Be Smart About Art

Art Prizes: The view of a judge

written by: Susan J Mumford Feb. 25, 2019 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3767 views

Art Prizes: The view of a judge

Art prizes, juried exhibitions, open submissions… whatever the term, the role that these events can play in getting artists in front of their idea audience (think: gallerists, curators, buyers, interior designers, other artists, leaders of arts organisations, etc) is noteworthy. It goes without saying that applying to opportunities that are a good match for yourself / your artist is a smart move. Additionally, adjust submissions based on theme, judges and other variables.

The reality is that many artists let themselves down with applications, and only a little additional effort makes a remarkable difference in improving your chances of being selected. Only this morning, I was judging the juried exhibition for the newly formed 14c Art Fair in Jersey City (founded by Robinson Holloway, an advocate for the arts and a gallerist herself). I started to see familiar areas for improvement from other times I’ve been a judge, so started taking notes…

This post is a compilation of observations that will be insightful for artists / agents / gallerists submitting work, and will also be useful if you set up your own competition or are invited to judge.

It’s easier to stand out than you might realise… Complete applications in full!

You go to the effort to submit an entry… so why leave some of it blank? I would hazard a guess that more than 75% of the proposals reviewed this morning didn’t include an artist’s statement. When a judge is reviewing hundreds if not thousands of proposals, a statement makes a world of difference in understanding the artist’s practice and approach, plus it helps to make sense of an assemblage of images. The lack of a statement for any single submission resulted in this judging marking down the candidate by one point (out of five). Note that it needn’t be ‘art speak’, either.

Make your images stand out (and learn about file sizes if you don’t understand them).

Honestly, if an image is fuzzy, it’s difficult to effectively assess. Judges don’t always have time to click on your website link (if you have one – more on that later) which might have better images, so by a) submitting badly taken images; or b) not understanding basics about file sizes, you risk being marked down for perfectly good work. Put time and effort into taking images that do your pieces justice, and speak with an IT whiz friend who can teach you about file sizes, pixels, etc if needed.

Be sure to provide info on works of art submitted.

Sometimes there are fields to complete with title, year, medium, edition (if applicable), size, etc., and other times, such fields do not exist. This contextual info is insightful to someone viewing your work for the first time – and not only that, having a limited selection. As a general rule of thumb, have key info in the filename of images whenever submitting / emailing regardless, which will help the ultimate viewer see artwork info if unavailable otherwise. (Including a descriptor on a jpg filename, which requires a little bit of effort to do, is the mark of a professional artist.)

Sort out your online presence.  

Having a URL listed in the ‘website’ field and at least one social media profile name / link provided goes a long way to being taken seriously. If you lack this presence, it suggests that you’re not in the professional game. (Take heed: you might be a perfectionist, and that’s okay. Start with a one-page site and one social media platform. Get in touch with BSAA if you need help with this: – as seriously, it’s that important.)

Only submit once!

Enough said. (And if you’re not sure whether or not you’ve applied, check your email inbox. You will most likely have a confirmation email for any prizes to which you’ve made a submission.)

Other notes from a judges point of view…

If you’re creating digital art or are presenting photographic images, beware that judges want to have a sense of how it will look in the real world. Taking the step from designs and images on the computer to being tangible, physical objects (unless the final intention is being a digital piece) is BIG – and important. You can achieve this by presenting a real image of a digitally created piece in a frame, work installed in a show, and the like. This makes a transition from having good ideas to having full realised works of art.

Judges often find that some unqualifying works or artists sneak into the selection of images provided by an organisation. A top tip for galleries and art prize organisers is to remove submissions that don’t qualify. (Examples vary from medium not being valid to location of artist not being relevant for geographically-based shows.) The takeaway for judges is simply to be aware that this might happen, with a recommendation to be vigilant and to only approve work that satisfies the parameters of the opportunity.

Some key take-aways for artists and representatives at all stages of career?

Even if you haven’t perfected a submission, by completing all required fields and submitting work in mind of the parameters and specifications of a prize, you improve the likelihood of being selected more than you likely know. Whereas it’s tempting to focus on images, be sure to give yourself ample time to write a statement and include other information. One way to tackle this is to set aside time to complete the textual fields before letting yourself fully focus on image/s to be included (if not already finished).

Curious about subjectivity and judging?

At the beginning of this post, I noted that you might adjust your entry depending on judges. This has been seen to make all the difference between successful and unsuccessful entries. Here’s another perspective: As much as personal taste and standards cannot be avoided, I encourage fellow judges to do your upmost to base decisions on stated parameters. Should you find bias (conscious and unconscious alike) creeping in (varying from styles being of a different culture to gender of the applicant), I urge you to be cognizant of this and to objectively assess based on merit and relevance to opportunity. 

Here’s to making the most of art prizes, whatever your affiliation!


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