Sunday, March 25, 2018

The agony and the ecstasy of art competition judging

Last night I spotted two images which for me symbolised the agony and the ecstasy associated with the judging of art competitions.

Agony - The faces of this year's selection panel for the 250th Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, led by Grayson Perry RA - who have just spent a week working their way through 15,000 artworks!

From Grayson Perry's Twitter account (March 9, 2018)
The battle weary faces of five people who have looked at 15000 artworks since last Friday.
Me with Humphrey Ocean, David Mach, Emma Stibbon and Chris Orr. 

Ecstasy - The joy of the artist who submitted work to this exhibition - and who got the nod - on finally seeing the letter that indicates her artwork has moved to the next round. Many thanks to Andrea Joseph for showing us what the missive actually looks like!

How long do judges spend on art competitions?

Many of the prestigious juried art competitions that I highlight on this blog disappoint something between 95-98% of the artists who have submitted work.

That's an awful lot of people.

I thought it might be worthwhile - when considering what to enter in future - if we just consider:
  • the practicalities of judging
  • in particular, how much time is involved in judging juried art exhibitions.
Below is a painting by Charles West Cope RA (1811-1890) about how pictures were selected for the Exhibition in 1875 - some 143 years ago. Some are still using a system which is somewhat similar (although smaller and in less grand surroundings).

The Council of the Royal Academy selecting Pictures for the Exhibition, 1875,  Charles West Cope RA,
oil on canvas, 1875-76
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

One of the main things that have changed since I started writing this blog is that now almost all art competitions have an initial digital submission.

That makes life simpler for the competition organisers and cuts costs for both organisers and the artists submitting work. No more need to frame and hire a courier when instead all you need to do is learn how to scan or get a good photograph of your work.

However, the other main feature of art competitions is that the number of submissions keep rising! Partly because it is now so much simpler to submit.

So how does the assessment get done these days?

Let's do the maths - about time

First of all let's remember that many major art society exhibitions won't be paying for the time of members who get to be part of the selection panel.

In relation to the more significant art competitions, I'm guessing that the practice varies.  While some might be flattered just to be asked to judge, for other it's unlikely that they will judge without a fee being involved.

I expect - but don't know for certain - that a number of the art competitions do pay a fee to their invited Judges. Mainly because these are people who are very busy with a lot of other commitments and their time may come with a fee attached.
(Much as I give 5 minute freebies to people who pose a quick and simple question but if you want more serious input I also charge a fee!)

Why be concerned about time?

Well let's take a look at what's involved in terms of time.

The Summer Exhibition 2018 selection and hanging committee:
  • started on Friday 2nd March 2018 - looking at sculpture and 3D Architecture Models
  • on Monday March 5th they started looking at paintings and prints
  • by Wednesday March 7th they have looked at 10,000 submissions (i.e. 4 days work?)
  • they finished on Friday 9th March after reviewing 15,000 works (which I think must include the RA submissions)
I'm guessing it took either 6 days or 7 days to review 15,000 works and that Grayson Perry sat through the lot - with teams making up the selection panels for specific types of artwork.

Somebody commented on my Facebook Page
My question would then this the best way to judge artworks?
Accepted artworks then become those that hit you within the first millisecond...kind of what you would wish for in the world of advertising. But are we to judge artwork as you would a successful advertising mock-up or a catchy sound-bite? Are the energy levels of the judges consistent throughout this super speed processing machine? We're only human after all.

On DAY ONE, here's a bouncy Grayson Perry tweeting about getting judging underway for this year's Royal Academy of Art's 250th  Summer Exhibition.

and he's still being positive on the following Monday (DAY TWO OR THREE?)

Two days later (after four days of judging and five days after the start of the exercise), he's feeling a little less bouncy.

Back in 2006, I sat through a very informative evening at the CPSA Annual Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico - when we sat through TEN carousels of slides which represented all 700+ submissions to the annual exhibition. It was a very long evening - with a little break every time they changed the carousel - and we were only watching, not voting or making decisions. I wrote this analysis afterwards CPSA entries to the 2006 annual exhibition about what struck me as being the important messages arising out of seeing so many artworks in one go.

