The art world is too “realistic”; judging issues

As I have gotten more confident about my painting over the past year, I have entered more competitions. And I have come to one conclusion about the Judge and/or Juror(s) in these things. They seem to be biased against people who, like me, paint abstracts.

I liken it to asking the question (and pardon my image-making…): who has more artistic cojones and/or talent, someone who tries to paint a bowl of fruit or someone who tries to paint a fart?

Painting fruit is certainly tough. It involves decisions about the marks you make on the canvas: decisions about level of realism, lighting source, brush or knife detail, and so on. Don’t get me wrong. It takes a lot of talent to paint representationally, which is what we painters call realistic work.

But painting a fart (and painting non-repesentationally in general) is far tougher. Do you know what a fart looks like? What color it is? What shape? When I paint non-representationally, I am trying to capture a mood or an idea or a thought by using color and shape (and line, value, texture, etc.). I am trying to engage the viewer viscerally without relying on the known world, on widely understood marks. I find this far tougher.

Yet, it is apparent when looking at the “winners” of the competitions I have entered (and yes, the “winners” do not include my name, but this is not about unsweetened grapes) that representational art is the favored child.




I have seen competitions that are purportedly aimed at painters of abstracts, but they are few and far between. And even then, paintings that are more representational, i.e., they have some recognizable subject matter, usually float to the top of the pile. I consider these contests as sort of throwing a bone to us abstract painters. Like “let’s have a ‘special’ contest for you ‘special’ painters” — who can’t really paint.

It is almost as if they looked at the picture of the canvas we sent them for a second, decided it could have been painted by a baboon with paint on its butt sliding around on a canvas on the floor, and then rejected it sans thought. Sad.

The other part of the judging process that bugs me is that the vast majority of these competitions charge the artist who enters. In my previous field of choice — newspaper design — judging was done for free by other professionals in the field. Why do artists have to pay?

And it is not as if we gain insight from a few comments from the judge whose time with our work we paid for. No, we pay, say thank you very much as we hand over our “children” with bowed heads to the judge and then stand up straight for a few slaps in the face before being summarily dismissed.

I have even made gentle and polite requests for a word or two of advice for a newbie painter to a judge only to be ignored. I know he or she has more important work — paintings of their own no doubt — but to simply ignore someone who paid her money to the organization that sponsored the contest is wrong.

C’mon folks. Accept that it is just your turn in the barrel and give back by helping others. Your colleagues deserve better than your raised middle finger.



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