Judge not, lest ye be judged...Unless they ask nicely! | annkullberg.com

Judge not, lest ye be judged...Unless they ask nicely!

Posted on August 10, 2013 by Ann Kullberg | 31 Comments

I spent Saturday morning judging the Drawing category of the Fine Art Exhibition of the Washington State Fair.  It is the second time I've been asked to judge at the Fair, and I have felt equally honored both times! I learned that our state fair is the 7th largest in the nation!  1.2 million attend, and about a quarter of a million see the Art Exhibition - more if it rains a lot in a particular year.  Wow.  That's a pretty big deal.

I also learned that...OMG...you better be careful about how you frame the work you enter into a show!

I'll start at the beginning.  We judges all arrived in the cavernous Exhibition Hall at 8:30am, bringing our resumes and a piece of our own artwork.  Lots of fruit and pastries were offered but no coffee.  A bit of growling ensued...artists aren't really known to be morning people, and it kinda showed.  Coffee was eventually graciously served, we all became human again, we were given a run-down of the rules and procedures, and then off we went to our own categories.

When you judge the Washington State Fair Art Exhibition,  you have a co-judge.  The two of you decide which pieces stay, which get rejected, which get awards, and which are swept away temporarily to be shown during the fair's Second Show.  I asked to see my fellow judge's own work...and it was gorgeous.  Very sensitive, technically beautiful graphite portraits.  I was very impressed.

From there, I suggested we run through the Drawing show once, quickly, weeding out the number of pieces we were required to reject. (Each category had a different number that needed to be culled, depending on how many were entered in that category.)  That was easy, and we agreed on the 4 that we needed to reject.  Next, we went through the show again, taking longer with each piece...but just long enough to say "possible award winner" or "no award" about each piece.

Here is where I got a real shock.  My co-judge was an absolute stickler about presentation.  I mean...nearly obsessed!  He had a comment about the frame or mat for nearly every piece.  I think he actually looked at the framing before he looked at the image itself.  We stood in front of one really exquisite graphite drawing, and he said something like "Yeah...it's nice...but the shadowboxing wasn't necessary and I don't like the color of the mat at all.  I don't think I can give it an award with that presentation." 

Floored.  My jaw dropped.  Huh???  But...but....it's a gorgeous piece.  It's perfection.  And I LIKED the mat...although I agreed with him that the shadowbox effect detracted.  I stood up for the piece.  I pointed out how every single thing in the piece itself was perfectly executed.  I coaxed him a few feet back so he could see it from a distance.  And, because I'm a stubborn thing....it got an award.  :-)

The rest of the judging went really well.  And in fact, I'm very pleased to say that 1st Place in the Drawing Category (which included graphite, charcoal, pastel and colored pencil) went to a colored pencil piece!  He wasn't crazy about the off-white mat that the winning piece had, but when I explained to him that colored pencil artists often mat in white because that is what the CPSA Annual Exhibition requires, he mellowed, and agreed that it was a really stunning piece.  Blue Ribbon awarded!

But boy...did I learn a lesson that I couldn't wait to pass on here on the blog.  Don't over-do the framing and mat.  If you can't cut a really, really straight mat, then leave it to the professionals. Keep it simple and try like heck to enhance the image without calling too much attention to the mat and frame. Don't overwhelm your art with a lot of fancy framing.  Your framer will try to talk you into that...but remember that that's their business and of course they want to sell you elaborate framing.  It's great for their bottom line, but might not be so great for yours!

