometimes year after year. When I saw my first Sargent in person, I was mesmerized. All I could see was his Native talent oozing from every brush stroke. His paintings have that special something. When looking at art in local shows by lesser known or not as accomplished artists, I find myself looking for that special something again and again.
Environment affects best-of-show
by Mel Davenport, Dallas, TX, USA
I was a member of a voting audience, voting on “best of show” paintings last year in a small community art show. The one that emotionally affected me the most was the one I secretly voted (as everyone who attended got to vote) for “best of show.” At the awards ceremony, there were shocked sucks of artists’ air as the winner was announced. Not the greatest or most spectacular piece won, but a simple one that affected the most audience members at that particular time. The modest, shocked artist accepted graciously. Had the particular audience/weather/time/place/selection been different, then maybe the outcome would have been different.
Best prize: when work has hit the mark
by Paula Christen, Winthrop, WA, USA
As an artist, if you submit your work to a juried competition or gallery you receive the benefit of two votes. The selection jury will vote you in or award you a prize based on the artisanship (not that they are always right) and the viewing public will vote with their purchasing dollars (not that they are always right, either). The best prize is when you step back and know that your work has hit the mark. Does anyone else do the happy dance in the studio after completing a work?
Awards not the purpose of creativity
by Joe Murray, Jefferson, IA, USA
I seldom write anyone concerning art subjects because few have any agreement points. Your recent viewpoint however really struck a nerve with me. It seems as though artists, whether they pay lip service to it or not, are all looking for credibility for their creative masterpieces. We all seem to want “some authority figure” to fall down in amazement at our creation. I never have understood that. It would seem that if we put our heart and soul into a creative endeavor and we are satisfied with the result — the end result will be communicated to like-minded souls.
I think that the public should vote on selected artworks for prizes. Does it really matter if the public may not be intellectually aware of every new style or nuance? The bottom line is whether the public is interested enough in the creative output of the artist to purchase it. We can all sing and dance around other art theories etc. But the collector or the public is the ultimate judge. The artist should create to fulfill a need in his or her psyche. When that is accomplished — what a wonderful endowment for the world that is. Then the artist should relax and know that they have done something wonderful in their respective lives. They have created something that has never been duplicated and is unique. That is something wonderful in and of itself. Awards and accolades are nice but not the purpose for being creative.
by Sarah Canadine Bayne, Arlington, VA, USA
I am reading a fascinating book on just this type of decision-making, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote The Tipping Point. In Blink he looks at a relatively new field of psychology — that of Non-conscious Thought, as it is becoming known. This is not intuition, unconscious or conscious thought. It is a type of thought that the brain processes so rapidly that it doesn’t even register to the person, certainly not in the way conscious thought does. It is the type of thinking that lets you know you like someone when you meet them, that lets you know it is dangerous to go into that bank/convenience store, that lets you know whether or not you like that painting etc. He opens with an example of a kouros sculpture at the Getty and the process that the sculpture and the museum went through to validate its authenticity.
As an abstract artist, I get frustrated/am fascinated when people say, “I don’t get/like abstract art.” I have been fascinated by the process people go through in looking and assessing art. I am reading Gladwell’s book to try and understand that process better. There are paintings that stop me in my tracks, that I know are unlike anything I have ever seen, and give me a very tangible “rush” just to look at them. But when I am asked about why I respond to them so strongly (as I once was) my answer is a rambling of color balance, texture, linear work, blah, blah, blah. Gladwell’s book sheds some light on that process. A must read.
Touching the heart through art
by Stede Barber, Los Alamos, NM, USA
My first “real” job after college was teaching art, which included creating the curriculum. I taught high school students, and as part of our classes, started having “evaluation” sessions. We talked about two aspects of evaluating art, one being the technical aspects, and the other, equally important, was developing confidence in what each student liked for themselves.
