The judging of an art competition should be based solely on merit

Dear Editor,

The aesthetic content created to be visually assessed by an onlooker can sometimes be exceedingly difficult, even to some who themselves create art.

People in the arts learn colour compatibility, composition, and technique etcetera. But the fertile aesthetic factor cannot be taught. It is the sovereign province of eyes and mind which merge to observe with virtuosity  enough to simultaneously analyse internationally expressed language with local and national accents. This sounds difficult to understand, does it not? But this is the standpoint of a good judge when given the opportunity to give an award to competence. And when that judge adds an extraneous and philosophical  consideration to the process, it invites a questionable decision.

The principal or standard direction sought in judging an art ‘competition’ should be an assessment based solely on merit ‒ impact, content and composition. Colour sometimes can influence, but never style. The philosophy of the creator’s vision should never be the criterion, except when so specified as the qualifications for entry.

In the United States of America there are several foundations which offer grants to artists primarily so they can develop a personal visual language  ‒  style. Every style must emerge from a philosophy of vision ‒ imagination. And these foundations state beforehand and in plain language, that submissions should express a theme. Never is size of work an issue. In Guyana where exhibition spaces are limited, and the availability of art materials is a rarity, large works should not be suggested.

In a recent visual arts ‘competition’ the Chairman’s report and commendations began with suggestions. He sidelined works by an artist who submitted entries using a different style on each entry, then he ended his report with promptings that more experimentation should take place, especially to do with style, so as to extend the depth of expression. That obvious contradiction exposes his inability to judge works of art. Judging an art competition requires a special skill which allows for the best work to be selected regardless of style.

Now picture this: I am an experienced artist versed in all painting disciplines, who does work with a philosophy of vision which establishes a visual language. In the United States I was often called upon to select and award prizes in major competitions. And my philosophy then and now is that the days of stagnant expectations in art are long gone. No artist should be expected to work in the same style just to please someone else. The creative artist of today has to express self so as to avoid boredom. They have to apply different methods so as to grow with a fullness of comprehension.

Those who are selected to judge art should be knowledgeable and not base their decisions on their own working procedures. If the show is one which asks for philosophical tendencies it should be so described and not be called a visual arts competition. And too, the fundamental nature of knowledge is never to be confined. Is it a sin to have the command of style ‒ what is wrong with being prolific?

What would have been most interesting stemming from the fact the Chairman suggested how others should do their work, was for him to provide the testament which supported his shortlist and selection of awards.

Yours faithfully,
Jorge Bowenforbes

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