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Being Judge and Jury: Selecting Artwork for the South Carolina Watermedia Society’s 39th Annual Exhibition

November 28, 2016

I was just recently down in South Carolina visiting the SCWS to teach a workshop, but also, to jury their 2016 members show.

This was the first time I’ve done this – being the sole juror responsible for selecting awards winners. I was flattered to be asked – but talk about pressure!


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.

[Caroline Swanson – Bud Vase with Roses]

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.

[Donna Lynn Gore – The Light Fantastic]

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.

[Ashley Arakas – Disregarded Love]

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).

[Hartmut Fege – Sandy Island Fisherman]

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.

[Lizabeth Thompson – Beidler’s Four Hole Swamp]

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.

[Lynda English – Hands of a Fisherman]

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!


9 Comments leave one →
  1. Vibha Ravi (PixelVoyages) permalink
    November 28, 2016 9:24 AM

    The ‘Hands of fisherman’ could also be seen as representing a slice of life of fishermen across the world and hence a universal theme. Even though it’s a bit on the conventional side, I liked the portrait by Ashley Arakas as well. Thanks for the post and for adding color to my day.

  2. November 28, 2016 9:31 AM


  3. Rita Cleary permalink
    November 28, 2016 10:50 AM

    Marc…I’m glad I’m not you. I would have a hard time choosing a Best in Show for sure. I like the one you chose (and several others). Looking at all 30 of these paintings, and acknowledging up front that ALL are far better than anything I have done, one thing that jumped out at me is seeing the “tension” or “tightness” of hand as it produced the painting. All paintings require concentration and thought before the brush executes–but one would hope that tightness is not evident to the eye. Quick sketches usually flow more, even if not as technically exact. My personal goal is to learn how to relax my mind enough that the thinking (which I must do) does not result in a too-precise rendition. Obviously, the range of art from abstract to realistic varies the “tension” in the final piece quite a bit, but sometimes even in an abstract piece, you get the feeling that the artist didn’t “let loose”. Would you agree?

  4. November 28, 2016 11:16 AM

    I agree that I wouldn’t have wanted to be in your shoes. I am past the time in my life where I enter art shows. But I remember how it feels to be on that side of it.

    I don’t know if I would have picked the winner the same as you did . But I think I would have had to be there to see the entries in person. You did good however. And I enjoyed your evaluation of the process.

  5. November 28, 2016 11:21 AM

    I think you made amazing decisions Marc. Hands of the Fisherman has so much strength…not only in its topic but in the skill of the artist. I asked our local gallery how they pick the work that will appear in a juried show they said ” first it is what those who set up the show say they are looking for (the mandate of the show) then it is up to the juror”.
    I think your choices are wonderful, diverse and represent an across the board group of talents exactly what art is. I also see that you did this with an open mind after hearing your very helpful critiques when we travelled to Portugal. A great job.

  6. Estelle DeRidder permalink
    November 28, 2016 11:26 AM

    Thank you for sharing your judging criteria, Mark. It is very, very good to hear your reasoning and your philosophy. . . . you’ve explained your system very well, and in my opinion, you’ve curated an excellent range or artwork. Thanks again.

    On Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 6:02 AM, Citizen Sketcher wrote:

    > Marc Taro Holmes posted: “I was just recently down in South Carolina > visiting the SCWS to teach a workshop, but also, to jury their 2016 members > show. This was the first time I’ve done this – being the sole juror > responsible for selecting awards winners. I was flattered to be a” >

  7. RAE permalink
    November 28, 2016 1:47 PM

    I can think of no one better qualified to judge art than you.


  8. Susan Garcia permalink
    November 28, 2016 6:38 PM

    I can’t imagine making that choice among all of the pieces, each so beautiful in their own right. Congratulations on making a fabulous final selection.

  9. November 28, 2016 8:37 PM

    Marc was an excellent juror for the 2016 South Carolina Watermedia Society show. As a member of this year’s SCWS planning committee, I appreciated his talent, and thoughtful interactions with the artworks that were submitted, short listed, and finally selected to receive awards and travel the state for the next year. The three day workshop he taught to member artists of the Society, was thoroughly enjoyed by each one of us who participated. Thank you again for visiting Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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