These were rural students, and although we were only about an hour from Boston, some had never been there. This class on evaluating art came from student’s questions to me after visiting places like the Boston Museum of Fine Art. They wanted to know how to recognize good art. What a great and complex question! I always felt and thought that art reaches beyond thought and analysis into a place that touches people beyond words, and as you’ve already mentioned, you never know just what is going to move someone. That’s one of the great beauties of art, a language of the heart and soul.
Breaking out of the comfort zone
by Michelle Rummel, VA, USA
With only my own quiet optimism, I decided to submit a new departure painting into a competitive juried art exhibit. I titled it, Non Linear Discovery in honor of my journey outside my comfort zone. Can you imagine my face when I received the phone call saying I had won the Best in Show Urquhart Award? Can you imagine the faces of my doubters when I shared my news?! That moment was really sweet. Who can say why that juror chose my painting? A non linear moment in time where my artistic vision resonated perfectly right with that particular viewer. I painted what I loved, and he loved what I painted. It’s as simple and as complex as that.
Own judgment wins
by Annapurna McQueen, Billinudgel, Australia
I just won first prize for the very first time of entering a competition. I’m a beginning painter, and it was my second ever landscape. I painted for the competition specifically in the wish to have my work up on a wall, and to challenge myself. I chose a landscape of my favorite local spot, not a particularly inspiring view perhaps for some, but a landscape that makes my heart happy. It reminds me of what I love about this part of Australia. I spent a year on it, here and there between other work, missing the first competition, as I struggled mightily to get the tones of the trees, and the sky, and I worked until something felt right and I could almost breathe it in, even making it up as I went along, getting advice from a forum I belong to when I didn’t understand the nature of light, and one day I knew it was done. I live rather isolated rurally in Australia, so I’m much on my own with my work and had to make my own judgment.
Different approaches to evaluating art
by Louise Corke, Australia
For me, evaluation of art falls into two categories: one is my personal and therefore subjective assessment and the other is more formal and objective. My personal evaluation is simply my answer to this question: “Does this piece of art make me feel better for having looked at it?” In other words has my life been enriched by this artwork. The artwork could be provocative or incredibly unchallenging, either way I can be enriched as I reflect on the impact this makes on the inner ‘me.’ This thought is not original with me but was passed on to me from my art teacher many years ago. A formal assessment requires me to objectively assess through a list of measurable criteria which would include tone, form (shape and arrangement of shapes), colour and edge in addition to artistic flair, creativity of idea and execution, etc. Considering a combination of both approaches may perhaps yield a balance of what is closer to the truth.
Creations must sell
by Gavin Calf, Cape Town, South Africa
This is excellent advice. But it isn’t easy to paint full time knowing that your work has to fetch a price so that you can eat. This creates thoughts in your head as you work: “This one so-and-so will buy in a jiffy!” instead of, “Damn-it why isn’t this working? Let’s scrub it and start again!” Until you have the simple genius you have no idea where it came from, kind of fortune.
I’ve just been ejected from a gallery because I am not “well known” enough despite journals and articles over the past eight years. Galleries are fickle and the world has a short memory.
So I shall continue to dance as though nobody is watching and paint like there is no tomorrow.
My work Tango at the Valve was critiqued by Eumenades (Thailand). He rated it a 5 (“Excellent”) and wrote, “This painting has motion and brevity expressed as a dense totality. As many paintings that are informed by impressionism, there is an interesting dialogue between the accuracy of the drawing and the unstated; the hot colours also suggestive of location and tempo. It is an ‘optimum’ painting insofar as every element has a function in its design yet nothing is unnecessary or overworked. Great stuff.”
