Judging for Culture Shapers

The last round of judging.

Culture Shapers is a wonderful opportunity for high school students in the Houston and surrounding area.  If you are a student and want to know more, check out their website. I have been honored to judge Culture Shapers since they began, I believe that was 12 years ago.  I often try to write something to the students about their process and the judging. Here is this years letter.

I love judging for Culture Shapers.

This is to  all of you who participated in the sculpture portion of the competition. There were so many, many wonderful pieces. I have heard it said that because the schools had more time and the sculpture is judged later in the school year, this made it better for both schools and students. It certainly showed in the work.

I was bowled over with the quality of work.  I had invited a friend to help judge, Lori Betz from Betz Gallery and Art Foundry in Houston. By the way she is having an opening April 14th you are all invited. She walked in and said, “I thought this age group was high school.”  You impressed her.  Doing shows, making connections, getting involved with the art community this is an important element of  being a successful artist.   I wish I would have known this at your age.   If you did not place or did not win don’t be discouraged.  You have to keep trying and pushing yourself.  I have said it year after year, “judging is subjective.” It depends on who the judge is.

In the last round there were some piecesI really wanted to advance.  I have never had this difficult of a decision on where to place those final post its to advance the final 12.  I have, asked Culture Shapers to get me the names of some of the teachers of the students on certain pieces. I’m just so impressed about your work, and the work that the school is doing I would love to come and talk to you all.

Here are some hints for future contests

Make sure you push yourself all the way to the end. Many times a judge won’t pass a piece because of poor framing or poor base.  Push yourself and if you think it looks like a shlock job on the base, then redo it.  There was one piece in particular that I wanted to advance to the final round. I had three other pieces I was deciding on, and I passed over the one I really liked just because of the poor quality in the connection to the base.

If something is done intentionally, even a icky base, tell us in your description. Matter of fact, tell us everything in your description.  Give us your process, the meaning, the emotion behind the piece.  I judge purely on emotion.   If a piece gets me emotionally then you got me. I can’t believe how sparse the entry forms are. I even asked if the kids were limited with word count in this field.  There has been many times,  over the years that the description sold the piece.

I am not sure that this is a given, but I have noticed this year that all of the pieces are about the same size. I tried to think over the years if all of the winners were the same size and I do believe they are.  Now this is my theory. the first round is held in a big room, the lighting stinks, large pieces are placed next to smaller ones, and many times a piece next to yours just overpowers yours.  This is unavoidable, though I did ask them to begin to group them by size.  It does not help that unlike other ares of judging we cannot see all of our first selections together.  Culture Shapers does not like to move the pieces around.  It makes it very hard to see where a little yellow post it has been placed by another judge who may have noticed a great piece that I overlooked.

At the end of the final round I have written some thoughts on our judging papers.  These are thoughts to the artist. This year I have offered  some individuals a internship in my studio.

Let me say that I am always looking for interns to help out here.  So keep that in mind.

Be bold, don’t hold back- your career as an artist is in your hands.  Meet people, get to know those in the arts.  If you would like further encouragement let me encourage you regularly. You can sign up for my online newsletter on my blog at https://creativesculpture.com/blog.

Congratulations to you all, even entering is a huge accomplishment.

Be creative

Bridgette Mongeon – Sculpture Judge

Sculpture Judge For Culture Shapers

Once again it was that time of the year for the Culture Shapers art contest. Here is a link to the top 10. And a couple of photographs of my favorites. I can not tell you the order of the top 10 that is secrete and won’t be revealed until the 9th annual awards ceremony on November 20th.

The entries seemed to be down this year. Probably due to hurricane Ike. After all many students were out of school for a couple of weeks. The contest was also administrated a bit differently this year in that all of the work was taken in on one day, as well as judged on one day. I am sure this was a nightmare for culture shapers but I really enjoyed seeing and meeting all of the other judges. Sometimes your life can feel very lonely when you sculpting in the studio followed by writing upstairs in the office.

