HOW WE CHOOSE THE WINNERS
For the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2018 Talk Series’ 1st event (www.artprize.co.uk/events), we had two of our longest standing judges; Sotheby’s Art Business MA Programme Director and Art Historian Dr David Bellingham and Royal British Society of Sculptors Committee Member and Sculptor and Installation Artist Briony Marshall join us to give insight into the judging process behind the prize and how they choose the winners.
Led by our Prize Director and Art Consultant Conrad Carvalho, the judges talked about what they look for in entries, what it’s like viewing thousands of artworks each year and how they come to a consensus to choose the winners. You can learn more about the judges here by visiting www.artprize.co.uk/the-prize.html/#judges
Our Prize has always maintained a strong ethos of helping as many artists as possible which we do in two ways. We offer practical feedback on all early entrant application forms (check the website for the deadline for this here: www.artprize.co.uk/the-prize.html/#EntryDetails) and we promote all those who enter the prize, and then of course we offer prizes and exhibitions to those who win. These Winners must show; great creative potential within their chosen medium, they must be trying to engage with the viewer and encourage them to think beyond the work in front of them and the judges must feel that winning the prize will be an important step in the Artist’s career.
OUR QUESTIONS TO THE JUDGES
Tell us a bit your own pathway in the Arts?
David Bellingham: ‘I started in classical literature, so I look at contemporary art from a more classical perspective. I do believe that an artwork from any age should be able to retain its relevance irrespective of the age it was created in. I taught classical art and mythology which led me to Sotheby’s who asked if I could teach ancient Greek and Roman art and, from there, it was by luck that an opening on the Sotheby’s Art Business course came up and I was asked to take it on, I haven’t left since! I definitely feel I’m eclectic in taste and experience – some would say a jack of all trades…’
Briony Marshall: ‘Primarily I am an Artist (Sculptor) and ideally I would spend all day every day in the studio, but nowadays it doesn’t work like that unless you’re very lucky. I came to art later on in life after studying Biochemistry at Oxford University. After University I went and got a job (as is expected) but after 4 years, and rediscovering my passion for sculpture, I decided to go back to Art School, from which I graduated from in 2004. I have been a practicing Artist since then. Alongside my art practice I also teach a professional development course at The Art Academy where we focus on educating artists on the different pathways that can be taken and how to sustain your practice. I still apply to opportunities, you never stop doing this so hopefully I’ll have some insight I can share from a judge and applicant perspective.’
To get an idea of your tastes and the things that interest you I have a few questions…
Who are your favourite artists or what is your favourite artwork, and why?
David Bellingham: My taste in art has changed often over the years, it often relates to emotional events in my own life, a turning point or a feeling of synergy with a particular artist. If I have to choose I’d choose one old and new piece/artist. One would be Caravaggio, he’s fashionable to look at now but when I first saw his work in Rome people weren’t seeking his work out as much. He portrayed real people of Rome as religious figures, it was very rebellious against the academic artist traditions of the time. My newer work would be Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’, it came out just after I had first seen Caravaggio’s works in Rome and it is a daring and confident piece which can be contextualised. That is what I like to see in artists and their work today.
Briony Marshall: This is not a question I like! Because I’m a sculptor I can find myself at exhibitions ignoring all the work on the walls and just focusing on the sculpture. When I was growing up I was very into the French Sculptor Camille Claudel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_Claudel), she really reinvigorated Rodin’s practice later in his career. I also really like Ann Christopher (https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/artist/ann-christopher-ra), her work is object based but is abstract which in some ways is quite traditional but they have a looseness within the structure. And Cornelia Parker (http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/cornelia-parker-2358) for her use of materials, the way she suspends work and plays with gravity. I do also really like ‘objects of desire’ as in things you can hold in your hand and carry with you.
Are you drawn to a particular movement/genre/medium/particular topics?
David Bellingham: Mythology really interests me in terms of topics but not so much through surrealist styles. I’m also very interested in portraits from all ages and styles. Generally tastes change each year, just because one style or medium didn’t get picked up one year doesn’t mean it won’t another.
Briony Marshall: I focus on Sculpture, it’s my expertise. However, I still discuss and judge the 2D work but I tend to look to the other judges for expertise on that. In terms of topics we definitely look for genuine investigations of areas. We can tell when the subject or ideas that we’re being told the work is about have come after the work has been made or if they have informed the creation of a piece. Be genuine in talking about your work, don’t put ideas into it if they’re not there.
