Art, crafts, photography - how are these things judged?

Our county fair is this weekend, and my daughter entered some photos and the stupid judges didn’t recognize her outstanding talent!!! :smack:

No, this really isn’t a rant. I’m genuinely curious. My only experience as a judge myself was doing a couple of science fairs, and there are pretty clear criteria for assessing the entries. Similarly for music, dance, gymnastics, and similar skills there are clear standards that define excellent performances.

But it seems to me, when you look at artistic competitions, the lines aren’t as well-defined because creativity is a huge factor. Taste, also, must surely affect what one judges to be great or awful. What am I missing here? Is there a standard for visual art media beyond what the judges like or don’t like?

Separating my obvious support for my daughter from my observations, honestly, I couldn’t figure what it was about the winning entries that set them apart from all the rest. In fact, some of the non-winners (apart from my daughter’s, of course) were really impressive to me. I’m not a photographer, tho - those of you who are, do you judge a photo based on your personal experience and style?

I’ve dabbled in pottery and knitting/crocheting, so I have a feel for what is special and what is meh in those areas - even if I don’t particularly like something, I have an appreciation for the effort that goes into it. Can a pro determine from looking at an amateur’s photos what was required to get the shot?

It’s probably even harder judging recipes - I could make the greatest chocolate torte the world has ever seen, but if the judges don’t like chocolate, I guess I’ve lost before I’ve begun.

In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters, but I am curious. How does one judge creativity?

It’s up to the judges. That’s it. However…

I’m a semi-pro photographer, and when I look at the winners in serious photo competitions (with substantial prizes) I almost always understand why those pictures won.

Big factors:
Is it an image that hasn’t been seen before? (That’s a nice picture of the Grand Canyon, but it’s not really different than 1000 other photos.)

Does it provide an emotional wallop? (That’s a nice picture of of a baby with her granddad, but does it really say anything new, interesting or compelling?)

Does it show some serious effort? This is a subsection of showing something that hasn’t been seen before, but if a photographer clearly spent weeks waiting for two eagles to fight over a fish in mid-air with a third eagle looking on-- in great evening light – that’s worth bonus points in the contest.

Is it technically superior? Are the important details sharp? Is there a good background and the right amount of motion-blur and contrast? A photo with great emotional wallop can win over a technically superb image, but technique definitely counts.

Like a lot of things in music and art, photography is judged in the context of history. The judges are familiar with what’s been done before, and usually reward innovation.

Thanks for some interesting insights. Being a point-and-click-and-hope I don’t get fingers in the way, I’m mostly clueless about serious photography.

I expect some of these same things would apply to painting or sculpture or other media.

I read an article about judging a photo competition that has stuck in my mind as an illustration of integrity and potential pitfalls. I think it appeared in the 1980s in Popular Photography or Modern Photography. The author was one of a panel of well-known and well-respected judges for the contest. The article included 5 or 6 pictures that the judges had put on a short list for the grand prize.

The author described how the conversation went in circles for a hour and then one of the judges pointed at a picture of a baby and a dolphin and said that it had to be the winner. And the other judges fell into line almost at once.

The hang-up had been that it was not a strong photo technically. Kinda grainy. Maybe a little out of focus. But it had an emotional wallop. The judges had felt the power, and had included it on their short lists, but no one wanted to suggest it as the grand winner – partly because the contest was sponsored by a camera manufacturer, and the photo was not really a good endorsement for professional equipment.

The photo was taken at the glass wall of a zoo; the baby and dolphin were regarding one another (I think the baby was reaching for the dolphin), and both animals had large prominent bald craniums. The two were separated by glass, age, species, etc. but their similarity and mutual fascination was undeniable.

The judges showed some integrity and tried to do the right thing, but I believe that the zoo exhibition was fairly new when the picture appeared, and over the next few years there were many photos of people at the glass wall. The baby/dolphin photo had been a nice lucky shot, but it lost most of its novelty very quickly. If the judges had been familiar with the exhibit before seeing the baby/dolphin shot I believe it would have seemed much less powerful to them.

It’s a county fair, so most likely the criteria is ‘this picture strikes my fancy.’ Real competitions do have standards, but a county fair is likely just going to be opinion.

I remember a Pop Photo contest that raised a huge controversy, maybe about the same time. Memory is a bit foggy but the grand prize winner looked like a grab shot of a busy mom with a lot of things going on in her family room. I don’t remember the judges’ rationale, but the readers threw a fit. Poor composition, all kinds of other criticisms.

Eye of the beholder and all that.

I’m a professional artist, and I work in a medium that can only be described as “mixed media”. As far as I know, my work is unique, in that I’m not aware of any other artist doing what I do. The most typical comment by viewers of my art is “Wow! How did you do that?” followed by “How long did it take you?”

There’s a local art community that has an annual competition. Every year I enter two pieces, and every year they are rejected. Of course no reason is ever given. When I pick up the rejected pieces, there’s always someone there who’s amazed they weren’t accepted. And looking at the art that’s been accepted doesn’t give me a clue.

I won’t be entering anything this year.

Sympathy extended your way.

Unlike photography, where I normally understand why certain pictures win, I have no feel for art competitions. In art school I felt I could distinguish between the good fine artists and the terminally untalented, but in the real world of galleries and exhibits I don’t have much of a clue.

I’m a commercial artist and have always been suspicious of fine artists, however a friend of mine got to observe a fine art judging one time – he said that there was good communication among the judges and they seemed to share a vision of what they were hoping to find. Presumably there is some sort of widely accepted path toward the future in the fine art world.

My guess is that craftsmanship, novelty, and sale-ability are the factors. But as a suspicious outsider I also believe that sex, friendship, tax-dodging, and pyramid sales are major factors in the fine art business. More so than in photography or graphic design.

Another friend of mine had a few shows and was friends with a big local gallery owner; the gallery owner told him (kind of regretfully), “The only room of the house where people could display your work is the kitchen.”

I was talking to my daughter about this thread. She said the sponsors/judges of this particular event were members of a local photography club. Coincidentally, she wants to join the club, but when you have a 5-month-old, you don’t have a lot of free time for stuff like that. Maybe soon…

I’ve never been brave enough to enter any of my pottery - I have great ideas and marginal execution. The one piece I’m rather proud of was actually a crashed pot that became really interesting once it was glazed. Regardless, I think the main reason I don’t enter is I know I can’t win, so I don’t want to embarrass myself. Not the true soul of an artiste, I fear. :wink:

At the risk of maternal bragging, tho, I think some of my daughter’s photos are quite good. She got some really nice ones when she was living in Florida. And some of her friends have paid her to do family pics. Maybe with some more experience, she’ll have a shot at future competitions.

In my neck of the woods, the only photography subjects that stand a chance are Autumn Leaves (not the song), Old Houses, and Cute Animals. Anything the slightest bit off-the-wall is doomed.

I tell my art students “I’m afraid you’re going into a field that’s pretty subjective. A client might reject a piece, or fall madly in love with it, and you’ll never get an articulate reason why.”

And as for pricing, add “subjectivity of value as market-based”, and there’s no logic as to why one piece sells for thousands of dollars at a gallery and a comparable one for dozens of dollars at the Tri-County Art ‘n’ Craftiness Fair.