Quick decisions are part of every day: yes/no, in/out, right/left, scroll/click. The word “judge” has lost favor in the zeitgeist, yet there tellingly remains a hunger for recognition no matter what age you’re swimming in.
And for artists, after a considerable amount of work has gone into a visual piece, which is often subjective, symbolic or very personal, they risk “putting themselves out there” for any kind of assessment. I was recently asked to jury the student show for Milligan College’s Fine Arts Department. Knowing what it’s like to be “out there,” and also that I would be quickly drawn by my own preferences, I worked up a rubric so that I had a framework for considering all the work as fairly as I could. Soon I was in front of an impressive collection of over 70 submissions: in oils, watercolor, photography, and digital work. I took my time, but soon it was yes/no, right/left, in/out.
The final show was then hung by a student committee who had the fun of seeing the relationships and the interesting contrasts between the winners. They did such an impressive job!
At the opening, I got to meet and speak with several of the artists. One student, who has never shown before, articulated his fear at having his work evaluated and likely misunderstood. It takes a lot once something is birthed to let it go before the critique of others. But good art is not just for the enjoyment of its maker, even while (and maybe especially because?) viewers are going to see things you never intended.
Another student was eager to tell me the story around the serendipitous catching of his self-portrait. His was shot with the timer and a deliberate shallow depth of field. These choices made the piece shine beyond his intention. For the mood of his expression in front of the very vague setting caught me. This hit all my buttons for beauty, meaning, a lingering mystery, and skill of execution. And so he was one of the merit winners. But what was even more fun was his telling the tale of how that day happened. It was not a moody day at all, for what he was really musing over in his self-portrait was whether the timer was working correctly. I laughed at this, even the juror got to participate in the surprise. He caught an amazing photograph in spite of himself and beyond how he walked through his process. Is not so much of what we do just like this? We stumble forward and some things, just come together and speak to others in ways that are much bigger than our best intention.