Having completed my jurying duties for Visual Overture Magazine’s Emerging Artists competition (Summer), I thought it might be useful to share with artists a little of what goes on “behind the scenes” of the review and selection process. Too often, and artist submits work and months later gets an email saying “Sorry, your work wasn’t chosen.” That’s it. This leaves artists feeling a little hollow and wondering if their work was really studied during the review.
For the Visual Overture competition, I can promise you, every portfolio was reviewed in depth. Why? Because the review process required that every portfolio was graded in six separate categories. The entry program was through EntryThingie.com. I was skeptical of it at first, but once I started looking through the portfolios, I found the software to be excellent. When the results were finally tallied and announced, all submitting artist could ask for their score. This opportunity does not happen often. I hope all the artists took advantage of this.
What EntryThingie allowed for was a grading system for six individual categories for each portfolio. It then tallied the scores and listed the results in order. From there, I was able to refine my choices keeping in mind the need for portfolios that would be diverse as a group and would reprint well in the magazine (this was a competition whose results were in print – not hung in a gallery or found in a sculpture park).
As a result, I would like to use the six categories to highlight where some artists excelled and some failed - something for every artist to keep in mind when submitting work to any competition. Here are the Categories and my thoughts:
1) Quality of Digital File. This is a good one to start with. Virtually every competition requires the submission of work via photographs. When looking at the portfolios, I considered the following: Are the photographs professionally presented? Are they clear or blurry? Are they properly cropped to the artwork? Are there noticeable flashes or glares? Basically, can they be presented in a print publication? Many artists don’t consider these issues. In fact, I am often shocked at how often a visual artist does not consider the visual presentation of their work. Seriously?? Come on, guys. Get good pictures of your work. I was able to strike many portfolios due to this simple fact. Yes, it takes effort and a bit of money to get good photos of your work, but do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. I don’t care how good your work is, if it is presented in a blurry digital image, I’m not going to consider it a winner.
2) Originality: This seems like a no brainer for most. All art is original, right? Well, not exactly. I was chosen to be a juror mainly because I have looked at a lot of art in my lifetime. Far more than most people. This has given me a huge mental catalog of “original” pieces of art. At this point in my life, I am rarely surprised by an artist’s originality. But when it happens… it scores big. Keep this in mind. A lovely painting of a tree-lined meadow in the spring can be gorgeous, but it’s been done many times before. Use your creativity to make it “original.”
3) Technical Skill/Craftsmanship. Now this is where I have little tolerance. Take the same painting of a meadow… It may not be original, but if the technique is flawless and the image is perfectly balanced, it will score well. I love it when craftsmanship shines through. I saw a couple of conceptual installation pieces where the walls were stitched together plastic shopping bags. It was a great conceptual piece of art, but the stitching (although not an integral part of the piece) was clean and perfect. I loved that. Sloppiness and poor craftsmanship will always get a poor score no matter how great the idea is. This is a given throughout the art world.
4) Use of Art Elements (i.e. how well has the artist made use of form, line, shape, space, color, texture, value). I have often made fun of – in a constructive way, of course – when an artist’s statement says they paint “intuitively.” I hate that. What I hear in my head is, “I put paint on a canvass with no intention or goal.” This is not art. This is Glenda the painting elephant with a paintbrush taped to the end of her trunk. The first thing every art student learns is the concept of design, line, and space. Those who do not incorporate these elements are hobbyists or failed students. It’s very hard to take their work seriously – especially when it is compared to those who do take it seriously.
5) Coherence of the Individual Pieces (i.e. does each piece seem to intentionally portray a message and make use of aesthetics). Applying this category to the judging was harder than I thought it would be. But, when I started looking more closely at the higher scoring portfolios, it turned into a critical element. Bottom line, I asked myself if the work spoke to me. Many pieces were lovely and well crafted, but they did not speak to me in a strong voice. Some of this is due to personal preferences. For example, I enjoy portraiture. Many people find it to be dry and a bit boring. But, I think good portraiture is incredibly expressive. Fortunately, this competition had a lot of portrait artists. That made this particular score even more important.
6) Overall Coherence of Portfolio. So who thinks it’s a good idea for a photographer to present 4 nice black and white photos and one limestone sculpture? I don’t. Why in the world would anyone do that? I’m sure the sculpture is nice, and the artist is proud of the work; but it should never be part of their photography portfolio. Simple.
Those are the six categories. I think it would be a good idea for all artists to keep them in mind when making presentations. It may not vault your portfolio to the top, but failing to consider them will definitely sink your portfolio to the bottom.
A couple of final notes:
Listing Dimensions. As the old saying goes, “size matters.” But I’m not talking about big or small. I’m simply talking about dimensions. Every piece of art produced must be properly labeled with its height and width (and depth when appropriate). Inches or centimeters are standard. What you should never do is list the dimensions of a piece in pixels or bytes. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But I see this often enough to mention it here – especially with photographers. An image’s dimensions listed as 2745pxl x 3169pxl tells me this image has never been printed, matted or framed. The actual piece’s dimensions are critical. A photograph printed 8”x10” is extremely different compared to the same photo printed 30” x 40”. Do yourself a favor and give accurate dimensions to every piece of art you submit – everywhere, every time.
Titles. Naming a piece of art is an art in and of itself. I don’t have much to say about this other than every artist needs to be aware of the effect an artwork’s title has on its viewers. For example: a portrait of a person holding a gun to his head can be far more powerful when titled “Self-Portrait” instead of “Barry with a gun”. Titling abstract work can be even far more poignant. Keep this in mind. A piece is not finished until it’s been titled.
Etiquette. Last, but far from least, the manner in which you (the artist) approach the contest administrator (or juror) is also very important. Avoid at all costs being rude, demanding, or condescending. This will get you nowhere. It’s a lot like when you approach a gallery in your quest for representation or an exhibition. Think of it as a job interview. Dress well. Speak well. Show common courtesy and respect. You are asking someone to do something for you. Casualness and off the cuff comments – although often taken for granted – are not the smartest routes to take.
It has always been my goal with this blog to pull back the curtain and expose different parts of the art world that are rarely seen or understood. I hope this information helps artists as they consider entering their work in various competitions.