Critiquing Art

Camille Claudel, so talented, so heart-wrenching by Jeannine Cook

Camille Claudel lived in Nogent sur Seine as a teenager, and from there, she was launched into her career as a sculptor, her talent carrying her to Auguste Rodin’s studio and into another complex world. The recently-opened Museum in Nogent sur Seine holds an important number of her sculptures, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of late 19th and early 20th century French sculptors.

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Meeting Artists by Jeannine Cook

The delightful bonus of judging an art festival is that you meet a variety of talented artists, working in any number of different media. I certainly found that to be the case yesterday when I judged the Art in the Park for McIntosh Art Association, Darien, Georgia.

My score sheets for judging that I had prepared served me well. There were indeed a variety of media and I found that having to answer criteria questions made it much easier to assess work. It was so interesting to talk to each artist that I was quickly losing track of time, to the slight dismay of those who were in charge of the award side of things! Nonetheless, it was important to learn from each artist about their work - they had spent a great deal of time creating work, bringing it to Darien and setting it up in display. The least I could do was to spend time understanding and looking.

There were some wonderful two and three dimensional pieces, but some stood out - as is always the case. Once I had officially acquitted myself as judge, and the awards and ribbons were distributed, I could then take off my badge and become an artist like all the others - a relief! One of the booths to which I then headed was that of an elegant set-up by a South Carolina-based artist, Kim Keats, whose work is entitled "Interlacements". She uses driftwood, wood and other natural found objects and weaves or binds them together to form the most wonderful pieces, often with a very Japanese feel to them. Small treasures and larger ones - elegant, imaginative and restrained. A delight to see.

There were several artists whose passion for nature and environmental concerns informed their work wonderfully. Lydia Thompson is a consummate expert on birds and uses that knowledge to depict birds in delicate prints that are elegant and most appealing. She is even using "green" ink in her printing processes. Another artist who is highlighting the environment's fragility is Nancy Adams, with a very different voice. She is using gourds as fine art - cutting them into the shapes of different species, painting them and then reassembling the pieces into sculptures of complexity and beauty. Hers is a voice that is memorable by its difference and passion.

As Vernon Square began to fill with people strolling and enjoying the art and music, the sun finally emerged from the clouds, and the day became a celebration of talents. It was a lovely way to mark the Blessing of the Fleet for Darien.

Judging an Art Festival by Jeannine Cook

It has been a rather crazy week, first delivering silverpoint drawings to a forthcoming show, "Lasting Impressions", in Jacksonville, FL, at the Women's Center on Colcord Avenue. Then I hung a solo show, "At the Edge of the Marsh", at the McIntosh County Art Association gallery at the Old Jail in Darien, GA, on Friday. Rain storms on both days made art delivery interesting.

Now the sun has reappeared in time for the big weekend in Darien- the Blessing of the Fleet, to celebrate the shrimping tradition and start of the new season.

Blessing of the Fleet, Darien, Georgia, along the Darien River

Blessing of the Fleet, Darien, Georgia, along the Darien River

As part of the activities, in Vernon Square, one of the gracious oak-shaded squares laid out in 1736 by Georgia's founder, General James Oglethorpe, there is an art festival, Art in the Park, and I was asked to judge the festival this year.

Vernon Square, Darien, Georgia

Vernon Square, Darien, Georgia

This started me reflecting on all the aspects of judging. As an artist, I have frequently been on the other side of the equation, with my entries to juried art exhibitions and the occasional festival being considered by one or more jurors or judges. Very soon, as one goes along in life, every artist learns that, given a level of competency and proficiency, the outcome of such judging is very much a matter of luck. Considerations of an overall exhibit's theme, space requirements and other aspects play a role in the final outcome, and being passed over is not necessarily any reflection on the quality of one's own work.

Nonetheless, I always wish more judges would give more specific feedback on work submitted. I suppose, realistically, that now there is such a large number of submissions to most art competitions that feed back would be too onerous. Such information would, however, help one grow and improve as an artist.

For artists who teach, there is another aspect to judging art competitions and festivals. Katie Lee, a wonderful botanical artist, teacher and judge (as well as being Kenya-born as I was!), writes eloquently about her desire for her students to succeed and be recognised. Her concern for their well-being is a very real consideration of any juror/judge; crushing talent and aspirations is always a great tragedy and waste.

Once an artist has been given the honour of judging his or her peers' work, it is a serious matter, where competency, fairness and clarity are all very necessary. Since each artist, no matter what the medium, has invested time, passion and money, in creating a work, it is only fitting that a judge/juror treat the work with respect and attention. I am, in truth, often left wondering when one reads of some shows where there are thousands and thousands of entries, and perhaps three seconds are accorded to each piece, usually now in digital image form. Need must – I recognise, that that is hardly a way to select work that might be magnificent, but done in a low key, subtle fashion which has trouble competing with the "high voltage", "hit-you-in-the-eye" works.

Judging an art show is frequently a little different from judging an art festival, insofar as the festival usually has many media. The line between fine art and crafts is also frequently blurred. For an art show, grosso modo, the judge is assessing visual design, technical competence and, above all, the highly personal consideration: does this work convey a clear, powerful message and does the work stop me in my tracks? Details of value (organisation of darks and lights into a good composition), colour (its use for harmony, feeling, repetition and pattern), shapes (their variation or repetition for interest, harmony and content), line (variation and use of lines) and organisation of a focal point all contribute to the unity and success of a work of art. Does the piece hold together and work to convey content and feeling?

Assessing the diverse work exhibited in booths in an art festival is perhaps more complex in some senses. I have found that scoring the artists' presentations according to a set of criteria, on paper, is helpful. It also means that the artists can later see how the judge scored things, which could perhaps provide some useful feedback. Since, de facto, a judge is working with apples and oranges, so as to speak - two and three dimensional work, crafts of different types, etc. - there has to be some coherence in the judging approach.

I tend to divide the score card into two sections - artistic merit and booth presentation. Under artistic merit, I score creativity and originality, quality of composition and design, clarity of theme/communication, technique and skill of creation and, finally, overall impression. Booth presentation looks at professional presentation, is the booth inviting to enter and does the booth set-up enhance/compliment/complement the work?

Suffice to say that if there are a large number of entrants in the Art in the Park festival tomorrow, I shall be busy for a while! I just hope that the award winners are happy and that everyone else has a really good festival!