Hang It Up

Juror Survey

By Jean Emmons 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 14, Issue 4


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

Can you articulate what you look for? 

The jurors responses are given in full, with the hope that each artist reading this takes away information that is useful. You’ll see there are some themes that develop, and some very individualized heartfelt assertions. 

  • I look for an image, which is beautiful, follows the criteria, and stops my heart just a little bit. 
  • A good botanical painting immediately draws the eye - it is intuitive. After that the brain kicks in and the elements of design, light and dark, color contrast, plant accuracy and the rest are employed to analyze why the painting is so good. 
  • First and foremost, the jurors for ASBA exhibitions conform to the expectations that have been determined by the Exhibitions Coordinator and the Exhibitions Committee for scientific, aesthetic and proficiency excellence. That having been said, the juror, as an artist, curator, collector or botanist, is seeking a spark in the work that will engage the viewer. It is our hope that the viewer will have an experience of that plant that they have never had before. 
  • I have used the ASBA criteria of accuracy, aesthetics and technical quality in jurying the student art exhibits. I do this so students may know what to expect when they are ready to enter an ASBA exhibition. We also use these criteria in our classes - from the beginning to the most advanced. Learning the grammar of botanical art helps to define what it is we are looking for in a beautiful finished work of art.  
  • When I’m judging an exhibition, on the first run-through of the slides, I already can see which art I want to look at more closely. It’s an instantaneous thing. When I first started jurying, I used to force myself to look at each piece very closely and laboriously to make sure I really gave it a fair shot. However, over the years I’ve found that rarely if ever, does a piece that didn’t catch my eye on the first pass improve upon closer scrutiny. The converse has happened, though, where a piece looked very promising only to be disappointing up close. That first view will tell if the work has potential. If the work has potential, then I look closer for craftsmanship or technical proficiency. Ultimately, the work must have integrity and be true to itself. While this may sound like babble from a college art history professor, I think it is the essence of what makes a great piece of art. I don’t mean integrity in the ethical sense, but that the work is in an “unimpaired, sound or perfect condition” - unto itself. I guess it’s more simply said, “It’s the best it can be for what it’s attempting.” To give examples - if it’s meant to be a very lighttoned, delicate drawing, it is that and doesn’t have a heavy spot of dark somewhere that doesn’t fit. If it is a complex composition, then all parts must relate well, leaving interesting negative space, graceful intersections and overlaps, and logical relationships of color, light and dark. If it’s a simple straightforward painting of the plant, it is true to the form of the plant and not portrayed in some unnatural way. If the colors are muddy, the edges indistinct, relationships between parts are unclear...well, then the integrity is lost and so is my interest. 
  • Work which stands out for me is unusual in composition, contemporary rather than classical, especially in its position on the page. Something, which hasn’t been done before. In my own work I’m always trying to find a new twist on the theme and look for this in the work of others. Also, a certain lightness of touch - accurate detail but not overworked. 
  • When looking at botanical artwork, I look for several things: an advanced composition, strength in three dimensionality, volume and presence in the piece, rather than one that is pale and flat. At the same time, this richness in color has to be under control. I look at the leaves, to see if they are as well attended to as the flowers and whether they are structurally correct. 
  • When I look at a slide, the things I look for are the actual way of painting, the detail, and how the paining “reads.” The composition. If there is “life” in the painting. The accuracy of the color green. 
  • A good jury will look for excellence in the execution of the submitted work... Preference for one or the other rendition of an image of a plant is naturally subjective because every artist interprets and sees the subject before him or her differently. The same is true for the viewer of the finished painting or drawing. 
  • One prefers the clean, sharp and realistic image of the plant and the other likes the clean, sharp but more poetic interpretation. With poetic I mean the ultimate ability of the artist to put life into the plant he or she has visually recreated. Most jurors and viewers can see and feel when an artist has accomplished the latter. A great piece of art talks to you. 
  • I personally like botanicals that are art first and botanicals second. Happily, the two frequently meet and then one can have a great show. 
  • As far as what I look for: botanical correctness but I don’t think the image has to be the same size as the plant. One of my favorite ever works is Kate Nessler’s giant Phaleonopsis. My personal, subjective clincher is an energy in the work that makes it seem like a portrait of an actual living thing, that takes it beyond science into art. How can anyone quantify that? I look for the ‘wow’ factor! I want to be amazed, intrigued and drawn into the painting.