Can you recall examples of how the entrants caught your interest?
Briony Marshall: We get very little time to look over the huge number of artists, we realize not all artworks can be judged this quickly or without seeing other information though and try to account for this but in the context of this prize or any others be sympathetic to this with what you submit. I personally find it easier seeing more than one image, the images provided are paramount to me deciding on whether an artwork will go through to the next stage. Ask friends, etc. to see which they think are best if you are struggling – they will look with fresh eyes. Also it’s worth remembering that once we get down to a smaller number we really scrutinize the other information provided – image commentary, artist statement, websites. Be very clear, concise and genuine with how you write this.
David Bellingham: Seeing 2D work is much more difficult, if there’s texture try to capture this well with really good lighting. We get a lot of 2D work and a lot less sculpture so really work to get good photos to make your work standout.
Anything in particular about any of the winners that made you highlight them?
David Bellingham: I’ve always liked work that combines both traditional and contemporary edges, for example the first year prize winner Jessica Debba, who is self-taught, made technically fantastic portraits but they were at times quite unnerving and less traditional in the emotions portrayed. Sculpture Prize winner Maureen Jordan’s winning sculpture used pieces of stained glass which seem very traditional but she placed these in a bed frame which brought them into a modern setting. For me work needs to relate to the current time and climate, it needs to reference its context. When looking at Yuting Wang, the most recent Winner, she took elements of traditional Chinese techniques and has brought them into a modern style through technique, colour and composition. What we’re really looking for is something that hasn’t been picked up anywhere else
Briony Marshall: I look for artists that won’t be one hit wonders, again sculptor Maureen Jordan’s work showed really interesting potential, it was something I’d never seen before and the ideas behind it were interesting. It needs to engage the viewer, for me art isn’t just for you, it needs to speak to a viewer within a context and relate to the audience.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:
Q: “Would you crop a photo of the work so it is just the work or would you include background so you can give a scale and do you zoom into photos?”
A: We zoom in if we need to – it very much depends on the work
Definitely make sure you crop so there is nothing distracting us from looking at your work.
Q: “If you have a more unusual practice, maybe using many mediums and it is 3 dimensional, how would you document it?”
A: You could consider a photomontage where you put two or three images into one to allow us to see the work from different angles. Make sure you can still see these well – so not too many angles – but play with this. Make sure you light it well, there are so many poorly lit submissions and it makes it really hard to properly and fairly judge.
Q: “As a self-taught artist how important is it to be able to place that artists work within a historical context?”
A: We will always look at the artwork as it is, that is what we are judging. But bear in mind artworks don’t work in isolation and they do benefit from having a context. This could be a historical, cultural, technical or practical context; it’s not all about art history.
Q: “Is there a limit to how old an artwork that we submit can be? Some prizes specify work shouldn’t be older than 2 years.”
A: We don’t set a limit for this but we would say submit what is most relevant and current in your practice. If you do win and you are looking to supply more work for the Winners Exhibition you want to make sure you are presenting what your practice is now and that this is the work the judges have seen.
Q: “How long should the image commentary be?”
A: We allow up to 250 words but would probably suggest making it shorter than this. It will make it more succinct and more easily digestible.
Q: “Should all the artworks we submit go together?”
A: As a prize we don’t ask that you submit a series of works that hang together, we understand that you are emerging artists who will be exploring different avenues and we hope that the feedback and if you win or be shortlisted, that our guidance will aid you in developing your practice. Again, some judges disagree and it helps them understand the artist better and spot potential if they see a few works in collection.
Q: “There are some genres of art you don’t accept, why?”
A: We right now can’t accept performance and video, this isn’t because we’re not interested but we simply can’t support the technical side of exhibiting these works yet. We’re hoping as we develop we’ll be able to broaden what we can accept – watch this space!
Q: “I had feedback last year that I needed to talk more about the process behind my work, can you tell me more about this?”
A: We want to know not only about the making process but also the process of ideas that you went through to reach this final piece, it adds context and helps us understand what you are trying to explore. Be concise and simple with your writing, you don’t need to be overly flamboyant or expressive. As Briony said ‘it’s like a sauce where you need to boil off all the water to get to the real flavour’
Q: “Should you submit different application forms for different bodies of work?”
A: There isn’t anything stopping you doing this, and each application will be considered separately. We are looking at the artworks individually, so don’t worry if the pieces you want to submit don’t sit alongside each other, that won’t count against you.
