I recently selected a shortlist of digitally submitted artworks and while it was fresh in my mind I wrote out the decision criteria that I had used.
Although every selection process will be different I thought it might be helpful to artists submitting to competitions or juried exhibitions, to know what I, as a selector, might be looking for and the thinking behind the decisions.
These are the questions I asked myself as I looked at the artworks:
1. Is it a good photograph of the artwork? In focus, sharp and clear, no glare, large enough to be seen well, and cropped to just the artwork (no frame or mount or table), with no watermark/copyright text on the image, so the photo can be used as it is when announcing the winner.
Poor photographs were the first to be eliminated. If the photo cannot be used as it is to announce a winner that the judges will be proud of and the sponsor will be happy showing large at the top of their page, then the photo isn’t good enough. (The rare exception to the ‘just the artwork’ rule is if the work needs to have scale to be understood, something else in the picture to show its unusually large or small size, but even that is questionable – if the selector looks at the measurements in your text that should be enough.)
2. Does it comply with the entry requirements (theme and medium)?
It would make people angry if the winner did not follow the rules; people would not have faith in the judging system. So these are the next to be eliminated.
I would say about 20% of the submissions did not make it past the first two criteria.
Then I started looking at the quality of the artwork of the ones that were still left.
The next criteria are more subjective, but people will agree on them surprisingly often.
3. Subject matter/idea – is it compelling? (This is the creative part, the art part, the inspiration, the reason the artist went to all the trouble of making the work. The most important part.)
4. Does it make the most of its medium, use the medium to its advantage? (Is the idea created in the medium that best expresses it, or forced into the one the artist is most familiar with? Do you say of an etching: ‘this would not work nearly so well if it were painted in oil, being an etching is perfect for this idea.’)
5. Is it an excellent example of the medium, level of expertise?
6. Composition, design elements, colour – do they all work well in the artwork?
7. Is it overall a strong image?
The five questions above are the words I would use to describe the thoughts going through my mind during the process and the things that made an artwork stand out so that I chose it.
Over a period of a few hours I kept removing the ones that didn’t measure up to those criteria. The shortlist was made up of artworks about which I could answer ‘yes’ to all seven questions.
I guess the thing to remember is that a good photo and reading the rules will at least give you a chance to get through to the actual judging stage.