I am writing this to inform all artists everywhere what happens during the judging process for fine art society shows. I have always wondered myself, until I became a judge years ago. This information might help you decide just what painting to send to any particular show. To get the honor and privilege to judge any art society show as a Selections Judge, an Awards Judge or both, an artist must go there with a couple things in mind - to be fair, non political and select a cross section of styles and techniques to be represented in that particular show.
Above all, they should not go there with any preconceived ideas of what they want to select. Things will change when they observe the paintings as to what is selected and what is not. Lastly, they should look at the artwork and not the names of the artists who created the art - that's not important! Most society shows will not present the artists names to the judge, which is how it should be. The reason for this is that many judges will see names and show favoritism towards some of the entries because they either know some of the artists or they might select paintings of some of the officers in that society to pay them back for giving them the assignment. Believe me, this has happened many times in all kinds of organizations - not just art society shows! Therefore, to be fair to all the artists entered into a particular show, no society or fine art orgaization should ever allow their officers to enter their own shows. This in turn will tell all artists thinking about entering that there will be no "favoritism" involved. There may not be "favoritism'in that show, but not having them dispels the notion that there is. Officers in that particular society may not be aware that their show indicates favoritism, but it really appears as if it does by all artists who enter or view this exhibition. If you do discover by looking at art society show catalogs that officers of any art show have won some of the top awards, you should then decide if you are all right with that because they just may have won an award that was meant for you. If this bothers you, you should then look for other society shows that are, in your mind, a little more fair and non-political.
If you know that officers enter the show you are interested in, look to see if in fact they were presented any of the awards when the show catalog is sent to you. A great example of this situation is the Pastel Society of America. This is the kind of show you want to avoid. Not only do many of their officers win awards but the president actually won the Best In Show Award one year. Another officer won that award twice in three years. Personally, I will never show to them again! If you want to be treated fairly, neither should you. However, in some society shows, officers are allowed to enter their paintings, but not win an award. That would be all right - it's just a way for these officers to get a little recognition for all their hard work putting the show together. Most art societies will state in their prospectus that "no officers of this society will be allowed to enter show". This is also true for art magazines such as Pastel Journal, the Artist's Magazine, Drawing and Watercolor Artist- all published by F&W publications. All the Richeson art competitions are the same. Both of these organizations are doing the right thing and thinking about fairness with all the artists who enter their shows.
As a Selections Judge, it is that person's responsibility to pick out and form the very best show for that society by selecting the paintings that show the most talent in terms of mastering the techniques exhibited and having a complete understanding of all the art disciplines need to create a great piece of art. These days, most societies will send images on CDs to to the Selections Judge to view on his or her computer. Some also let you send in images by email, which will then be compiled into a group on another CD to be sent to the Selection Judge. This is the best way. However, in larger shows such as the National Watercolor Society, the American Watercolor Society, or the Pastel Society of America, all the judges will all be asked to travel to the society's location to pick out the paintings they would like to see in their show. With the NWS and the AWS, members of the society are the Selection Committee. This is the best way. With the PSA, their officers pick out who they want in their show. This is the worst way to put a respected show together. Once again, it says that there just might be "favoritism" involved. The reason that selections are made at the locations of these society shows is mainly because there are 4 or 5 judges involved. I have always disagreed with this procedure simply because no two people agree on anything, usually. If the Selection Judge selects paintings, then passes them on to another artist who is the Awards Judge, he or she may not have liked some of the paintings that were selected. That in turn, screws up who should have really won the Best In Show Award. Doing this does have a few advantages, but in my opinion, the Selections Judge should also be the one responsible to giving out all the awards. Those are the paintings that he or she liked in the first place and not what was liked by some other artist who may have had a different opinion. That is truly the best way to assemble the very best art show possible. However, with the larger societies, there is no other way to accomplish this at the moment. Another selection method that should never happen is for society officers or"Board" members to decide who is accepted into their shows. The Pastel Society of America is the only one I know of that does this. The American Watercolor Society allows the president of their society to be the Chairman of the Selection Committee - another thing that shouldn't happen! The president of any society and all their officers should not have a say in who gets into their own shows. That should be decided by members of that society who are assigned to put together the best show possible. Otherwise, it suggests control from the onset!
After all the selections have been made, all the paintings involved are then sent to the location of the show itself. There, it is now the Awards Judges' turn to look over and give out all the awards to the very best artwork there at that time. Again, the judge should not be concerned with the signatures on the painting, but rather the paintings themselves. If you have a judge who you know is competent and will not do that, you are in luck. In a very few instances, judges will select art and then give out awards to friends, whose work is really not that good, and completely ignore a great piece of art simply because the judge has an issue with one of the artists in the show. Trust me, this kind of politics goes on many times - I, and many other artists have seen this! However, this does not happen in the majority of shows. You just have to learn over time who the political judges are. Also, it is highly possible that the Awards Judge the society selected is not an artist, but rather a gallery owner, art magazine editor, or curator of some museum. Most have no clue as to what is current and what constitutes a wonderful piece of art. There is a lack of knowledge of all the art disciplines such as design, color, composition or what else it takes to be considered a quality painting. In other words, they may be around art all the time, but they are not artists. Once again, the Pastel Society of America has this system of presenting awards. Just another reason to avoid their shows! That, along with giving their officers awards, many artists have told me that "this society is doing everything wrong and not thinking of the artists who are members who enter their shows." What you should do in this case is to research who the judges are in all PSA shows and decide for yourself if he or she indicates to you that they have the knowledge to pick out the very best paintings in that show for all the awards. All of them are not artists, which indicates that they know nothing about creating a work of art - so keep that in mind. If you don't like them, enter another society show. There are many of them, so it doesn't matter that you miss the PSA show.