Once again I must say that any art show is subjective. It really depends on the judges. This year I had two entirely different judges. They like what they do an I like what I do. I am willing to fight over the pieces that I feel need to be at the top, but then again there area some concessions that need to be made as well. I can’t believe I didn’t take pictures of all of my favorites but here are a few.

Mother Nature
Kelsey Brinson
Cy-Ridge HS
Cy-Fair ISD
Teacher: Claire Vining

Adolere, Orare, Adorare
Anda Brown
Clear Creek HS
Clear Creek ISD
Teacher: Terri Foltz-Fox

This one is hard to see, but it is twined hands. I love reading what the kids say about the artwork.This actually represents what they went through when having so much destruction on their home during Ike.

The Thoughts of A Sculpture Judge

created for Best of Artists and Artisans web site
By Bridgette Mongeon © 2008

Seven Houston, Texas-area high school students were selected as grand-prize winners in the eighth annual Culture Shapers Visual Arts competition, winning $5,000 each. With more than 1,370 entries, the competition awarded $83,000 to 71 students at a January 31 ceremony held at Westfield High School. In addition to the grand-prize winners, dozens of other finalists received cash prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500.

The competition’s seven categories include Drawing, Electronic Media, Film, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography and Sculpture. Many of the students entered and placed in multiple categories.

I am one of the three sculptors that judge annually for the Culture Shapers Art contest.  The sculpture category contains a variety of sculpture–clay, wire, welded bronze, glass, jewelry, and fabric, basically anything 3D that does not fit into the other categories. The two other judges that accompany me in the sculpture category are Richard Fielden and Ben Woitena.  It is a good mix of judges, because our styles and background in sculpting are all quite different.  When I come across a piece in the competition that is created in a different medium than what I am familiar with, such as carved alabaster or a welded abstract, I fall back on the expertise of these two men.  I am not; however, bashful about sharing my own opinion and fighting for the pieces that I love.    

It is important to have more than one judge and to have time to communicate with each other about the pieces. Often one judge may notice something about a piece that another will not. This is easy to do when you are looking at so many pieces of art.  I am always reminded of the Esther Ruiz piece in 2003.  Upon first glance it was easy to walk by this entry.  I refer to it as “Baby in a box,” but the title is “Unbecoming Becoming”. Upon the initial viewing, you would think that this piece was nothing, but upon close investigating there was much more to this sculpture than met the eye.  The other judges were glad that I pointed it out.

Judging for many years, I am still surprised at how subjective the process is.  I try to express this to the students.  Just because your piece did not make it into this show, does not mean it would not place in another show. It really depends on the judges and their likes and dislikes.  I even overheard one judge state that they mark the student’s work lower if they have misspellings on their entry forms. I was appalled at this statement. We are not judging their spelling but their creative process, and as an artist and writer who struggled with spelling, I know these two are not the same.

There are, of course, pieces that you see where you know that the students did not push themselves as far as they could.  Creating has that false point of abandonment. It gets difficult and often you must wrestle with it. But if you say, “I give up,” it shows in the work. It is said that artwork is never finished, only abandoned, but this “good” abandonment comes after a great deal of wrestling. Those who could not stay with the fight in their own creative process never make the cut to the finals.

This year there were no arguments between the judges when it came to the grand prize in the sculpture category. You can tell that Hung Pahm with the piece “Verbal Struggle” really wrestled to the final “good” abandonment.  It was the artist’s description that made me think about this piece of art. The piece by Pahm was created after moving to America and reflects the struggle of not being able to speak the language.  This is apparent in the sewn lips, but it had not occurred to me that it not only affects the speaking but the hearing, and this was cleverly displayed by this artist’s omission of ears!  

These descriptions are so important to me as a judge. They give the piece meaning. My eyes glass over when I read a description that states, “I created this artwork because the teacher made us create in clay.” It is honest, but it lends nothing to the emotion of the piece. And I must say, I judge on emotion.

