Working As An Art Judge

Gregory Manchess

It’s almost time to fly to Kansas to help judge the next Spectrum Annual. None of it would happen without the vision and grand efforts of Cathy and Arnie Fenner. Great effort is expected from all of us: time, money, energy. It’s exciting because as a group, we get to help highlight other lovers of fantastic art out there. 
Yet there’s another reason. For me, it’s an honor. I take great pride in being a part of the process. As with any artist’s career, it’s takes years to build the skills necessary for this job. I respect this role by giving it my full attention.
As a judge, it takes considerate effort to scan and absorb thousands of images and give them all as much attention as possible, however, there are many artists who consider it a day off from work, to just ‘flip through pictures.’ Apparently, they think that they can scan images quickly enough to judge pieces on-the-fly, without so much as a second glance because, as some have told me, they ‘knew what they were looking for.’
If an artist goes into a judging situation having already decided what it is they want to see, and what they are going to approve, why would anyone trust their opinion, much less invite them to return?
Judging is hard work. What makes it so is exactly what’s difficult about judging your own work: keeping a fresh eye. One has to allow the mind to be refreshed, to lose it’s prejudice, in order to detect with objectivity what makes a piece stand out. As artists, we recognize this endeavor and know how hard it is to stay objective. This effort, stretched across so many entries, is exhausting for the mind.
It takes preparation, like an athlete: good sleep, proper food, clear undistracted thinking. Multitasking is the bane of good judgement. (There is much research on this topic of late.) Recently, I’ve watched judges texting, emailing, and taking calls while judging.
Here’s my commitment to all who entered:
I’ll get rest and stay focused.
I won’t text.
I won’t check email.
I won’t conduct freelance business, or call the office.
I’ll stay as unbiased as possible: not just vote for the type of work I do, or want to see.
I will be fair to all styles and attitudes.
I’ll remember my early days and what I wanted to achieve.
I’ll remember to be open and try to understand what an artist is saying, revealing, expressing.
I’ll remember the difference between influence and outright image theft.
I know most of the judges this year. They are very skilled and generous with their votes. We’ll be at the top of our game when we’re there. I hope you entered. I want to see what excited you about work last year.

I wish you (and me!) all the best.