Being Judge and Jury: Selecting Artwork for the South Carolina Watermedia Society’s 39th Annual Exhibition
I was just recently down in South Carolina visiting the SCWS to teach a workshop, but also, to jury their 2016 members show.
Judging another artist’s work is a delicate topic. I wouldn’t want to be casual about any decisions. That’s not respectful of the artists’ time and commitment.
But, I do think it’s possible to be objective about it. For me, that starts with recognizing there isn’t one single recipe for a successful piece. It’s important not to be choosing what appeals to you personally. (Within reason. Impossible entirely). But which pieces are best at fulfilling their own reason for being.
You have to judge abstraction against abstraction for instance. If you place non-objective work beside realism – inevitably each of us will have a personal bias in one direction or the other.
So I try to find the best within each category. Compare Academic Realism, Landscape, Floral – each against their brothers and sisters.
I don’t believe there’s a linear progression from beginner to professional, or from sketch to realism. Or even from smaller works to large scale. It’s easy to say, bigger is better. Or that hard earned technical virtuosity should be rewarded.
And, at the same time, a work of art should have a story to tell, and real emotion compressed within the brush strokes. That’s the magic of great art. It makes you feel something. Even something as simple as a smile.
Isn’t the whole thing incredible? You’re looking at some stains on a piece of paper, and somehow this inanimate object is playing with you? Well – it’s really the artist that’s pulling the strings by remote control.
Some work stands out simply for technical achievement alone. But when comparing works displaying a high degree of hand-skills – they start to look all the same. Perfectionism tends to mean uniformity. The real world after all, simply looks like it looks. (Though yes, it is always amazing when someone can capture it with authority).
At the same time, the strongest spontaneous field sketches have a directness and simplicity – it’s pure truth – that stands side by side with the most polished studio work.
Somehow the artist is transporting you to that time and place. You’re seeing it through their eyes. It’s the original kind of virtual reality.
It’s when you get down to the final choices – who will be the top five? Who is the best of show? That’s when you feel the pressure.
At this point you can’t rely on things like complexity of color, or handling of brushstrokes. At this point, all the work is great work. Now you really have to give a personal opinion.
Do you choose something that is a unique statement? Something that tells a story in a way no other artist can tell it?
Sometimes I think artwork has to have an element of strangeness to stick with you. Something unpredictable that cuts thorough the every day flood of images we all experience.
But this time, after much deliberation, I cast my deciding vote for Hands of a Fisherman by Lynda English.
I felt this one, among everything on hand that day, best encapsulated the story of the Carolinas.
Formally, I enjoy the abstract composition of radiating diagonals. But as a narrative, I admire the choice of telling the story while leaving out the obvious portrait.
This makes the piece timeless, and universal. Not so much about any one person, but about all the people and history of the region, and a coastal way of life that’s so different from other parts of the world.
You can see all thirty of the pieces from the show, over here on the SCWS website.
Congratulations to everyone who made it into the show, and thanks to the team in Myrtle Beach for making this a great experience. As a watercolorist, I came away inspired by wide range of approaches I saw that day. The SCWS 2016 show absolutely demonstrates the unlimited potential of water media!