You be the judge, of Art! 3

Frustrating to many is that awards to artists in juried art shows are often times determined by a single judge.  What if that judge is a watercolorist and you are a welded metal sculptor, or vice versa?  Can you be judged fairly when the judging party knows little to nothing of what you do?   In the atmosphere of visual art, fraught with bias, how can a judge be fair?


Here’s what happened to me as the solo judge of a prestigious art competition and how I learned to deal with it.


Although I have no degree in art or title to suggest qualifications, I was asked to judge the prestigious Annual Bay Area Art Competition at the Wm Bonifas Fine Arts Center in Escanaba, MI.  Maybe it was because I won a couple awards before at Bonifas art competitions and work in a number of different mediums.  Does that qualify me to judge your art?  The answer is a resounding NO, but in this case, I had a secret weapon.  That weapon was knowledge of how a number of other artists with experience perceive art.


Years ago, bothered by the dilemma of bias, I contacted a dozen or so of whom I thought were the most gifted artists in my community and asked each of them, “What is most important to you when it comes to art?”  The varied answers led me to believe that everyone looks at art differently.  So, I thought, why not create a way to look at a piece of art as though any number of people is looking at it for the first time?


By organizing the strongest considerations by other artists into categories on a critique sheet, I felt confident in knowing that each piece of art was given a thorough examination.  From this (if needed), I could take each qualitative assessment and assign it a quantitative value.  From that total, with everything considered, I could confidently rank the best of the best. Here is what that critique sheet looks like.


Artworks Critique Guide
Visual appeal How much does it make you want to take a closer look? Does it grab your attention?
Originality/creativity High mark if you have never seen this style or concept before.
Use of the medium Is this a unique way to express this medium, or combination of mediums?
Degree of difficulty How difficult does it appear for the artist to execute? Complexity/simplicity (as in minimalistic)
Quality of presentation Is it well presented, or just something to get by? Does it look professionally done?
Due diligence Does it appear the artist was enthusiastic throughout the process or in a hurry to get it done?
Attitude/composition How would you rate the pose or composition. Is it interesting? Does it draw you in?
Forethought How much thought does it appear went into this piece before executing?
Use of color If applicable, how would your rate this artist’s use of color?
Thought provoking Does it make you think about the artist, the technique, yourself, or the message?
Attention to detail If applicable, how much does attention to detail add to the expression?
Overall artistic expression How would you personally rate this piece?
Scoring 1-10 (lowest to highest)       1=not much new here     5= average   10= superior
n/a= not applicable
Add up total of values assigned and divide by the number of applicable categories.
                                                                                                                   Average score
Name of artwork


Now, not all art in a show is going to get this kind of attention.  It would take too long.  To be a qualified judge, it helps to have some background that will allow you to narrow the field quickly.  A gallery walk-through gives the judge an immediate overview.   As I peruse the gallery, I place a piece of tape next to each piece that I want to spend more time considering in detail.  It is from those contested pieces that I will make judgment.  Only the crème-de-la-crème gets the awards and the numbers dictate the level of the award winners.  Sometimes the numbers are very close.


As you might notice, there is bias still incorporated into this critique by asking your personal opinion, but it limits bias to just 8% of the total picture.


At the awards ceremony, the speaker introduced me and then informed the audience that in all the years that the Bay Area Art Competition has been in existence, I was the first and only judge that ever showed up to attend the reception.  You can imagine my deer-in-the-headlights look!  There were a number of excellent artists in that room that are used to getting awards. A stack of critique sheets were placed in the front of the room and all were invited to see the criteria from which their works were judged.  All went well.   At least I’m still here to tell you about it.


This critique sheet is not something I recommend to everyone who is a judge.  It seems to me helpful in that it informs any viewer that there are other considerations to defining great art and offers a manner of thinking when doing your own art.


















About Earl Senchuk

Self taught multi-media artist for forty years specializing in metal art sculpture. Inventor of more than thirty products.

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3 thoughts on “You be the judge, of Art!

  • Cloud Farrow

    I have had a hard time understanding what must have been on the minds of judges in the past. In fact I usually ignore the opinion (judgments)of competitions. I work the nearby art show circuit. I am an over the hill artist who has to supplement my meager income to survive in this economy. My work sells based on the focus of my work on the familiar local subject matter. As far as a true idea of the acceptability of my work by the “art” community I have no idea. I am self taught in that I have had formal lessons. I study other artist to gather ideas that I my be able to use to express my self. I understand you are self taught as well and I expect you know my position.
    I have no respect for decor art (clown art) and I am sure I would be considered a pagan in the art world.
    If you have the time give my work a look and me an honest opinion and I would feel like I had a true judgement based on your list of qualifications.
    Best regards, Cloud Farrow

  • Suzanne Roberts

    That was such a great post. I have felt that so many art contests were unfair to all of the artists that devoted so much time & effort. Great to hear how you came up with the solution!

  • Earl Senchuk Post author

    With a name like “Cloud Farrow,” it seems you should already be a famous artist. Sounds like a good name for a movie star. Nobody knows their standing as an artist until showing your work to the public. Feedback is important. More important to me than the money are the compliments. I live for them. I’m sure you have gotten many compliments for your work. Your art style appears literal, well defined, and detailed. Many of the artists in my community draw or paint familiar subject matter. Since my community relies heavily on tourism, this type of art sells well.
    I’m a bit older, so I’ve seen many artists early on in their careers trying different styles until they land on a niche style that sells. Then they spend the rest of their lives doing variations of the same art. I encourage everyone to dare to try new things. Insight can become foresight only through experimentation.
    The critique guide is not just for judging art. These are considerations an artist should keep in mind when embarking on a new piece.

    To Suzanne- Thank you for the compliment. As you now know, I live for them.