Posted in framing, Juding an art show


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25 Responses

Marina Megale
Marina Megale

August 13, 2016

Hi Ann, I was very interested to read about your experiences as a judge and how much the matting / framing influenced your co-judge.Thank you for being candid about the behind the scenes judging criterion. I worked in the picture framing industry for about 30 years, both on a retail and wholesale level. Yes, framing is expensive. The most common problems I see are that people try to"fit" their completed art into standardized precut mats and frames to save money, and in doing so end up with either a mat that is way too small or a mat the isn’t properly proportioned for the artwork it is supposed to be complimenting. Or a frame that overwhelms the artwork instead of being a supportive player. I understand the budget issue, but recommend for a art show, get your mats cut professionally and don’t be skimpy in the mat widths. Absolutely pay attention to being sure all little debris is cleaned totally before fitting the glass. You can ruin the overall look of your beautiful artwork by selecting a gaudy or inappropriate mat or frame. In the end, the goal is to Compliment the Artwork, not wow the viewer with the framing. I agree that staying color neutral is a safe decision, but neutral can still enhance your work, if handled carefully.

Julie Podstolski
Julie Podstolski

September 01, 2013

I consider the framing to be extremely important as I want to present my work to show it to its best advantage. Especially if you want somebody to part with good money to buy your work, you must be supremely professional with your presentation.
Gary, you are fortunate that you are able to enter your drawings into local shows without framing them. Here in Australia there is no way your work would be accepted for hanging in community shows without proper framing.

Judy Butler
Judy Butler

August 20, 2013

Hi Ann,
I am so glad you shared information about presentation. Two years ago I entered a colored pencil piece and a graphite piece in our county fair art exhibition. I followed the guidelines exactly about how they wanted them presented as far as the frame and how it was to be hung, but no where did it say anything about the matting so I used a simple mat on both. The graphite piece was matted with an off white mat and the colored pencil piece had a mat that complimented the piece. The graphite piece won 2nd place and the comment I got on the colored pencil piece was “the mat should not have been colored”.
At the time I was very taken back with the thought that it should have been judged for what it was not the framing, but I can see that the presentation is important and I won’t make that mistake again.
I also noticed that none of the colored pieces that were entered (some of them were very exquisite pieces of art work) got a ribbon of any kind. So I talked to one of the people in charge who was a member of the local art league. She told me that most judges didn’t recognize colored pencil as a fine art medium. I hope that will change in our area of the country like it has in other places.

Bill Shoemaker
Bill Shoemaker

August 19, 2013

I do believe that good sound thinking has to go into the process. Works of art done in Pencil,Watercolor & Pastel need light profile frames. Works done in Oils often need a Canvas Liner. A very small piece of art needs oversized mats to give breathing room.
It is not just POORLY cut mats that we are talking about here.

Penny Soto
Penny Soto

August 12, 2013

Ho-Boy an age old subject. I have found in the years I have been entering shows, to use common sense. YOUR painting will get banged up,molding chipped, possibly fall off the rack, get sticky hand prints on it, FOR SURE get “bumped” around alot—-stacked on—- and sometimes, even stolen. So it just makes sense to use a plain (but well done) frame and neutral mat. You want your art work to stand out, not the framing. But again……the framing should complement the art work. I try to in-between all that. And make sure THERE ARE NO "GOUBBERS’ UNDER THE MAT !!!! Everything shows up in the daylight!!!

Alice Y. Seguin Sawicki
Alice Y. Seguin Sawicki

August 12, 2013

I really enjoyed reading your comments on framing and matting. I have had some experiences in my early entries in juried show and at first my reaction to having works unselected due to presentation I too thought the same as some have commented on here. Such as; if they have ruling on framing and matting it should be mentioned in rules or look at the work and not the frame and so on. Framing and matting can make or brake a painting, especially if piece is a canvas piece, the half inch thick or three-quarter inch type. They look so lost unframed amongst all the other works, terrible presentation of a piece you worked so hard at and then not frame it. Also there are the fabulous watercolours, every detail so well done and bang, outrageous frame, all you see is the frame or a dirty mat, or glass, or worse a piece that looks like it was a do or die by making it fit into a mat and frame too small for it. I have been painting for nearly 30 yrs now and I have learned so much about juried shows and the importance of presentations of your piece. I always tell my students or new club members who are about to enter juried shows; “Just remember that how you frame your piece is a representation of yourself and your club. Do the best that you can for the piece you worked so hard on. Presentation can make or brake it. Go that extra mile and get the best you can afford” it will be worth it in the long run and when you get up there to receive your award; well you know what I mean when it happens. As artists we never stop learning.

