Hang It Up

Juror Survey – Part Two

By Carol Woodin and Jean Emmons

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 15, Issue 1


Twenty former and current ASBA jurors were asked a series of questions about how and why they choose an artwork for ASBA exhibitions. Their responses have been compiled into a series of “Hang It Up!” columns. In the second article of the series, the jurors were asked two questions: 

What elements in a work make it strong? 

  • For me the strength comes in the composition first, second, the quality of the painting, including and especially, the leaves, and third the thing which is so elusive, the originality of the work. 
  • I look for interesting subjects, or familiar subjects shown in a fresh way. 
  • All elements combined! Composition, subject matter, technical ability, scientific accuracy, value, light on form, attention to detail, a sense of depth or dimensionality. Those things all make for a good piece of botanical art. If one aspect were weak, the entire work would be weakened - “weak link in the chain” and all that. A great piece of art has a bit of magic that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. 
  • Good composition, good contrasts and then accurate detail. 
  • A strong work must first be based on an accurate drawing, has complexity of design and sometimes a surprising composition. The artist has pushed the darks and the lights to create optimum dimension. Color should also have complexity. Edges should be clean, crisp. Also, the texture of the plant must be conveyed, but not overdone. In the end, the piece must be beautiful. 
  • Composition, originality, strong color and technique 
  • Composition seems to have the strongest initial impact. Part and parcel of that may be how color is used in the composition. Subject matter, accuracy and technique are all-important, of course, and may override an initial positive response if they are not at a level commensurate with the composition. 
  • Does the work represent the plant accurately? Does it provide more than just documentation by including thoughtful composition as well? 
  • First, wall appeal - an image that grabs you from across the room. Then as you look more closely there’s more to see, fine detail etc the wall appeal is something to do with composition - how it sits on the page, plenty of white space, well balanced but not necessarily symmetrical. Overall balance including mat are important once the piece is framed. 
  • Is there a good range of values? Has the artist used the white spaces on the paper effectively? 
  • The strength of the painting is often dictated by the use of light. 
  • When I view a piece of art I look for drawing skills, handling of color (if the subject is done in watercolor or other color media), composition, whether the piece has depth and furthermore whether the image lives. If all the above is perfect it is a great work. That the image of the plant is botanically correct is a given. 

Is your choice subjective? 

  • Some of this is subjective - i.e. composition. I recently got into a conversation with one of my teachers on the composition of a watercolor that was in a recent ASBA show. She teaches composition. While I liked the composition because it was unusual, she felt that the composition distracted from the subject and was not based in sound composition principles and elements. Which of us was right? Probably both of us! 
  • No. Seeing the gestalt of a strong work is totally objective. Now, if you’re asking me what images I like the best, or which one I would love to have in my home, there will be a subjective aspect there. I happen to prefer wild plants over cultivated, I happen to prefer lots of fine detail to very broad painting, I like certain colors better than others... but those elements do not enter into an objective assay of a painting. 
  • Yes, partly I think it is. Over the years I have come to understand that how we are wired up to see – how we interpret what we see - has everything to do with what we like. And in one sense, we are all hard wired for the same things visually. For instance our eye tends to migrate towards distinct edges. 
  • Organization, color, values, edges, shapes, etc. The subjective part is how we feel about that: do we prefer high key paintings as opposed to low key paintings, do we prefer small shapes or large shapes, or are we in love with the particular plant being depicted. 
  • We may have some personal preferences but in the end they are overridden by the objectivity we try to apply to every piece under consideration. The criteria set out by the Exhibitions Coordinator and the Exhibitions Committee ensure that jurors apply the ASBA standards of artistry, scientific accuracy and proficiency of technique. Also, the input of our fellow jurors also tends to iron out any undue subjectivity on one’s own part. 
  • We are looking for technically superior botanical art, but we are also looking for good art. That may seem to be a subjective judgment but, generally speaking, whether and how the artist has related to that subject and how well that has been communicated to the viewer usually transcends personal preferences. 
  • Yes, totally - I’m sure all jurors try to be objective - but what appeals to each person is something that ‘speaks to’ the individual. Also the concept of a ‘botanical painting’ must be different for everyone. So although jurors try to apply specific criteria, subjectivity must creep in. 
  • The jurying process should not be subjective, but it inevitably is to some extent. A good juror should not let his/her personal preferences regarding to subject matter, style, etc. interfere with the process. This is not easy to do but the juror must try his/her best to do so. 
  • Of course. We each see with only our own pair of eyes.  
  • Is a vote for or against a piece subjective? All jurors have their own thoughts and opinions about any given piece, but they discuss them together and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion. It is a pretty fair and democratic process. 
  • Objectivity is important. Not knowing who the artist is (although with some artists one can usually recognize a style or technique) allows one to be more neutral in judging. If it’s a draw then the committee vote comes into play and that’s when subjectivity can be useful.  
  • We each had our subtly different esthetic slant on things. I felt that what I had to offer in particular was an understanding of what the plant actually looked like and occasionally that was very useful…Judging by its very nature has to be somewhat subjective; that’s why people get mad about it, alas. Still, it is a really fun job.