Awarding prizes bad idea
by Stella Reinwald, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Contemplating this bizarre practice of awarding special prizes for art entries has me scratching my head in wonderment as well. Why do we continue to do this? The more one thinks about it, the less sense it makes. It gives the winners a false sense of accomplishment, the losers a false sense failure, the judges a false sense of importance, and viewers and collectors a false sense of personal taste, art value and/or understanding of art. Unless the prize is a purchase prize for a museum or some similar arrangement, it’s stupid even on its face value. It was a bad idea even back in the old days when people ostensibly knew unambiguously what constituted good art or even when it wasn’t art at all. We all know what happened to that bit of cultural hubris, yet we have retained this ritualistic homage to a dead and buried idea.
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Having entered into too many fruitless discussions about the standards for judging today, I am reluctantly resigned to singing along with the old Cole Porter song, Anything goes.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
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 Sangeeta Mehra who wrote, “Be the judge and the jury on your own work — it works for me. I’m so callous when it comes to other people’s work and acutely aware of it; hence don’t want to put myself through a similar scrutiny!”
And also Dave Edwards of Northumberland, UK who wrote, “Maybe international styles should only be used like salt to flavor our own style, but not as the main meal — if that makes sense. If we merely absorb the styles of others, then surely we have nothing left of our own to offer.”
And also Jan Canyon of Keytesville, MO, USA who wrote, “As an old science professor once told me, ‘An expert is merely a fool away from home.’ This adage has proven itself many times over.”
And also Mr. L. J. (Vigodits) Swiech of Apollo, PA, USA who wrote, “In the novel Skinny Legs and All, author Tom Robbins, through his character Boomer Petway, a welder ‘found’ to be an artist, said this: ‘You’ve got to toss your own salad or eat with the masses from their narrow trough.’ ”
And also Barbara Cruikshank of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “The only way I know to evaluate anything — be it art, music, theatre, film, food — is the Goosebump Factor. If it gives me goosebumps, then I know it’s for me. It has to be the total experience — visual and visceral for example — for goosebumps to materialize. Synesthesia possibly.”
And also Paul Kelley of Decatur, IL, USA who wrote, “Many times you talk ‘over my head’ and I don’t understand what you are trying to say and sometimes I don’t agree with you. That’s what life is all about. You make me think and I like that. Thanks for being a ‘good piece of art.’ ”
And also Pepper Hume of Spring, TX, USA who wrote, “You might say People’s Choice is the voice of a larger and more varied jury, if still an art-oriented crowd. I wonder how often the People’s Choice goes to a piece that didn’t win any ribbons? I’ve seen it happen more often than not.”
And also Ann Hess of Bellefontaine, OH, USA who wrote, “Your idea about the public voting is noble but unrealistic. I’m in an Art League that has a public show every year and we tried this method. The upshot was the person with the most relatives in town at the time got the favorite vote. Where money is concerned all bets are off.”
And also Beth Deuble of San Diego, CA, USA who wrote, “I am not a big wine drinker, but I think of art much like wine — I drink it, and if I like the taste, I continue to drink it and appreciate it. From the North County Times: ‘Try ‘Two-Buck Chuck,’ more formally Charles Shaw, the brand beloved of bargain but palate-sensitive wine shoppers. Shaw’s California Chardonnay took first place for Best Chardonnay from California. To some in the clubby California wine community, that must seem like a Michelin’s Red Guide giving three stars to a roadside hamburger stand. The Chardonnay received 98 points, a double gold, with accolades of Best of California and Best of Class.’
And also Virginia Wieringa of Grand Rapids, MI, USA who wrote, “I’m reminded of the film Art School Confidential which was full of inside jokes and hilarious if you’ve been in that milieu. It’s all so subjective! They’d probably all be better off reading Painters Key’s twice a week and discussing what you come up with!”
And also Lenore Conacher who wrote, “I learned recently (from the Manchester Times Weekly, I think) that the perversity of human nature (saying one thing but doing another) is called ‘cognitive polyphasia.’ Isn’t that just perfect!”
(RG note) Thanks, Lenore. Actually, cognitive polyphasia is the ability to hold conflicting ideas about the same thing at the same time.
Enjoy the past comments below for Evaluating art…