One of them was that you only have a VERY FEW SECONDS to have an impact on Judges.

So how long do Judges have to assess artworks?

The answer is 'not long'. 

The thing is people sort of understand that there might be some pressure on time but I doubt if they really "get" just how little time each piece gets i.e. a FEW SECONDS.
Enter Work That Can Be Quickly Understood - Judges only look at digital photographs or slide entries for a few seconds, and they are more apt to respond positively to images that are immediately understood rather than those that are so subtle and require careful study. Make sure the artwork you enter is well defined and that the contrast between the values is distinct. How Art Exhibition Jurors Make Decisions by M. Stephen Doherty (Editor of an American Art Magazine)
How do I know this to be true?

Let's look at what 10 seconds equates to in terms of time.
  • 10 seconds (including turnaround time) = 6 artworks per minute
  • = 360 artworks in an hour
  • = 2,520 artworks in a 7 hour day assuming the technology works perfectly all the time and EXCLUDING time for tea/toilet breaks and lunch!
10,000 artworks in 4 days means 10 seconds per artwork is an absolute MAXIMUM

  • to view artwork
  • to record decision
  • change artwork

It's very likely it was less time than 10 seconds because other people need to record voting and probably need time for changeovers because there is a limit to how long you can focus when work goes by very fast.

Other approaches may take more time

With other competitions having 2-3,000 entries, selection may take a couple of days, with time to view artwork and maybe more comfort breaks.

But taking 2 days over (say) 2,500 entries only increases the time available to review, discuss and record decisions to an average of 20 seconds or c.180 artworks per hour. The reality is more time is needed for discussing the final whittle down to the selected artworks which means less time is available at earlier stages

....or rationalise the time required in different ways

What I have heard happens - and I am not in the least bit surprised if it does - is that some competition organisers employ others to exclude all the "no hopers" via the digital selection.

This means that the first round of digital sifting is done by "others" and that the selection panel is only asked to review those that have a serious chance of being selected for the exhibition.

This might include deselection of all those who:

  • don't meet the selection criteria
  • did not complete entry details properly
  • submitted a poor image
  • failed to crop the image down to the artwork
  • anything that provides a very good reason to "sift" the artwork out of the images the judges need to review
and sometimes
  • poor artwork unlikely to be move on to the next stage of selection.

It pays to review how information about selection for an exhibition is worded.
I've certainly seen and read information, TOC and articles which suggests this happens.

Others get judges do the digital selection on their own - and they get to choose how much time they spend. That way you avoid groupthink - but there is going to be minimal quality assessment of the amount of time and effort actually employed to arrive at an individual judges decisions.

Interestingly a number of people I've spoken to say they prefer this approach with 'reliable judges' because very often, there's a considerable degree of agreement between Judges as to who should move forward to the second stage.

For me the latter approach works well for art societies where a Judge has a long-standing commitment to both the organisation and the quality of artwork that gets selected - and is maybe more risky for art competitions where individuals are having a "one time only" relationship with the organisation running the competition.

How do judges assess size?

What was very interesting is the way the RA Summer Exhibition digital system for showing how big an artwork was. Looks very sensible to me....

More about art competitions

I've written a number of posts about juried open exhibitions and art competitions - and tips for how to increase your chances of getting selected. You can find them below and in the Major UK Art Competitions Page at the top of the blog.

Tips for artists entering exhibitions

You may find these TIPS helpful
and for those needing help with framing...

1 comment:

  1. Very informative, thank you.
    For the Summer Exhibition, artists were allowed to submit one main digital image and up to two supplementary images (e.g. close ups). I wonder if only the main images were displayed initially, and whether the 'toilet man' was also a separate screen. Worst case, your ten second maximum becomes perhaps 2 to 3 seconds.


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