Sally Jarnot
Sally Jarnot

August 12, 2013

I’ve even seen it come down to the signature….everything else being equal. Art shows are exciting but but in no way should you take a win or loss personal…the same piece may get the opposite award or non-award at the next show….
Sometimes when they are judged it can depend upon the wall or place that they are viewed or what piece they are next to…it isn,t fair but it is common. I recently had one judge apologize to me later saying if my title of the piece had been clearer it would have won first place….but since she misunderstood the title it didn’t get an award. Still it is exciting with a grain of salt..LOl

Sally Jarnot
Sally Jarnot

August 12, 2013

I’ve even seen it come down to the signature….everything else being equal. Art shows are exciting but but in no way should you take a win or loss personal…the same piece may get the opposite award or non-award at the next show….
Sometimes when they are judged it can depend upon the wall or place that they are viewed or what piece they are next to…it isn,t fair but it is common. I recently had one judge apologize to me later saying if my title of the piece had been clearer it would have won first place….but since she misunderstood the title it didn’t get an award. Still it is exciting with a grain of salt..LOl

Bruce hudkins
Bruce hudkins

August 12, 2013

I remember being advised to always go with a simple frame and mat. Let the art work shine and get all the attention, not the frame. They use the same idea in ballroom dancing.. it is the mans job to be the ladies frame and make her the one that shines, reflect the attention onto her. In college a co-student always showed up at the final showing with his work looking like the mat had been cut with a butter knife. Your eye went right to the bad framing. I agree.. make your cuts straight, keep your mat clean.. go for a frame that accents your art.
In judging I believe the bottom line is the piece of art! Good for you Ann for sticking to your guns!!

Linda Latimer
Linda Latimer

August 11, 2013

Hi Ann, I am a relatively new “artist” of watercolor and joined our state watercolor society about 6 yrs ago. I’ve only entered a couple of shows because I’m too intimidated by all the other wonderful artists. Our prospectus clearly state the sizes accepted, the type of “picture hanging” to use, but no where does it state the type of frame to use or not use. In all this time nothing has been discussed about framing being an issue of either getting accepted or winning an award. Live and learn I guess. Thank you so much for this info, not that I will be entering any shows any time soon.

Ginny Eaton
Ginny Eaton

August 11, 2013

Thank You for the valuable information. I just sent a CP drawing into the NW WA fair, and I put it in a simple frame, with off white mat. I knew what CPSA would accept and kind of followed those rules. It is hard to know what to do or expect, but a simple frame and neutral mat should be a safe bet most of the time. What should be simple, often is not.

Thanks for the insights,
ginny eaton

 Mary
Mary

August 11, 2013

I am astonished at the comments about frames! The competition is for drawing, painting, whatever, not who has the best frame. If you want to judge that, then make a new show. Maybe the artist is living on a limited budget and their money goes to their pencils or paints. It is possible that they cannot afford a good frame or professional framers. I would not have even looked at the frame.

Also, this was a state fair – not a premier art show. How about getting off the elitist high horse and cut these artists some slack?

I know there will be many who disagree with me. Fine. I think too many art critics become art snobs when they should be looking at the art, not the frame. Especially at a fair.

Ann Ranlett
Ann Ranlett

August 11, 2013

Thanks for sharing your experiences as a judge, Ann! I’m of the opinion that framing is a matter of taste, provided it’s not a shoddy job! I’m not a fan of gold frames AT ALL, but it’s common for certain media to be framed that way. If I were to judge pieces with gold frames, as long as the framing job was a quality one, I’d have to let go of my personal bias.