You can sense the uncertainty of the future in many of the young artists.  Their own inner struggle with growing up, leaving home, and becoming what they should be. This is apparent in the 2nd Place winner’s piece by Anda Brown, “I am only Human.”  Close observation shows the rocks have statements such as “great expectations, measure up, have it all, ugly.” The head turns on a base, amidst the wall of thoughts.

Often there are pieces that I become emotionally involved with. That was the case with  “All that’s left,” by Merlene Robertson. I would have placed this piece much higher; however, there are other judges.  Subjectivity is apparent when I explain my reasons, “My daughter recently graduated college and left home.”  This sculpture depicts the empty nest.  Certainly it is my own emotion that swayed my judging of this piece, but it was the artist’s work that brought that emotion to the surface, and that, in my opinion, should be accredited to the artist. Of course I love to look at the art in other categories.  There was one painting on painting section of the Culture Shapers website that I thought was spectacular, and I could not wait to see it in person. In fact, it was one of the reasons I looked forward to the awards night. It was Ahra Cho’s Self- Portrait. I was very disappointed because it only received honorable mention and it was not displayed at the awards ceremony. 

I cannot look at the finalist on the sculpting section of the Culture Shaper website without noticing that Teacher Bob Mosier from The John Cooper School had four students in the finals and two students in honorable mention, along with Terri Fotz-Fox from Clear Creek High School who was the teacher behind this years first and second place winners.   My hat goes off to all teachers who invest their time into coaxing out the creativity and encouraging the wrestling to continue until the final “good” abandonment of the student’s artwork.

Onward with our own creative wrestling! Remembering that the opinion of artwork is subjective, and our job is to push ourselves past wanting to give up and striving onward until the final “good” abandonment of our sculpted work.Here are a few of my favorites from other categories.

Here are a few of my favorites from other categories.

4th Place: Painting
Lauren Laumbach

4th Place Drawing
“Abba, Father”
Autumn Farrell

8th Place Drawing
Abby Cho

Honorable mention
“Colors of an Enlightened World”
Meng Chen

Judging Another Show

I judged the Woodlands Waterway art festival yesterday. In both sculpture category and digital art. I was surprised to see such little entries compared to the Culture shapers contest. It made me think that artists should really investigate each art show. How many people submit art? Having to compete against 18 compared to the 200 in Culture shapers is really much better odds. I saw some of the same work from Culture shapers, and one in particular I really wanted to advance in Culture shapers but could not, I was glad to see it again and give it another chance! I wondered what my work looked like at 17. I still have some pieces, two I am trying to give away. My medium in those days was watercolor, pastel and pencil. I did not enter shows as a young person, I think I would probably have done alright. It was a very reflective experience.

Judging Culture Shapers Art Show

It was a pleasure to judge the Culture Shapers art show this year. I am not really sure how many years they have been doing this, I just know I have been there from the beginning even before there was a sculpture category. This is a wonderful show for students. With $5,000 prize going to the top contestant in each category it is wonderful exposure for the students.

My judging partners this year were Richard Fielden and Ben Woitena I don’t know about the other judges but I look forward to our time of sharing each year as much as I look forward to the judging.

For those not familiar with the process there were 112 sculpture pieces. Each of the three judges is given yellow post-it’s and we are to choose those pieces that we want to advance. Because each of the three judges is given a post-it packet of 25 we hardly use all of ours. Frankly we tend to agree on the pieces that make the cut.

I continue to say each year, if you did not make the cut, please do not get discouraged. Judging is often subjective and what might not make it in one show might make it in another show. One other suggestion I always tell students is that they must push the work. Often young artists want to “just get something done to put in the show.” You can tell the difference between those works of art and others. Those that advance are ones that continue to grow and change with the process. They are also finished. Always, always go the extra effort with presentation. If you complete a work and glue it to an ugly base or don’t take the extra time and effort to bring it to its completion it shows.

