What do judges look for in a Visual Arts Competition?



Art competitions can offer a wonderful opportunity for exposure, prize money and validation and may be a trophy to some artists.
Most art dealers will say one of their challenges in confirming a collector's positive response to a work of art that is convincing them is one that; First, someone in authority believes the artist's work is good and second, the price tag represents a fair, affordable and justifiable price. Awards, articles, catalogue of the event and testimonials such as a certificate of participation also helps and can serve as reference for the participating artists can obtain in meeting that challenge to be selected as part of the final works to be on display.
The National Art Gallery of Namibia will host the 2nd Bank Windhoek Trienalle in September 2011. It is a national visual arts competition and recognised in Namibian artists as a key exhibition for the development of outstanding local talent, with prizes to encourage both local established and young artists from all corners and regions of the country. Such an event sponsored by Bank Windhoek is a lifesaver for a low profit National Institution as the NAGN especially in nowadays that the visual arts must survive in times of tight budgets and limited public funding
However, it is also the case that some artists do feel themselves to be too good to be judged by a panel of adjudicators and that they have grown beyond the level of evaluation. Other artists feel a local veteran artist with integrity and experience of Namibian art history must be the chief judge and not a foreign judge as it was the case in 2008.
People who are asked to be art competition judges are usually art teachers, critics, professors, curators, art historians, gallery owners and nationally known artists. They are likely to respond positively to artwork that is unusual or exceptional not expected or popular. But the artwork they select for an exhibition or a prize is probably one that is not very saleable.
Collectors tend to buy what is safe, well known, typical Namibian, pretty and comfortable whereas judges who are rushing through hundreds of three different categories will, at one stage in the process, stop to examine different and unexpected art works.
Decisions made by art competition judges can be also circumstantial, subjective and completely different than those made by a gallery owner or their clients. It depends also on the circumstances of the particular judging process who is invited to serve on the jury of acceptance and/or awards, how the judges are asked to make their selections, is there a set of criteria compiled for each category, whether there is a theme or objective established by the organisers, and how the prizes are structured.  
I have served once on an adjudication panel with people  and with no criteria, where there is a chance that some paid more attention to signatures than the artwork because they wanted to reward established names in the local art world, even friends, students of well know art teachers who might someday also judge their artwork. I have also worked with judges with strong personalities who dominated the decision-making process so narrow that we have been forced to make choices based on agreed criteria of what should win instead.
So dear artists, rest assured that there is no reason for any artists to feel cheated if some of you are not among those chosen in the coming event especially in a situation where the selection criteria is based on the aesthetic qualities of the work being considered. It is also true that all of the artists who enter the competition will not always be accepted to exhibit in the final event because of the initial preliminary selection process.
Furthermore, subtle and intriguing images are best appreciated when viewers have more time to look at them - something that is not likely to happen when a judge can only look at an un-exhibited image for 20 seconds.
Maybe one should propose a voting process of public opinion which can be very helpful, where responses and choices can be SMSed to the adjudicators, which will be a case where we should consider that the award giving ceremony must be held a week before the duration of the exhibition ends at the venue . . . could be an idea to consider for the next Trienalle in 2014!
The main thing that we as artists must keep in mind is that we have all designated a part of our lives and vocation to the enrichment of human culture. Therefore, to make a contribution by entering works of art into a art competition is a noble and worthwhile cause that enable some and others artists to share their works.
The ultimate goal for such an award winning event must be the dream of each and every Namibian visual artist to contribute the greatest level of accomplishment in the refinement of their artistic skills and knowledge of Namibian art scene. It also challenges artists to bring forth their single most striking, awe-fully-inspiring, breathtaking original art that could be selected for such a special awards event on the Namibian Art Calendar this year. It is hoped that artists have submitted their best work ... the rendering they are most proud of ... the one you would show to anyone whom you want to consider you as a Namibian "visual artist"... the one you would like everybody to see.
Usual tips to artists who are keen to enter award winning art events is, that they must consider to submit artworks that is consistent in terms of subject and style. Don't make the mistake of submitting “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” or "something for everyone" because judges will be confused or will think you don't have a focus. Enter as many images as you are allowed (according to the entry form), so the judges may have a chance to see that you are consistently good at what you do.
Remember that judging art is a completely subjective process and what one judge loves, another may hate. Ask for the opinion of another artist, your agent, a dealer, or a teacher who can be objective in evaluating your work in future. You may be too close to your own work to select the best pieces to enter in a competition.
Some do argue that larger paintings often have more impact - they're much more difficult to ignore in large exhibition spaces. Pictures which can be view across a distance certainly do have an impact. But, big size does not matter all the times, smaller artworks and objects can also have an enormous impact. The skill required to produce an expertly executed smaller or medium size artwork is frequently admired by many and certainly also attracts lots of collectors.
Finally, though the outcome of art competitions are usually hard to predict, don't give up just if your favorite art piece is rejected, it may win the "Best of Visual Art " prize in the eyes of someone else who could be a serious individual collector and not the adjudication panel. I must also congratulate the sponsors and organizers for their efforts; I think the Trienalle 2011 is one of the leading events on our calendar this month, whereby we will be able to once again celebrate the quality of contemporary artist in Namibia.