Editor’s Letter | Difficult Decisions

A look at the process of judging our annual art competition

By Kristin Hoerth

William C. Wright | Jones Falls in April II

Jones Falls in April II by William C. Wright, a finalist in the Artistic Excellence Competition

One of the most daunting things we do here in the editorial offices of Southwest Art is to judge our annual Artistic Excellence art competition. Each year we receive well over 2,000 entries, so part of the challenge is the sheer volume of images that we review. An even bigger challenge is that we’re looking at all of this artwork on our computer screens rather than in person. As you can imagine, digital images just don’t do justice to most paintings. If you’ve ever looked at an artwork online and later seen it in a gallery or museum, you know what I mean. Even the best photographs often fail to faithfully reproduce color and surface texture.

Still, we do our best. This year we narrowed the field down from 2,000 to approximately 600, then to 400, then to about 100. And that’s where things really get difficult. At that point, all of the paintings under consideration are skillfully executed, and all of them have their strong points—striking color in this animal portrait, lovely light in that landscape, wonderful soft edges in a floral still life. Slowly and painfully we sort through the contenders, weighing factors like design, values, brushwork, and more. At last we arrive at the final 13 paintings, and we are amazed at the quality and variety of the group. But wait! Perhaps the most weighty question of all still remains: Which of these 13 excellent pieces will win the first-, second-, and third-place prizes?

To answer this question, I sometimes think back to my first reaction to each painting. Which ones captivated me right from the start? I also think about the ones that stick with me, that I return to again and again, that compel me to look even more closely and perhaps discover new aspects to admire. And I think carefully about the visceral feeling or mood being conveyed in each piece—the sheer joy communicated by Patsy Lindamood’s frolicking spaniel or the sense of effort that comes through in Eric Bowman’s domestic worker.

To say that ranking these paintings is subjective is an enormous understatement. We might make different decisions six months from now than we made this month. And I’m certain many of you reading this will think to yourself, “That’s not what I would have chosen at all!” Still, it is my sincere hope that you will find much to admire among the winners of our Artistic Excellence competition.

Featured in the December 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine December 2012 digital download
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