How Are Show Award Winners Picked?

If you’ve ever attended an art quilt show or any art show, you may have wondered how the winners were chosen. You can get the perspective of one judge, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, who summarized her experiences as a show judge in a recent blog post.

She began with her criteria for works to consider for awards:

  • Be well executed.
  • Have a point-of-view.
  • Make the viewer feel or think or react in some way.
  • Be unique in some way.

Then, she narrowed her choices for top awards by asking herself which pieces stayed in her mind the next day. Finally, to choose the grand prize winner, she asked herself, “Which of these works shows complete mastery over this person’s craft?” and, “Which of these works do I not have any suggestions to give the artist on how to make it just a little bit better?”

Her takeaways from the process were:

  • Art is subjective (obviously).  I like seeing the hand of the artist.  Another juror might not.
  • It’s often attractive to go towards creating work that is like what everyone else is making, but standing out is often about standing alone. 
  • Titles matter.  Is your artwork about something?  Can the title add meaning to what the viewer is already taking away from the work?
  • For me, pretty is not enough.  I need story, emotion…something more substantive than pretty.

While these points may not apply to a craft oriented show, I think they work in an art show context. They also remind us that judges’ preferences vary. One judge may love lots of hand stitching and raw edges while another may prefer a more polished look. Please note that Julie fully recognizes the importance of craftsmanship, but feels that the story a piece tells and the emotions it evokes are what make it award-worthy.

I tried to apply the above criteria to choose my work to enter in future shows. I do pretty well on titles and written overviews. I think most of my work is sui generis and doesn’t follow the latest trends. I worry whether there’s a story and substance to my work, other than I liked the fabrics and colors together. I do know if my husband calls a piece pretty, I won’t enter it. As to level of craftsmanship, that’s the opinion of the judge. No one will ever gush over my fine workmanship.

Here’s an example of a piece that was juried into a national show. The juror must have liked my title, “The Language of Pink Elephants,” because there are many, many workmanship errors in the piece. That silk bias tape should have been handled better, and the bottom has waves when it’s hung. I’ve never entered it in another show, nor will I. And I will never use silk crepe bias tape again.

The Language of Pink Elephants


Filed under Commentary, Exhibits

10 responses to “How Are Show Award Winners Picked?

  1. Nina-Marie

    I really love this post!! I’m book marking it for when I start doing work for competition again. So helpful – and yeah I love that title too!!

  2. Thanks for sharing. As for The Language of Pink Elephants, I love it. It looks like a written language in calligraphy. The lines are infinitely interesting to contemplate. I wish you would make more in this vein!

    • Please know that I like the look of this piece, but I feel it lacks polish do to my technical errors. I am working again with bias tape I’ve made, but I’m now working with cotton, not stretchy silk.

  3. Ann Scott

    This is an interesting post and it is good to read about one judge’s experiences.
    The Language of Pink Elephants is a great title but it seems to me a National show must have seen more than that to accept it… It’s a very unique piece and it sounds like a learning exercise.

  4. Well, obviously I need to think more about my titles! Thanks for the information.

  5. Interesting insights! I think you’re brave . . .

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