Spectrum 18: Judging

Gregory Manchess

The saddest thing for me about judging this year’s entries for Spectrum is realizing that it will be far too long before I get to help judge again.
The most exciting part of course, is getting a glimpse of the field at large by studying five thousand paintings for a day. When the Fenner’s opened the doors to the judging room, our jaws dropped just slightly, enough to realize it would be a long day. But not one of us was deterred. The pictures can’t portray the feeling.
We were a tight group. Starting with Friday night’s dinner to get to know each other better, we seemed very much of the same mind about applying our combined experience toward finding the best pieces in the room to showcase. Happily, we were able to tease one another, to goad ourselves into reaching our goal. I am a firm supporter of humor in tough situations, and there was plenty to go around.
Here’s the process, briefly: we all had a cup full of beans. If you like a piece, you put a bean in the cup by the entry. The cups are upside down so no one can be tempted to vote just because others have already. If a juror sees an entry they particularly like and want to have the other judges take a closer look at the end of the day, we put a paperclip in the cup. The special choices will be argued about later when these knockout pieces are considered for medals.

We were all in agreement that we should be liberal with our votes this year, and liberal with placing paperclips. The system works better with more yay’s than nay’s. Personally, I’ve figured out over the years that while judging, if I stop to study a piece, and my head ponders long enough to be confused or immediately undecided, then that piece should most likely be voted for inclusion. Voting against most pieces not only makes for very awkward medal decisions, but also a very uninteresting show. Mostly because the range of work gets cut to a minimum, and a broad-ranged show is more appealing.
What we are not doing is looking to change the face of the genre, or looking for the next amazing ‘talent’, or shaking up the art world. We are looking for good, solid, professional work that stimulates, excites, and inspires. Jurors do not control how the art is perceived, they merely react to the quality presented to them. In this way, the artists change the direction of the field.
But I can say without any doubt that this year’s entries ramped that difficulty up another notch on the awesome scale. The last time I judged was 10 years ago. The quality of the paintings, the skill, the color, the drawing abilities, overall has risen since that time.

This made the medal rounds that much harder. (thanks a lot, you guys.) All the judges had favorites that they championed for the others to pay attention to. As you can imagine, this made picking the so-called ‘best’ rather complicated. There were many, many pieces that had been chosen for this round (by paperclip) and to whittle them down to two pieces for gold and silver demanded focus, fairness, understanding, and occasionally, a few heated, yet jovial ‘discussions.’ Had this been a battlefield, armor would lay everywhere, and each of us would be limping home, missing a limb. But no one lost their head.
That there were double medal winners was a subject we spent much time debating. We would either have to toss medals right and left, or we were going to have to grit our teeth and make hard decisions. At the end of the day, it was fairness and quality that won out. No question. Another group may have made all different choices, one can assume.
This much I can guarantee: it’s gonna be a killer annual.
Thanks Cathy and Arnie! Jurors, left to right: Nathan Fox, Shena Wolf, Brandon Shiflett, me, Jarrod Shiflett, Boris Vallejo, and Julie Bell.