Thursday, March 23, 2023

How artists are selected for PAOTY or LAOTY

This post is about how artists get selected by the Judges for the Artist of the Year competitions on Sky Arts - and how the communication process works.

My next post is about how to watch the heats of Series 10  being filmed in April.

Judges deliberating during a heat at Battersea Arts Centre
with a self-portrait I remember very well in the background

This week people who applied for Portrait Artist of the Year have been getting their notifications as to whether or not they've made it into Series 10 which is due to start filming in April.

As usual, for those who've not got selected  the sentiments range from 

  • phlegmatic and stoic ("I'll just apply again next year - and go paint another self-portrait") 
  • to sad ("Again!") 
  • and then there are some who are rather irritated and imagine all sorts of dire reasons why they've not been selected!!
For the record there's a LOT of people who do end up in heats who did not get in the first time they applied - so do not despair if you got the "not successful" letter

How artists are selected for PAOTY or LAOTY

Today's post is going to be about how artists are selected to avoid some of the rumours which periodically do the rounds in relation to why some people get chosen and others do not.

Stuart Prebble, the Chairman of Storyvault Films, the independent television company who make the series for Sky Arts has explained how selection works

Hi. May I take the opportunity to clarify the processes carried out for selecting the artists who appear in both Landscape and Portrait Artist of the Year? I do so because I have seen one or two inaccurate or misleading claims - and I'm keen to put them right. Stuart Prebble


we know that artists entering our competition go to enormous trouble to do so, and we want to reassure everyone that the selection process is fair, thorough and has integrity. Stuart Prebble

Here's my bullet point summary of what he said because his was a very lengthy explanation . It's got my commentary after stages/points in burnt orange.

What The Judges Do

  • Every Judge looks at every single one of the self portraits submitted
  • In most cases, they also look at the second and third artworks
(I'd take this to mean you can't redeem a bad self-portrait, but second and third works should do what they're intended to do and will help establish whether a "possible" artist should go forward or not)
  • Each Judge looks at all the self portraits on their own.
  • They give a tick to every artist they think should go through.
(They will be looking at the digital images wherever they do their quiet focused work. I've done this myself when judging other art competitions and to do it properly you really don't want to be anywhere with distractions as you need to stay very focused to get through all the submissions. I understand there's been about 1,200 entries this year)
  • Subsequently they all meet together and every entry is reviewed again in terms of the ticks awarded while working solo
  • All entries which receive three ticks are likely to go through automatically
(I'm guessing somebody will then tell them how many of the 72 places for Heat Artists artists (eight heats in 2023 x 9 artists in each heat) they have filled - and how many more they need to fill. I'd love to know how many of the three tick people end up winning heats!)
  • The Judges then review all artists receiving two ticks and discuss their merits. This is to see whether any Judge wants to change their mind and add or remove a tick.
  • Finally, they then review all the artists with only one tick - and the judge awarding the tick gets the opportunity to make a case.
(Ultimately how much time they spend on each 'tick section' depends on:
  • how many places need to be filled. 
  • the calibre of the entry
  • the number of artists awarded three or two ticks)
  • Producers are available to provide any information about the artist that is requested. However they play no part in the selection process
(Unlike reality shows, where you can work out the 'characters' which have been cast!)

What the Producers do

After the selection has been made, there are more jobs which need to be done before artists can be informed
  • Artists have to be allocated to heats. 
  • Producers try to get an interesting mix taking account of factors like media they use, gender and age
(I'm guessing they also probably mix up the three tick people with the two tick peole so that they don't have all the ones who look like they might be really good in the same heat! Sometimes they get this right and sometimes they don't - and we all notice when this happens! I've never ever noticed any predisposition to allocate people to the heat which is local to where they live. I make a point of recording where they come from and it's always very mixed)
  • Successful Artists then have to be contacted. 
  • They check details and availability and then take 48 hours to try to contact the artist. 
  • They can cease trying to contact an artist if not contacted within that time - and move on.
(You get a message to ring a number if you don't answer your phone. Now Stuart maintains that they can't remember a time when they've been unable to contact an artist. However, I had somebody wrote to me recently who had a very good reason why she couldn't be contacted by phone - but presumably forgot to explain this clearly in her submission! So her phone got the message but she didn't have access to it and couldn't ring back within the 48 hours. Now she may of course have been mistaken and the message was about something else completely.  I'll follow up with Stuart on this individual who contacted me. I've seen the self portrait and the supporting artwork so I'm clear she entered)
  • Next everybody who has not been successful gets an email to say they have been unsuccessful this time.
This doesn't mean that their work is inferior in any way at all - we all know that art appreciation is entirely subjective, and we rely on the opinions of our expert judges - who have done a difficult but excellent job for nearly ten years of the series.
Stuart Prebble
(I've seen them. They're very helpful and supportive emails)
OVERALL my conclusion is that they're running a very fair system.  It's also a pretty standard system these days for a lot of art competitions - albeit there can be variations on a theme elsewhere.

Splitting individual views from the group process used to select people for the heats is a very good idea. It avoids "Groupthink" - which can occur when people sit in groups and look at images on a screen - as happens at many art society selections "in person". 

Fortunately the Pandemic has now got lots of judges very used to independently screening and assessing digital images online on their own before they ever get to contribute to the next stage!

They're also not using other people to screen out the 'total no hopers' (i.e. people whose artwork is very adrift from the calibre of artist they're wanting to see in the Heats.) I know that this does occurs in some other art competitions (I'm not naming names!) - and frankly with some you need to do this because of the sheer amount of poor quality work which can be submitted. Bear in mind in other art competitions, a number of the Judges will be working for free - which I don't think applies in this instance - and to get them to judge, organisers need to keep the time required to something reasonable!

My one recommendation would be that I think that it would be very useful if an explanation of how the selection and notification process works could be online and available to all to view. I think this would be very well received by all those interested in applying. 

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