Monday, 4 January 2016

Judging 'Art'.


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Only twice in my life have I been invited to judge Art Competitions. I would be hesitant ever to do it again, and would advise others against.

The first time was in Shropshire, UK. The local Art Club had learned that I was living nearby, and a group of notables was sent to recruit me. I reluctantly accepted.

The works on offer were pretty typical of such amateur art clubs; badly executed portraits from photos of Princess Diana, The Queen, and other Celebs, small floral compositions, one or two awful abstracts, a few pretentiously framed, naive pictures, of exotic foreign locations by the big-wigs of the club, and an assortment of rank amateur scratchings. The quality was abysmal.

Yet, in amongst all the dross was one painting that really stood out; not only for its size, but also its down-to-earth honesty. The 6ft by 4ft painting was on an old piece of hardboard (possibly a door), and I imagine had been painted with left-over house paint. The artist (a farmer) had simply painted what he could see from the front window of his house. It was 99% grass-green, and showed the rough divisions of the fields, as well as all the individual trees into the far distance; he had used about 3 colours (green, darker green, and brown). The painting was very roughly executed, as well as being strangely sophisticated. I gave it FIRST PRIZE, and the committee members were not at all happy.

The next time my judgement was called upon was out in Grand Cayman, where the Visual Arts Society was holding its annual bash. Here the general quality of work was much better, and the task much more difficult. One 'professionally trained' artist was showing two landscape paintings that were both of excellent quality; the larger of the two was slickly impressive and was the one everyone expected to win the top prize, the smaller one showed much more 'graft', and was worked with far more genuine artistic savoir-faire. The smaller one won the prize and the artist himself was slightly puzzled why I hadn't awarded it to his bigger 'opus'.

I took him for a cold beer at a nearby bar, and we eventually agreed that the bigger painting was so bloody slick that he could have painted 10 of them a day with his eyes closed. The smaller one had taken him several days to complete and had showed true artistic craftsmanship.

I haven't been called upon to judge work since then; maybe I'm now on a judging black list!



53 comments:

  1. I like the sound of the farmer's painting. And I especially liked hearing that it ticked off the committee!

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    1. All the others were so bloody prissy, it was refreshing to see some real painting. Of course they didn't understand that!

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  2. I would have loved the farmer's painting and also given him first prize! LOL at you being on the judging black list!

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  3. Isn't there a artist who achieved fame down in Cornwall who painted with the old pots of paint that he had in his shed?

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    1. Most painters use stuff 'from the shed'. It's only amateurs who insist on everything coming from Winsor and Newton or Rowney.

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  4. One of the very talented artists (she now has her own studio and shop)in the small art group I belong to, once painted a huge canvas of Poppies, using left-over Hammerite paint and car touch-up spray cans, she'd found in the garage.
    Alas, I'm afraid I fall into the latter category of being an amateur, using Winsor and Newton etc., some of which I've had as gifts, because we don't have any left-over paints in the garage (and we don't have a shed !), other than white emulsion which I do use to cover up old canvases.

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    1. There's nothing wrong with Winsor & Newton, etc; most pros can't afford it.

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  5. We are all critics and know whether we like it or not. Some are good at explaining why (some can do it and the explanation is understandable). Too often not. Trouble is when you don't like something while The Experts do and we then feel inferior for our judgement.
    Lesley

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    1. It's all very subjective, but trained painters probably look for different things.

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  6. Cro, I judge photographs from time to time... being a judge in any competition is no joke... you'll always upset someone!!
    Fortunately, I am at a distance from the entrants... by thousands of miles in some cases... the wonders of 'puters and techno!!

    I had a colleague many years back...
    untrained, he painted wonderful landscapes using house paints and sample pots... and mainly housepainting brushes.... on huge hardboard panels.
    His work was so good and detailed that it was often commissioned.... a job he hated, as rather like being a judge, you had to look to satisfying the customer, rather than yourself!
    I do like the simplicity of the artist at the top... one of yours?

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    1. No it's not one of mine, I borrowed it from Mr Google.

      Commissioned work is never very satisfying, it's good to have the final result appreciated, but one usually knows that one could have done better (left to one's own devices).

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  7. There is an Italian artist, instead of colors, uses the remains of left over and expired cosmetics. Greetings Maria x

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    1. I knew someone who 'painted' with toothpaste. I'm not sure how long they lasted.

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  8. Ah, but what IS art Cro? I take it you aren't a fan of most work in the Tate Modern?

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    1. I'm a fan of all good intelligent painting and sculpture. But, I can't stand pretentiousness.

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  9. I wonder where the Farmers painting is now? Perhaps at the back of a barn. I would like to have seen it. You were right to choose as you did Cro, but again it would have been fun to see some of the faces of the other people there when you announced the winner!

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    1. I hope it's in the farmhouse where it was painted, but somehow I doubt it.

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  10. You can imagine Cro that living as I do in a very scenic area, there are masses of Art Clubs and they all hold an exhibition each year. The exhibits range from pretentious to down-right awful. I am not particularly artistic but i was married to a pretty good artist for forty years and he made me look seriously at pictures. It is never a case of which one I like best, or which one was painted by the 'star' of the club, And members can get very uppity about the choice of winner.

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    1. Those clubs always have their 'star' painter; usually a woman married to the local solicitor (or such). As you say, they do get very uppity!

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  11. I paint with dirt I scrape up from the ground and I use the tail of the nearest cat for a brush which I moisten with my own spit.

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    1. And you live in a cave in Altamira. ;)

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    2. Most of us wouldn't tell a client what materials he/she is buying. I've stopped roadside to dig earth that eventually was mixed with PVA.