I always like to read the descriptions. Another suggestion is to think this out. The artwork and the piece of paper are the only reflections that we have of the artist. I’d write my coments on another piece of paper and then neatly transfer it to your page, or better yet type it. Don’t forget to proof your sheet. As someone who struggled with grammar and spelling my entire life (but later became a writer) I would not judge an art piece by the student’s ability to spell, but another judge might!

Sometimes comments on this sheet sell me on the art. If you can share some information about our emotional experience with the piece or the difficulty of the process it helps us in the judging and might help in your advancement. Please avoid comments like, “I did this cause I had to come up with something.” Your lack of interest reflects on the work. Even if I liked a piece I might look it over because of the attitude connected with it.

After our first round of cuts we are each a packet of only 5 post-its to place on the pieces we want to advance to the final round. This is the hard part and I often wish I could turn in yellow post-its in the previous section for pink ones at this part of the judging. I was surprised to see that one of the pieces we all thought was strong was disqualified because of copyright concerns. Please be careful of this. If you are unsure of copyright ask you instructors.

If you did not advance into the final round I must say there were two other pieces that I labored over wanting to put in that final round, yours might just have been one of those two, but alas I only had 5 pink post-its.

Each judge is chosen because of our different expertise and experience. It shows in the final selection of 15 pieces. Sometimes I find myself wishing someone would have voted on something else, but then each had their 5 post-its.

These pieces are pulled from the rest and set on tables for us to view.
This year we got to discuss the pieces. I really pushed for this part of the judging process. Up to this point we are not allowed to talk. I must say I have to rely on my fellow judges when it comes to certain type of sculpture. It may be a process that I am not familiar with and I look to them to tell me the difficulty or to help me understand the piece. Also because there are so many pieces you might not really “see” a sculpture until this moment. I still remember the one-year there was the piece of the baby in the box. I am sorry I do not know who did it. At first glance it was nothing, but after you looked at the piece, I mean really looked at it, it grew on you and you began to realize the thought that was put into it. That is what this time is for, to bring to light the parts of apiece that the other judges might not see.

After this we sit down with each piece and score it. This is difficult because you hate to give a low score to someone who has come this far. I mean they made it in the finals and that is a huge achievement. I am forced to put low scores on some because… well there are pieces that are just better, in my opinion, and I want to see them advance. After this is done the administration takes our numbers and puts the final 15 in the order of our numbering. We then get to move the pieces, with very designated rules as to how far they can move. This is where the fighting begins. Not really fight, we just all firmly believe in “our” favorites and want to see them advance. All three judges have to agree on a piece moving. So we talk it out. When we all feel good about the order we are done. The entire process today took about 7 hours of judging including our breakfast and lunch.

As always I wish there was more involvement between students and judges, maybe a judges evening were students could come and see samples of the judges work and ask questions to a panel.

My congratulations to all of the students involved in Culture Shapers. Please feel free to keep in touch with me throughout the year. I can be found at https://creativesculpture.com. There is a forum there where students can post questions if they like.

Keep creating!

The Winners Of a Student Art Show That I Judged

I am very involved in Culture shapers. It is an organization that has been put together by some of the businesses around Houston. They award very wonderful cash prizes to art students. I have judged in Culture Shapers since the beginning 7 years ago and love it. The prizes are pretty hefty $5,000 being the top prize. I judged over a month ago and the banquet was last night. Students and their parents were fluttering around wondering who had one what. Here are some of the pictures I took of the some of the winners in my sculpture category. I always tell the students that judging is subjective. What one judge may put as number one or move up, another might not. If you did not make it into the top 10 of culture Shapers, don’t be disheartened. Try again, maybe another contest, another area, but most of all keep creating!

What I would change about Culture Shapers or my wish list.
A. The student work must show. I would love to see all of the winning pieces hang in a gallery for a while.

B. I would love to see a judges night, where the judges could display their work- real professional artists, and students could come and view it. A panel of judges would also be available for a question and answer period. (this is important to encourage and motivate the students and to give them more exposure to the real thing)

C. There are a few things I would change about the judging, but I’m working on that