I’m a member of a co-op gallery and when we have potential new members bring in 2D work for consideration, I’m a stickler for good framing and will vote “no” on pieces that aren’t presented well. Artists have to learn to present their work properly and professionally. I also feel that simple is better, but to some extent, it depends on where the work will be presented. For example, an art show vs. your booth at an event. A high-end frame job (multiple mats, nice frame, maybe even a fillet) can go a long way toward enhancing the look of a piece to a potential buyer. But it can certainly be distracting in a show-judging situation. It’s also really expensive to do a full-on frame job, so from that perspective, if you can frame a piece simply, yet showcase it well, you’re better off in that regard.

I’m glad you stood your ground with your co-judge. His constraints seemed to be more a matter of taste than of the quality of the work.

Carrie L. Lewis
Carrie L. Lewis

August 11, 2013

Speaking as an artist and as someone who has designed, organized, and officiated at art exhibits, I have to say that, in all fairness, if an exhibit or competition specifies a particular presentation method in order to be acceptable, that is the prerogative of the organizer.

It is the prerogative of each artist to decide whether or not those terms are acceptable to them or not and to act accordingly.

The framing on a piece of artwork is no different (in my opinion) than the cover on a novel, CD or DVD. The cover (or frame) and novel, CD or DVD (or artwork) are all parts of a whole that people see in it’s entirety.

First impressions are important in an exhibition/judging situation and, quite often if there are specific framing specifications, it is to create some level of uniformity in the presentation and thereby put the emphasis on the artwork.

So, speaking as a former gallery director, if the people running the show take the time to write up the qualifications, then please, please, please take the time to read them AND follow them.

Thanks for the article, Ann.

And for taking the time to judge an exhibit. That is not an easy thing to do. Nor is it a job quickly done.

Carrie

Gina
Gina

August 11, 2013

I have tried and tried over the years to cut my own mats. I learned in high school to use a simple X-acto knife and a ruler for my straight edge. I’ve upgraded to better and better mat cutter apparatuses over the years. I am just awful at cutting a pristine mat. (I think I was better in high school with the blade and ruler!). I’m even worse at preventing some kind of dust or debris from making it into the framed piece. :-/

I tend to work very large scale (20 × 24 and up), so it generally means poster frames and custom mats most of the time. I’m sure judges must hate that, and I haven’t entered any shows to really find out. I do try to order pre-cut mats when possible, just to save me from the headache of the line that never seems to cut straight for me or the wonky corner cut.

Good to know that this is an issue. Guess I need to start working in conventional sizes and keep going with those standard frame sizes and pre-cut mats.

Heidi J. Klippert Lindberg
Heidi J. Klippert Lindberg

August 11, 2013

Hi Ann. Thanks so much for this. I’m always surprised that artists, who profess to be serious about their work, offer their pieces in such shoddy ways. I haven’t had the inference that CPSA International has specifications about putting work in white or off-white mats, but maybe that’s because I’ve been going a cappella with my mats for quite awhile, always framing them professionally. Of course they should be neutral and not detract from the work. But some people either can’t read, don’t follow directions, or don’t see how awful their frames are. My daughter, who used to work for a terrific framer, used to echo her boss to say that artists don’t know how to frame their work! And you’ve seen evidence of this.

I applaud you for sticking up for the work unless, of course, the matting and framing are way terrible and don’t deserve recognition. For sure framing can take away from the work—even if done well. I’ve framed one piece twice because the frame doesn’t support the work and it’s still not right! A frame should complement the work encouraging compliments!

Keep up the good work!

Lester Wayne Osborne
Lester Wayne Osborne

August 11, 2013

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When some people as these judges that Ann and Sherri Roberts have described attain their position it goes to their head and they become little gods of the art world. They go crazy with power!

Whoever hired them needs to fire them! It’s really to bad we can’t spank adults!

Ann Kullberg
Ann Kullberg

August 11, 2013

I have received two private responses from readers who somehow, after reading that post, thought that I was saying that I judged the artwork based on framing. Not sure how they ended up thinking that, after reading the post…but they did. One told me I should be ashamed of myself!!