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  12. Art is such a subjective matter and is hard to judge.
    I know what I like and what not. But in the end it really isn't important. Especially for amateurs, as long as they enjoy what they're doing, it is just a hobby like any other.

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    1. But, boy, they love to win something.

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    2. I guess that's where the pretentiousness comes in.

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  13. That's interesting. H.I. and her ex were O and A level examiners years ago, and they spent weeks of the Summer with regulation-size paintings strewn out over the living room floor for grading.

    They were not allowed to use their own experience as artists to make the grades, but had to adhere to strict guidelines given them by the examining board, who were not artists. Always, there would be one or two brilliant paintings left to one side which they were compelled to fail. Terrible.

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    1. When I was teaching, I had to write reports for boys going on to their upper schools (including all the best known ones). I always used to try to find ways of making the hopeless sound like a budding genius. I don't suppose my words were ever taken too seriously.

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  14. I can only imagine how hard it must be to judge art. I understand that there must be a few points to be taken into consideration { one being talent !!!! } but, art is such a personal thing isn't it ?
    On one visit to Tate Modern, there was an exhibition of massive paintings, all worked in bodily fluids !!!!!!! Lovely ..... NOT !!!!!!!! XXXX

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    1. For certain 'artists', shock is more important than talent!

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  15. Happy to hear you rewarded the farmer for his creative efforts. You must have made his day AND built his confidence. I wonder if he has done more painting? Plus, perhaps you taught the others that art is more than what they had previously thought it was.

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    1. I hope that was the case, it certainly made them rethink their attitudes.

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    2. I doubt he lacked in confidence.

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  16. Judging anything will not make you many friends. 50% to 99% will disagree with you. I like that you took the winner of that show out to give him a one on one critique of his work. That probably helped him more than the prize.

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    1. He wasn't what I'd call 'a painter's painter'. He was a commercial artist who knew exactly what was needed to sell his work, and he could do it all day long. He knew this, but was reluctant, at first, to admit it. He came round in the end. He knew that I wasn't fooled.

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  17. Like Jackie said - art is very personal and whatever you choose when judging is never going to please everyone. I remember once winning a prize in a Leicester Art Club show and hearing the others members bitching about it.

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    1. When I got a First at art school I heard the other students saying I had slept with the tutor....

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    2. No, they got it all wrong. It was the External Examiner, he gave the final mark...

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    3. You're right, I remember now it was external examiners. No-one asked me if I'd slept with anyone in order to get my First. I wonder why?

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  18. Once I was asked to be a judge at a pet costume contest. Before it started the organizer told the panel to strongly reconsider picking a certain entrant and their pet because they'd already won five times in past years. A bit unethical to ask us that, but they didn't say we couldn't pick them, only that we should think hard about it, lol. So all the owners with their pets dressed in fancy clothes and little props came in, one by one. The previous winner had put in extensive work, and it was clear to see that he not only wanted desperately to win, but deserved to win. In the end, however, I felt there was a dog who was very gracefully dressed and had a regal appearance, and that they were the best. The others agreed. Announcing the winner was like stabbing someone in the heart with an ice pick. The previous winner looked about ready to cry, and call slander, but you can only pick one . . . Amazing how much politics go into these things.

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    1. I'm still trying to picture a 'Pet Costume Contest'. Yes, I suppose it's always bound to hurt someone, especially if they're sure they're going to win.

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  19. I won a place at the Brighton art college when I was young but it was so clinical I left. Today I think we are so much more free to do what we want and not worry about falling into line.
    Briony
    x

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    1. Lady Magnon did her Foundation Course at Brighton.

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  20. Artists are a sensitive lot. I wouldn't want to judge an art show. So subjective. Poor canvas coverage ... I find lots of amateurs love painting nudes. I love many styles of art but I do not get, I can't remember his name! He is so famous. Two colors in blocks on a canvas. Help me. Dominic de Menil has a museum of his art in Houston. I am losing it.

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    1. Reply to self - had to google it. Dominique de Menil donated a chapel to a Houston University. Rothko Chapel full of Mark Rothko paintings. Maybe he did some nice work, but ones I have seen I do not think worthy of their price and press.

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    2. Rothko is all about colour combination; I like much of his work, but I can see it not having universal appeal.

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  21. I think that 'art' is a load of baloney. Everyone is an artist in their own way and we all like different things. Personally I can't see the skill in painting a black square on a white background, or a load of random assorted splodges and stripes. But everyone to their own, and it seems the only people that get anywhere with it are those that are 'names' or have a string of art school qualifications. It's like another over-used thing that annoys me, that is 'designer' this and that. For goodness sakes, everything is 'designer', it's all been designed by somebody! Oops, sorry, rant over....

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    1. 'Architect Designed' is one description that annoys me too.

      I'm always shocked by houses that have no paintings, or even reproductions of paintings, on their walls. Am I to presume that your home would be amongst those? Post 1920's painting is not to everyone's taste, and it would be a sad old world if it was. 'Ranting' is good for the soul.

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    2. Oh no,on the contrary I have a house full of paintings of all kinds (even some 'art'), so much so that I don't have any more room on the walls and have had to resort to shuffling them around every now and then. Likewise books, rooms full of them. Totally agree with the 'architect designed' thing as well. Have you noticed that they all seem to be following a trend right now of square boxes with massive glass windows framed by planks of wood and stainless steel railings? Seems old fashioned houses are out of fashion now. Oh dear, I feel another rant coming on, better leave it now....

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  22. As someone with no artistic ability when it comes to painting and with not art training I rarely venture an opinion on whether I think something is 'good' or not. I have an eclectic collection of art on my walls but taste being so individual it would probably be hard to find anyone else who would enjoy the same collection.

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    1. That, Graham, is what makes us individuals. I have some very odd stuff hanging on my walls!

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