When I judge art exhibitions with other people, I’m amazed how quickly all of us work and how seriously we take our responsibility. Most of the initial reviews take place at such a rapid pace that entries are only viewed in 10 to 30 seconds. That pace becomes slower and more considered during the final rounds of evaluation, but decisions are still made more quickly than the entrants would prefer.
If the judges are experienced at evaluating artwork for a gallery, museum, art center, or magazine, they probably have firm ideas about what they like and dislike and their quick decisions are reasonable. If they aren’t so knowledgeable, they tend to get pushed around by someone like me who wants to see more of his choices in the final exhibition.
My 30 years of experience in judging shows leads me to make the following recommendations to artists who want to have more of their pieces accepted for juried exhibitions:
Judges look for the exceptional, while collectors look for the predictable
Because judges work quickly, they respond favorably to artwork that presents an unexpected subject, a fresh interpretation, or an exceptional execution. Collectors, on the other hand, play it safe and buy paintings that reflect an artist’s established style or best-known subject. My recommendation is to not to enter the paintings that would sell like hotcakes. Instead, pick the ones your teacher or your artist-friends think is your best.
The faster an image is understood, the more likely it will be accepted
Paintings with strong colors, simple patterns, and distinct value contrasts are more likely to be picked than those with subtle color relationships, complicated patterns, or close values.
Paintings that look important are more likely to win top prizes
Judges tend to think about the visual impact of their award selections, so they pick works that are large, professionally mounted, and that attract viewers’ attention. When was the last time you saw an 8”-x-10” sketch win a gold medal?
Enter the Maximum Number of Images
If you have a choice of entering one, two, or three images in a contest, always send three. Judges are more confident about selecting an artist’s work when they know he or she paints consistently well.
Consistency and Quality Matter
When judges review two or more entries by the same artist, they respond more positively to artists who present a consistent body of work rather than those trying to prove they can paint a variety of subjects and styles.
Remember, it really is a subjective process
The Florida Watercolor Society recently mounted a separate exhibition of work that was rejected from the organization’s annual exhibition. It included masterful paintings by some internationally known artists who are members of the society. Seeing the show reminded me that the judging process depends entirely on the taste of a few people. What one judge considers worthy of a best-of-show award might be rejected by another expert.