When artists judge other artists
For an artist, the opinions expressed by his fellow artists about his work are often the most valuable critical comments he can receive. This is equally true of face-to-face discussions in his studio, and of the decisions made by a jury of his peers sitting in judgment on work submitted to a local, regional, or national exhibition.Skip to next paragraph
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At present, there are very few open-juried museum competitions in the United States, and only one, the National Academy of Design's Annual Exhibition here, whose scope is truly national. The National Academy, founded in 1825, with Samuel F.B. Morse as its first president, has always viewed its annuals as crucial to its commitment to promote quality in art.
Since I've missed no more than two or three of these annuals since 1956, I was delighted when John Dobkin, the academy's director, acceded to my request to be present during the selection of works submitted to this year's annual, the academy's 159th. I was especially pleased since this annual was open to everyone , and not only to academy members as is the case every other year.
I arrived five minutes late on the day of the jurying and found everything already in full swing. Some 1,440 artists had submitted works in four categories: painting, sculpture, watercolor, and graphics, and academy assistants (some of them students of the Academy Art School) were busily preparing them for viewing.
The jurying system was simple but effective. Each category had two all-artist juries, one for selection and another for awards. As each work was placed before a jury of selection, it was designated ''in,'' ''out,'' or ''doubtful.'' Once the initial decisions were made, the process was repeated with the ''doubtfuls'' until the judges were satisfied that only the best pieces were left.
I was intrigued by the fact that of the 824 paintings submitted, only 25 or so were immediately classified as ''in,'' and that a few of the ultimate award winners languished in the ''doubtful'' category until close to the final vote. Among those original 25 were two I particularly liked: Herbert Katzman's witty and imaginative portrait of Marsden Hartley (which went on to win a prize), and a large canvas by John Heliker (which didn't). Another immediate ''in'' and ultimate winner was an excellent figure study by Jerry Weiss, a 24-year-old student of the Academy Art School.
It was very obvious that all four juries of selection took their work seriously. Everything shown them - even a few really bad paintings and watercolors, and more than a few hideous pieces of sculpture - was treated with respect. Outright disagreements were rare, and when one occurred, the work in question automatically went into the ''doubtful'' pile to be mulled over later.
Comments by the jurors were often quite revealing. It's unfortunate that the submitting artists weren't present, for I suspect many would have benefited from what was said. It's quite an experience, after all, to spend a full day watching and listening as 16 seasoned, and in some instances distinguished, artists discuss the pros and cons of almost 1,500 paintings, sculptures, watercolors, drawings, and prints. I couldn't help being impressed, for instance, by the open- and fair-minded manner in which Chaim Gross, one of the three members of the sculpture jury, approached his task. And much the same was true of Xavier Gonzalez, who managed to find something good in almost everything brought before the six-member painting jury.