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As part of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize every year we offer the option for early entrants to request feedback on their application. The deadline for this in November or December each year and full details with exact dates are here: http://www.artprize.co.uk/the-prize.html/#EntryDetails
When we established the prize in 2014 we wanted to offer real benefit to all artists who enter, not just the winners. We do this by offering feedback, promoting all entrants and offering a free career development talks series with each edition, which is also a great way to meet us, the judges and each other. Details for our next talk can be seen here: http://www.artprize.co.uk/events.html
We describe this feedback as practical and tailored to each entrant, i.e. with actionable and specific tips that are written by experts who carefully review you’re individual applications. The advice we give is to support your career and profile development… but what does that mean? Below is a breakdown of what to expect if you confirm you’d like to receive that feedback.
Your feedback will be broken down into three key areas with 3 further subsections:
(1) Artist Statement
(2) Images of Artworks
(3) Image Commentaries
Within these three sections we aim to offer more in-depth feedback on particular elements, read on to see what they are and how you can maximise what you submit.
(1) ARTIST STATEMENT:
Length – We’re looking for a statement that isn’t too long or too short. What we mean by that is that you cover all the necessary information in succinct and to the point way.
Content – What have you covered in your statement? Are there any areas you could have elaborated on or included? How have you written it – is the language and tone easily understandable? This is the biggest section under the artist statement feedback. We will look at what you’ve covered in the text and whether this gives a good snapshot of you as an artist as well as look at how you have written it. Is the language simple and easy to understand or have you been overly elaborate? Does the structure flow or jump around making it hard to grasp ideas?
Grammar and Punctuation – Yes we know this is an obvious one but you’d be surprised how often this isn’t done as well as it could be! What we see the most are very long sentences, so break them up to encourage better flow of your text. And that’s what we’re looking at, that you’ve used grammar and punctuation well to give good flow to your statement, which will encourage the text to be easier to read and absorbed.
(2) IMAGES OF YOUR ARTWORK:
File quality and size – For this we are looking at whether the actual image file is of good quality. For example if compression of a file is too high it can look blurry or if the resolution is too low you may lose detail. Also if the file is very large we may have trouble opening it. We recommend sending a JPEG file with a resolution of at least 2048 x 1536 pixels, and should be around 1-3Mb. You can upload images up to 20Mb though. This will ensure your photos are optimized for our system, and looks detailed enough in case we want to zoom in and look closer.
Image Quality – Here we’re looking at things like is the photo blurry, are the colours dark or is the lighting off. All the external factors that could affect how your artwork looks to us. We’ll try to give feedback if we see this and offer solutions you could try to improve the quality next time.
Composition – Making sure the composition of the photos you take give the artwork all the focus is an obvious thing to want to achieve but again this is something we see as not done well. We’ll be looking at whether the artwork is the only thing in the shot, and that it’s clear what the artwork is. We’ll let you know if it’s not centered or if you can crop closer to the piece to make sure you’re allowing the judges the best view of your work.
(3) ARTWORK COMMENTARIES:
Length – Again we’re looking for it to be the right length to get your ideas across succinctly, so just like your artist statement try to keep this punchy and to the point. These should be much shorter than your statement,
Content – Your artwork commentaries should relate back to the ideas you presented in your statement but offer more details about the specific artwork they accompany. We’re looking for further information on the making process of this specific piece and what particular ideas you are exploring. Again try to work with a simple structure, one could be you talk about 2-3 specific ideas you are exploring in the piece, the making process and then relate this back to your wider practice.
Grammar and punctuation – this is the same as with the artist statement, use good grammar and punctuation to help the flow of your text and keep the language simple.
On top of the above we also have an extra comments section where if there is any other feedback that we feel would help you in supporting your practice we’ll add it in here.
We hope these pointers will not only support you with applications to prizes but also across a range of opportunities and help you with viewing what you present objectively so you can take control of your own development.
If you would like to receive the feedback on your entry, you MUST ENTER BEFORE THE NOVEMBER OR DECEMBER DEADLINE, and reply to your entry confirmation email by end of December confirming this.
If you have any questions you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Good luck, and we look forward to seeing your art,
Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize Team
Oaktree & Tiger Team
Art experts giving advice to emerging artists to build their careers and find success. Organisers of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2020, artist agent and art consultants.