So just to clarify…I personally do not care much about the framing. I look at the piece. I judge the artwork itself. I suppose if the framing was just incredibly shoddy, banged up, dirty, etc, I would have to take it into consideration….but otherwise, I hone in on the artwork itself and make my choices based on the composition, originality, creativity, technique, values and color choices.

Just wanted to clarify that!

Heather Coen
Heather Coen

August 11, 2013

Having judged a number of shows, I think that most pieces in the shows I judge are up for sale afterwards: This means framing and mats that actually stay in the neutral shades and appeal to the widest audience possible. If it is not multiple matted, it probably will not sell. If the frame is gold (right now) you can forget it. The framers I use for the galleries I sell in never try to over-do the framing or the mats.

Frankly if the art is executed to perfection and the best piece in the show, the matting and frame have little to do with the award. The merit lies in the work, not the extras. However, lately I have been seeing poorly cut mats (the-do-it-yourself crowd) and frames that obviously were purchased at the Goodwill. They do detract from the piece and I believe if there are two pieces in contention for the prize, first should go to the person who spent the money and time to professionally finish the piece.

Eileen Nistler
Eileen Nistler

August 11, 2013

I am the director of a small gallery. I can’t believe what people bring in to sell! Cheap plastic frames, nasty edges, garage quality displays. I think one of the most important things I was taught in architecture school was professionalism in presentation.

I no longer mat my colored pencil pieces but, I still feel that the regulation for the Colored Pencil Society of America regarding mats and frames are a little primitive. I’ve had pieces that I wanted to enter but was not willing to reframe them to meet their specifications. I think neutral should be the standard but red can be neutral if you do it right (I’ve never matted in red, I was just making a point).

Wendy Thompson
Wendy Thompson

August 11, 2013

In 2007 I was honored to judge Oregon’s CPSA DC201 Annual Exhibition. The artists’ names were covered, so there were quite a few pieces ‘new’ to me. There were two particular pieces among those I selected to receive top awards, and upon closer viewing I did eliminate one of them. This was not at all due to the quality of the work. From short distance for viewing, the work alone was exquisite! However, up close I saw that the matting had dust and crud (dust bunnies) that would immediately pull your eyes from viewing the beautiful work, and there were nicks on the edges of the mat. A couple of blows from canned air and a new blade in the mat cutter would have fixed this. Fortunately, the other piece was cleaned up and well presented. It was by the same artist, and she did receive a top award.

Whether for a gallery or show entry, I frame my work with white or off-white matting and very nice generic framing. Besides keeping my own costs down, who knows where the work will hang. The buyer can reframe after purchase, adding their own personal touch to match their own home decor.

Linda McKay
Linda McKay

August 11, 2013

For years I’ve worked with MasterWorks of New Mexico Fine Art Show here in Albuquerque. Again and again I have seen judges totally dismiss paintings due to framing. In the prospectus for the Miniature Division, it is emphasized that the artwork is juried and judged in its total presentation. I can’t tell you how often artists ignore this and just throw any old frame on their works. Not only should the frame support the artwork, it needs to be in pristine condition.

Please keep the good advice coming.

Carola Nix
Carola Nix

August 11, 2013

Love your new blog and website. It’s a wonderful tool to learn from one of the best. Thank for sharing your wisdom with us, Ann.

RuthAnn W. Wheeler
RuthAnn W. Wheeler

August 11, 2013

Ann, I learned SO MUCH from you in your Cumberland, Md. Workshop a few years ago. I render portraits all the time now and will be in an art and craft show in September, hoping for a commission or two.Thanks for your info on judges and their focus on mats and framing.

RuthAnn W. Wheeler
RuthAnn W. Wheeler

August 11, 2013

Ann, I learned SO MUCH from you in your Cumberland, Md. Workshop a few years ago. I render portraits all the time now and will be in an art and craft show in September, hoping for a commission or two.Thanks for your info on judges and their focus on mats and framing.

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