Editor’s Letter | Tough Choices

Judging the Artistic Excellence competition

By Kristin Hoerth


Choosing Joy (detail) by Diane Reeves.

This story was featured in the December 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story

When we announce the winners of our Artistic Excellence competition each December, it’s the culmination of a lengthy process that starts the previous spring, when we begin accepting entries. The competition is open to all: to artists of all ages and levels of experience from all over the world, and to artwork in any medium and style, depicting any subject matter. This year’s competition drew approximately 2,000 entries. Geographically, most were from the United States, but a substantial number came from more than 30 other countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and even Africa. Artistically speaking, the entries were dominated by representational paintings, although abstract work and three-dimensional pieces were also included.

Once the competition closes in mid-summer, the months-long judging process begins. Every entry is reviewed by the editors; after an initial round of judging, well over 500 pieces remain in contention, ready to be examined and evaluated at great length as we slowly whittle down the list. Over the course of many weeks, we become intimately familiar with these paintings—at certain points in the process, I’m sure I know them better than the ones hanging in my own home!

As we make decisions about each entry, we’re considering a variety of factors and artistic elements. Certain considerations are a bit more objective and relate to the mastery of skills such as composition, drawing, the arrangement of shapes, color choices, values, and paint application. We might ask ourselves questions like, Is the figure drawn well? Are the colors effective? Are the brush strokes compelling? Other considerations are more subjective, such as the concept or message of the painting, the emotion or mood being conveyed, the uniqueness of the piece, and the intangible sense of mystery or magic that is or isn’t present. And as the list of paintings still in contention grows shorter and shorter, the decisions get more and more difficult.

In the end, though, 13 outstanding pieces—first, second, and third place, plus ten honorable mention awards—make the final cut and are shown in this issue, beginning on page 56. Whether you agree with the award choices or not, we hope you agree that all of these winning paintings are compelling and worthy of high praise. And because we are always so impressed with the overall quality of the entries, we also identify 100 entries as finalists; you can see some of them beginning on page 70. Taken together, it makes for one of the best issues of the year, and we sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Featured in the December 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art December 2015 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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