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February 18, 2007

There's more to judging art than meets the eye



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Makes me nervous to read how much the critics scrutinize each work of art nowadays. Ususally I look at how well the artist made me believe in what they were trying to convey. If I can feel the magic then I know they achieved their goal. I wish there were more photos to illustrate what was entered in the competion and what actually won. Maybe I'll enter my masterpieces. Custom cadillac mama originals. Sounds good. Very Happy

Posted by: cadillac mama on Sun Feb 18, 2007 8:26 am

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  Best of show. "The Simple Things in Life" by Agnes Mangarelli, in colored pencil, was named best of show for the Strawbridge Art League's Vision 2007 juried art show at the Henegar Center for the Arts in Melbourne. Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY

The details
What: Strawbridge Art League's "Vision 2007" juried art show Where: Henegar Center for the Arts, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Winning works will be in the second floor ballroom; other works in the hallways on the first and second floor. When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and during performances at the Henegar through March 9 Cost: Free Info: Call 952-3070 or visit www.strawbridge Also: New techniques in acrylics will be demonstrated by area artist Robin Rothrock during the league's membership meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the second floor ballroom at the Henegar Center. Free for members and $5 for nonmembers.

  Gold-ribbon winner. "Kenansville Cattle Drive" by Sandy Johnson. Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY

Choosing winners for an art competition is not simply giving ribbons to works that please you personally. It takes knowledge of various art media and genre, art history, a keen eye for technique and the curiosity of a sleuth.

For someone to say, "I know what I like and that's good enough" is not good enough for judging an art competition, said artist and competition juror Harry Messersmith.

The former director of the DeLand Museum of Art recently named 13 works as award winners at the Strawbridge Art League's Vision 2007 juried art show.

"It takes an eye that has seen a lot of art in cities and great museums as well as local art shows and community events," Messersmith said.

It's also important to bring in someone from out of town when picking a judge, said John Emery, vice president for programs for the Strawbridge Art League.

That's the way to make sure they will be objective, he said.

"The idea is that they are not intimately acquainted with artists in the community and they can just look at the artwork itself."

Messersmith spent about three hours viewing the 181 entries from 82 artists before selecting the 111 pieces from
62 artists for the show.

He then had to choose the special awards. From the rest, he chose the winner and the merit awards.

"I was with him when he was judging," said Denice vanWaardenburg, president of exhibits. "He was very, very thorough. He looked at each piece of art carefully and lifted it up to the light."

When a juror also is an artist, such as Messersmith, he or she has studied and lived art and the processes behind creating it.

"It informs a well-versed juror," he said. "The processes give you insight into the struggle. That really helps me see and know what I'm looking at."

He was smart enough about the process to ask questions about Agnes Manganelli's colored pencil drawing "The Simple Things in Life" before he awarded it the Best of Show.

The pencil drawing was so well-done, he wanted to make sure it wasn't digitally transferred or drawn with the help of an opaque projector.

"After getting that confirmation, it helped me understand what I was looking at," he said. "You need to be a sleuth and ask questions and know what you're looking at. Not just pass over something because you didn't understand it. You have to set your personal likes aside."

While you may not have the deep background Messersmith does when it comes to picking winning art, there are some guidelines you can use in choosing good art.

  • Harmony among the "three C's -- craftsmanship, composition and concept."

    This is what Messersmith noticed immediately about "The Simple Things in Life." Those three C's came together in such harmony, the work transcended the raw materials of the medium, he said.

    "It was amazing," he said. "It was truly outstanding in all regards. Up close and far away. It was beguilingly magical.

  • Scale or understatement.

    When Messersmith viewed the gold award winner, Sandy Johnson's "Kenansville Cattle Drive," he felt a power to the simplified forms in the image.

    "In comparative competition, frankly I'm trying to find the best in the room, he said. "The ideas of what can be an award winner can shift all over the place. It depends on who showed up that day. So many amateur artists include too much information they didn't know how to draw well. If you can't handle your composition, leave some of it out. Simplify it and do the rest well."

    Barbara Burkhardt's "Ships Chain II" won the silver award for this dynamic. Her watercolor here is evocative of nude studies.

    "What was left out was as important as what was painted," Messersmith said. "The simplification of the form made them monumental. The horizon was left out and a reference to human scale, like the size of a hand or head. There is no reference to how big these things are."

  • Mastery of technique and interpretation.

    Messersmith saw this in the work of Barbara Leto's "Pearson Pears." The work won the bronze award.

    "Leto's work has a sense of accumulated history," he said. "The impasto and layerings (painting techniques) created this mystery of surface and what was underneath. . . . There are layers of information here for the viewer's discovery."

    He also saw "some interesting things going on with the meaning" in how we "compartmentalize our soul into different areas."

  • Standout work.

    This was seen immediately in John Slater's "Five O'Clock Shadow," which won the Marlene Comittino Memorial Award.

    "I liked the directness of the painting," Messersmith said. "You can see the joy in the brushstroke. There's not much wiping out or correcting. It's done straight on. . . . The light and shadow is what we enjoy, not the struggle of the material."

    Messersmith said of all the plein air painters represented in the exhibition, Slater's work showed he had "really studied and practiced his art."

  • Technically weighted.

    That's what won the Barbara Thompson Award for Oils to Thomas Jewusiak's "Ponce Inlet Light 2."

    Although bordering on illustration, the magic is in the detail, Messersmith said.

    "There are times when the detail will carry work over into the realm of magic realism because the light and shadow are so crisp that the architectural volumes pop out like they're three-dimensional," he said. "That's the magic in this piece."

    The piece works as art rather than illustration because the details in the background, middleground and foreground are so vivid.

  • Finely hued assemblages.

    DX Ross's "Oceana Sea Bird" was awarded the Sandee Nolen Surrealist Modern Art Award.

    Messersmith said her work stands out in two areas: The connecting points in the assemblage are carefully fitted, and the materials have been carefully selected.

    "You're jarring our conscientiousness with juxtaposition of these items, and she did it very well," he said.

  • Boldness.

    Loretta Schnitzius' "Fruit Salad" received the Brevard Watercolor Society Award for its challenging composition.

    "It's hard to pull off," Messersmith said. "I think she did that well. The negative space becomes a strong form in the composition to interplay with these (fruit-filled) bowls."

    Contact Harbaugh at 242-3717 or

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