News & Features

What I Look For When Judging a Show

By Gavin Glakas
Judge, 2018 Paint the Town Show

When judging a show, I look for a combination of originality of idea and talent in execution. Some of the works I select have both, some are stronger in one category and some in the other.

The idea can be visual, psychological or both, but I want to see an artist setting up a problem and trying to solve it in new and challenging ways.

As for execution, I’m talking about all of the usual elements – strong drawing skill, composition, color, value, edges, depth, transitions, paint quality – the lot.

I also look for ambition. If something takes a lot of work or has great ambition in some capacity, I’ll give that more consideration. Again, the artist’s ambition may manifest itself in visual ways or in psychological ways having to do with subject matter or more abstract qualities.

Conversely, if a work is technically well done but I’ve seen the same idea countless times, I tend to dismiss it.

I am also inclined to dismiss anything that looks like an attempt to copy a photograph. Working from photos is a necessity if one’s creative impulses are driving them to create images that can’t be painted from life or if photography as an art form lends itself to the aesthetic of the work, but a simple attempt to reproduce a photo – especially a photo that doesn’t have great creative merit to begin with – without any creative vision is something that makes me inclined to dismiss a work.

I will add one caveat to all of this – a sort of “get out of jail free pass” for me, the judge. Art has to exist in the real world. I love a good academic conversation, preferably over a few drinks, but I believe that people are also allowed to simply like art, the way they like music. If I really like a painting (or if it makes me laugh), it will probably get in  and win an award. I’m only human, just like all the people who have judged my work over the years.

2018 Creative Expressions Show: Judge’s Remarks

Hello! First of all, I must say that this is a beautiful show of work and a beautiful place to show it. I thank you for inviting me to make the awards. All of you who have done the work to bring about this show have my respect!  I know what it takes!

I grew up with art. Both my parents were artists. And furthermore, they were part of a group that started an art association when I was 10 years old. That group was MAA! However, it was the Manhasset Art Association. Whenever I see MAA, referring of course, to the Montgomery Art Association, I can’t help but think of the other one. I saw the many ways it affected my parent’s lives with friendships, shows, great programs, and getting together to draw and paint. Some of you may be influencing your own families and friends because you are part of this group! Don’t underestimate the good effects you may be causing!

All that had a great deal to do with how my life has unfolded. I have been doing my art and teaching art for more years than I can count. I started an art association as well – This year is the 35th anniversary of The Art League of Germantown. And so I bring all that to this day.

You may be surprised to know that for me, judging art is something that I find difficult and antipathetic to what art is for me. Basically I believe that the artist’s most fierce competition is the last work he did and can he go beyond that? In other words, he is his own competition. I also know that in the world of art, awards are a way of measuring how good an artist is.

That said, thankfully there are some good criteria for making choices (which I will go over a little later).

I don’t know how many juried shows or shows with awards each of you may have entered, but I dearly hope you know what a mixed bag this matter is. A good judge strives for objectivity. Additionally however, the judge’s choices are colored by his/her own experience in the arts. How much art has he/she looked at and studied in his/her lifetime? What kind of art does he/she do? What art prejudices might he/she bring to the table? Does he hate orange, or love dogs, or whatever?! And can he/she look at each piece for itself, giving it a fair chance to speak to him/her?

What I’m saying is that if there had been someone else judging, then there would have been different results.

As for me, over the years I have been conflicted in making judgments on something as personal as art. And I have wrestled with whether or not to enter my own work in such shows. (And yes I have done it. And yes I have gotten prizes.)

That said, I obviously set this viewpoint aside and proceeded to make my choices.

OK, so what are the criteria I use to decide whether a work of art is successful?

There are two main things:

Technical Expertise

Emotional Impact

And a third thing which is less important but also critical!


Under Technical Expertise we have those well-known basics which are:





Side note:  Of course not all of these are present in every painting…there are paintings without line, etc.

And as for Emotional Impact, does the piece have something to say to me? Something like delight, humor, awe, anger, sadness, serenity, a certain mood and so on. The point is, on an emotional level, does it communicate with me? Do I feel something when I look at it? Does it engage me?

There is also the matter of how the piece is presented, how it is framed. I believe a judge could overlook work that was poorly framed. A frame that is too small, or a colored mat that overwhelms a piece are just some of the things that can work against an artist’s work.  So my advice is that if you have spent all those hours on the painting, flatter it with a proper frame.

This show had so many good paintings that making selections was truly a challenge, especially in the categories of Landscape and Abstract. I only wished I could have given several the same prize, but that is only possible to do with Honorable Mention.  If you got an H.M., be proud of it. The competition was steep!

When all is said and done, I looked at the work for its technical expertise first. Does the composition work?  Does it keep my eye IN the painting or does that tree branch take my eye right out of it? Are things well drawn, and are the lines sensitive, interesting and varied? How well done is the tone?  Does this artist understand how to convey the effect of light on things?  If it was an abstract, is there variation in the tones throughout it?  (in abstract work, the same principles apply as in representational work) Do the color choices work?  Are they harmonious?

As for emotional impact, after evaluating Technical Expertise, I ask myself does this piece  ‘grab’ me? Did it touch me? Was that artist able to put that mysterious something in their work that reached ME. If you got a prize, you can be sure that it did.

Let me say that there are some artworks which have been accomplished with such amazing technical expertise that THAT alone has an emotional impact. You could say that about the Sistine Chapel ceiling, right? And I think of the glass work of Chihuly. (How is that even possible to do with glass?)

So. Thank you for such a wonderful experience. This is a terrific group and I feel privileged to have been asked to do come and do this for you. I got to see a LOT of very good art and that was the pleasure in it for me.

Lynne Oakes