Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Last night I started to fulfill a commitment I had made to serve on a panel judging submissions of art work for "The Peace Project," the brainchild of Lisa Schultz at
The Whole 9. It's "an international collaborative art competition and exhibition intended to connect creative peacemakers worldwide, to bring to light our collective vision of Peace and share that vision with peace lovers throughout the world."

I heard from Lisa that there were over 500 submissions by the deadline, and that more were still coming in. Fortunately for us judges, there was an initial sorting process which meant that we had a mere 150 to rate, on a scale from 1 - 10.

No easy task. Each image was accompanied by a text by the artist--some short, some quite long--explaining something about the origin and intention of the piece. We were given these criteria on which to base our ratings:

o Relevance to peace

o Originality of concept

o Composition/Level of technical skill

o Ability to evoke emotion

As you might expect, the sincerity and relevance of many of the submissions was immediately evident. But as I work through the many images, sincerity and relevance are proving often at odds with originality of concept and level of skill. And the ability to evoke emotion sometimes comes in the form of sentimentality. As a judge, I'm looking for something more solid and complex by way of emotion than just the obvious ones. Complex--and therefore fully human--emotion, I find, is only expressed through originality. It involves going deep and examining what's happening in the heart and mind. "Love" is more than a beautiful face with longing eyes. In my experience, it's confusing, conflicted, joy- and painful all at once. What I'm looking for in an art work "about" peace is something that acknowledges the human contradictions and the difficulties involved, not simply the ideal.

Then, too, there's the matter of technical skill. I'm trying to resist the impulse to condition my rating purely on this single criterion, but the complexity I have tried to describe above is simply impossible to achieve without a fairly sophisticated familiarity with the possibilities of the medium you're working with. Of course, as with everything, there's always the exception: there's always the artist so naive as to be able to convey it all without the benefit of those skills you learn at art school. But such people are rare. I keep a weather eye out for them, but more often, it's a simply a lack of skill that stands between the artist and a successful work.

I have worn, in the course of my life, the art critic's hat. I'm trying, as I rate these works, to avoid the elitism that has unfortunately come to be associated with that trade. But I'm also looking for something beyond the sincerity of the attempt. I'm looking for something that goes to the heart of the matter, combining intellectual, emotional and, yes, spiritual aspiration in the physical body of the work.

I have dozens more to go before the job is done. Wish me luck!

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