I’ve been invited to come be the judge at the Hillsboro Plein Air festival this year and the event occurs this Saturday. I’m looking forward to my role but not exactly relishing the process. I kept a low profile about being the judge but decided to let people know about it a few days before the event, assuming they read my blog.
I’ve entered enough competitions and juried shows throughout my career to have learned one thing essential to the the artist seeking accolades: You can never pick what the judge will pick, so don’t even try! Just paint what you want to paint, and paint how you like to paint. Then hope for the best. Most of the time a judge will recognize quality and be drawn towards it, but art is a subjective game so focus upon your own likes and dislikes over what you think the judge might like.
But hey, if any of you want a heads-up, here is the criteria for Saturday’s judging:
- Level of difficulty attempted.
- Artistic intention, and was it was achieved — so far as it can be fairly discerned.
- The spirit expressed by the work.
Please note there is nothing to be found in those bullet points about content, style, or medium. An oil painting does not trump a watercolor or pastel. A rendered figure does not trump a gesture. Tight does not trump loose. There is nothing in the criteria about artistic experience, “dues-paying”, or street-cred involved. In the end the decision is all about the final result — the painting itself — and not about the artist who painted it.
Do I have contend with my own preferences and bias? Sure. I’m primarily an oil painter who has devoted his entire career to working from direct observation: figures, plein air landscapes, and the still life. But I also embrace all kinds of imagery from all kinds of artistic genres. Representational or abstract. Schooled or naive. Academic or Impressionistic. Intellectual or emotive.
The old saw, “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” doesn’t work for me. In my world that axiom is flipped. I know a h*ll of a lot about art and not necessarily what I like. Or maybe I know what I like for this week. Maybe today. Some might think that’s a problem, but I don’t. Because I like liking everything. As Duke Ellington once quipped after being badgered by a Jazz critic, “If it sounds good then it is good.”
I wish everyone the best of luck on Saturday. And be sure to have fun. Paint fast and paint hard. But be sure to enjoy yourslef. Because it’s about the painting and not the winning.
It’s always about the painting.