When all the selected paintings are sent to the show location, the Awards Judge takes over. What he or she should look for when picking out all the winners in any show is which of all the paintings there stand out as being the best art represented. Personally, what I like to do is first walk around and get a quick look at the paintings as a whole. It gives me a chance to see if there are any paintings on the wall that immediately jump out at me. Later, I will go around and stop in front of each painting and analyze what I see as far as design, color schemes, composition and mastery of technique goes. Also, if the subject is traditional, such as a bowl of flowers, it should have a new approach to the subject. This subject has been done to death and shouldn't be painted unless the artist has figured a new way to depict that subject. The same is also true with a traditional somber color landscape. Some artists feel they have to work like Andrew Wyeth to be successful instead of creating their own personal technique. Actually, there are several watercolor artists working today who have literally copied Mr. Wyeth's technique. I always look for something unique - showing me an understanding of art principles or, a different way of depicting at a mundane scene. Most judges have a system that is close or similar to what I do.
After that has been completed, it is time to select the award winners.This is where it gets tricky and requires a great deal of thought. From all the art at the show, the Awards Judge will then pick out a group of paintings he or she liked the best. From all of them, the painting that stands out the most and has shown the judge that there is a complete understanding of all the art disciplines should be selected as the Best In Show winner. This painting then represents what kind of show has been put together for the general public to view. If that painting is looked at by artists and other people and they scratch their heads, there is a problem. The show itself will then be looked at as being very political and judged by someone who was not a good a judge as first thought. That, in turn, is embarrassing for the society who hired the judge and paints them in not such a great light. The Awards Judge should not have an agenda or jealousy issues with a certain artist in the show and honestly pick out the very best paintings for all the awards. If they do, they should excuse themselves from judging, but they won't! Also, what this judge has that the Selection Judge did not is a name plate on the painting or nearby on the wall. Because of this and the signatures of artists on their paintings, the identity of the artist who painted each piece is known. Therefore, it now becomes easy to give awards to friends and reject artists who they believe are "winning too much" or they "have an issue with." He or she should not simply dismiss an artist's work only because they have won a lot in the past. If the painting is the best in the show, it should once again win an award, period! Otherwise, the show becomes political and the judge has an agenda. It doesn't matter what the judge thinks about other artists - it's all about being fair. Also, if a judge realizes that many of the officers of a particular society are in their own show, he or she should never present them with an award out of respect for all the artists in that show - it will look like "favoritism." And, for Gods' sake, don't give the Best In Show Award to the any president of any society presenting the show in progress. Lastly, an Awards Judge should never, ever, never give two awards to the same person in one show. I have only seen that happen only twice in some 45 years. Ironically, the worst I ever saw was just recently in a show at the Bosque Art Center. The Gold Metal and the Silver Metal went to the same artist. On top of that, as I found out later, this artist handed his drawings in late, which is a disqualification. One of their officers let the artist in anyway and this situation occurred. It never should have happened! One of the editors of the Art in the West magazine was the judge. Winning two awards by one artist is a complete slap in the face to all the other artists who are in that show. It makes the statement that all of the artists were not good enough to win anything, so the judge had to give two awards to the same person. Surely, any judge can always find more than one artist who has talent in any given show. It may or may not have been favoritism, but it looked as if it was in this show. That's the issue! It simply should not be done! As if that wasn't enough, the two drawings he awarded were scenes of cowboys and horses, the genre he looks at all the time with his magazine. A judge should always be impartial and show that in giving awards to several different genre presented to him or her.
All in all, being selected into any art show these days is a stroke of luck. Winning an award in that same show is quite an honor. It's really just a crap shoot as to what is selected and what wins an award. You may pick out the painting you think represents the best that you have at that time and has already won an award in another show and it wins nothing in this one because the judge has a different opinion as to what a great painting should look like. At the same time, you may have a painting at your home that you don't care for as much. If that painting was entered instead of the other, who knows, it might have won the Best In Show Award.
In spite of some mishaps along the way, you should never give up showing your art. Above all, always select the painting that in your mind, is the best painting you have at that time and enter that piece into the current society annual. Many times, you will enter a show where the judges are professional and think nothing about politics and or "favoritism." When this happens, it will be a complete thrill if you win any award and it will give you confidence that you are on the right track as a viable artist. Above all, always have fun when you paint - good luck!