There is often a common thread that runs through many of the works that are selected for Art League exhibits. While our jurors come from a myriad of artistic backgrounds and visual disciplines, they all feel that the same qualities make up a successful work of art: a combination of skill and personal vision.
It is widely accepted that Art League artists have excellent technique. And while technique is certainly an essential ingredient in creating a great artist, it isn’t enough. To make the leap from good to great, an artist must uncover their inner creative voice – what they have to say and express, visually, in a way that no one else can.
Below are some of the most common buzzwords and phrases from the juror’s dialogues in 2012. And, as you read the following excerpts, you’ll quickly see the theme of “skill and vision” emerge. (Click the links to read the full juror’s dialogues)
Vision, unique voice, intent
Clean, unobtrusive framing and presentation
Mastery of medium
January 2012 (All-Media): Alan Beland believes that a successful work is one that stirs an emotional reaction within the viewer. He stressed how important is it for artwork to emotionally connect with the viewer – for there to be substance, an ideal, a concept in a piece. Aesthetics, the principles of art and design, of course play an enormous role as well.
March 2012 (Play): Judy Bass selected works for “Play” based on the same criteria in which she grades her students: composition and craftsmanship. Successful works had good design, whether a photograph or a painting, and demonstrated technical excellence.
April 2012 (Earth): Juror Helen Frederick noted that she hoped to see urgent messages in the pieces submitted – reflective images that demonstrated an educated personal point of view, and not just emotional statements about the earth and the environment.
Frederick was looking for images expressing a combination of reflection, protection, and immediacy. Technical competence was equally important. Pieces needed to have an important, transcendental subject – one that transported the viewer into a different space. Successful works needed to be well crafted and stand on their own.
April 2012 (All-Media): In a successful work, Joseph Di Bella needs to see a sense of visual consonance. What is the artist’s idiom, intent? It’s important for the artist’s personal voice, message to come through. Di Bella noted that artists can reference a common or traditional genre, but they need to make it their own.
May 2012 (Bedtime Stories): “I look for composition and technique,” Judy Greenberg said. Subject matter was also a factor, but not always. The most important consideration is for a piece to be well done and show a level of skill with the medium: for example, how the paint was applied to create depth, a flat surface, tension, etc., consciousness of form and space, and balance within the composition. She also considered what the artist was saying in relation to the theme: was it a unique statement, did it capture the viewer, was it emotional, personal, haunting? Was the artwork commendably executed?
June 2012 (All-Media): Mark Cameron Boyd was looking for innovation – either innovation of materials or innovation of concept. He wanted to encounter that indescribable pizzazz, surprise.
Many of the unselected works, although “technically good,” were lacking innovation and a unique point of view. Boyd found himself thinking, “That’s beautiful, but…” it was missing that something extra.
Boyd emphasized how important innovation is to creating successful work. “Push yourself and your materials outside of the box, outside of your comfort zone, and take a risk. You may discover a new direction or something new about yourself as an artist.” He noted that he saw many strong abstracts with great texture and palette knife work.”
July 2012 (All-Media): “When you look at a piece, you have a sense as to whether or not it’s complete. And that’s what I was looking for: completion, for a work to be resolved. All of the parts need to be integrated (color, line, composition, etc). It’s important for the piece to make a visual statement – a statement that’s individual to the artist. I also look for a rhythm and a texture (either visual or actual), as well as a twist, a funny surprise, or an “ah ha!” moment.”
Katie Dell Kaufman was pleased to see so much sophisticated concept development, as well as such a range of media techniques and styles. “I really responded to the depth and breadth of media. There are so many skilled artists who are really pushing the traditional uses of many media. This is exciting and inspirational to see.”
August 2012 (‘Scapes): In general, Jonathan Linton said he judged works based on what direction it seemed like the artist wanted to go in, and how well they accomplished that goal. Artwork “has to sit in its skin well,” he said. “After that, I look at the work with regards to technical prowess, compositional strength, emotional projection, and subject matter.”
Linton advised artists to pay attention to the compositional elements in their work. “Be very aware of compositional softness,” he said — avoiding “mushy” compositions — “and keep the shapes interesting.” Artists should also address edge quality, making sure that they consider the type of edges that they leave on the shapes in their work — sometimes a hard edge should be made softer or vice versa.
September 2012 (All-Media): “It’s something indefinable that makes you look again and again,” said Judy Southerland. Among the elusive qualities she looked for, Southerland called on artists to take risks and create work uniquely their own, valuing sensitivity to the subject over technical skill.
Technical prowess was a “non-issue” in deciding which pieces to accept, Southerland said. Some pieces that made it into the exhibit were lacking in classically defined technical skill. In fact, some work that wasn’t accepted suffered from dependence on conventional skills and subject matter. Artists should instead strive to make the subject and the work specifically their own, both in subject matter and style, Southerland said. They shouldn’t only experience a style like expressionism, but make it something of their own, and likewise should transform the subject matter from the familiar or nostalgic. Tried-and-true “postcard” images that have been seen before carry with them a historical baggage that artists should be aware of, she said.
October 2012 (Color Sphere): “The artist’s use of light and dark, design, color, and visual narrative all work together to create visual drama,” explained juror Lee Boynton. “Visual drama” was what Boynton was looking for.
Boynton was also looking for the trinity of “goodness, truth, and beauty.” Boynton defined goodness as “the successful use of media and combination of skills.” Truth as “consistency, the underlying principle of integrity, and how the piece is done.” And said beauty is “hard to define, but you know it when you see it.”
The 98 selected works stood out as having purpose and intentionality in addition to that visual drama. “A successful artist selects, edits, and simplifies – they know how to do more with less.” Boynton remarked that there was real strength in the oil paintings, with artists demonstrating a strong handling of the medium and the work showing a great depth of color.
November 2012 (Large Works): John Figura was looking for virtuosity of medium, form, interesting use of color, shape, skill (relative to intent), and content. Above all, he was looking to see how, and if, the artist’s vision was achieved. Like so many of our previous jurors, Figura stressed the importance of the artist’s unique vision in a successful work, and he evaluated how the choice and use of media serviced that intent.
November 2012 (Small Works): Lindsay Harris’ first criterion was necessarily subjective: an instinctual judgment about the work and whether it was “eye-catching” in terms of its composition, color, and clarity of execution. Because of the high quality all around, such decisions weren’t easy, Harris said. Other considerations included subject matter and mastery of craft: many accepted pieces were examples of simple, humble subjects rendered precious through art. In terms of mastery of craft, successful artists demonstrated that they understood the qualities of their particular medium and used those to their advantage.
December 2012 (All-Media): “I’ve always appreciated that there isn’t one school of thought represented by the artists who exhibit here, stated Linda Hafer. There are so many different approaches, different styles, and different mediums represented on our walls. I wanted this show to celebrate that. My aim was to select the best works within each genre and medium.”
Initially, Hafer was looking for pieces that “grabbed her.” She’s particularly drawn to pieces with high value contrasts and rhythmic compositions. Strong lines are prevalent in many of the works she selected. While she’s attracted to works with incredible, intricate detail, she’s also drawn to minimalist works that give the viewer a breath of fresh air. As she continued to narrow her selections, Hafer weighed technical proficiency more heavily in her decisions.