We Just Never Know

Ribbon (2)On Friday evening my husband and I attended the reception and dinner for an art show sponsored by a nearby art club. Although I’m not a member of the association, I was invited to participate. I entered three oil paintings.

I didn’t win any awards, but I did get another ribbon to add to my collection, and I will display it proudly here in my little art room.

Exhibiting my work at this show was a very positive experience. I like getting to know other artists in the area, and the speaker — the association’s president — was very inspiring.

Compared to other shows I’ve taken part in, this was a much larger exhibition. There were 88 artists participating and nearly 200 individual pieces of art in categories that included drawing, acrylics, watercolors, oil, mixed media, black and white photography, color photography, 3-D, sculpture, and jewelry.

The judges gave out awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each category, along with an Honorable Mention for each. There was also a Best in Show award, which went to this piece, titled  Boy in Fedora by artist Michelle Koch.

RAA3 (2)

In this photo, you can’t see the detail. In fact, the judges didn’t even notice it at first. Upon closer inspection, however, they realized that what they were looking at was art comprised of thousands of tiny stitches. Yes, this is “painted” with thread. During the awards presentation, Michelle was asked how long it took her to complete this. She worked on it about 8 hours a day for 6 weeks. The piece was definitely deserving of the win.

Attention to detail is certainly something to consider in art shows. As my husband and I looked at the winners in different categories, he remarked that the winning pieces all seemed to have a lot of focus on detail. He’s right, and I know this is an area where I can improve. Although I’m moving toward a more impressionist style in my paintings, I think there’s still a need for detail.

What are judges looking for when they evaluate work at a show like this? That was one of the topics of the president’s talk. She gave some suggestions taken from an art magazine.

  • Does the artist appear comfortable with the medium?
  • Does the work invite the viewer in through use of composition and other elements of art?
  • Does the work have a message or narrative?

All good suggestions, and yet, she continued, the simple truth of the matter is that we just never know what any judge is looking for or why one work appeals to a judge while another equally good piece of art is passed by.

And, she assured everyone, all the art in this show was good. Needless to say that made me feel good, too. I like that I’ve reached a point where I can enter three paintings in a show and not feel embarrassed about any one of them. I like that every time I do enter paintings in a show, I have other artists admiring those paintings and telling me how beautiful they are. We all need to hear kind words like that, and artists like me who have limited experience can bask for days in the glow of a single compliment.

The speaker continued her talk with a very encouraging and inspiring story, one directed primarily toward artists like me who are only now beginning to enter shows and put our work on display. She began by pointing out that this was a much larger show than in the past, and that there were many artists exhibiting in the show for the first time. This meant more entries and more competition. In the oil painting category alone, she mentioned, there were 55 entries. So, yes, I was up against some very stiff competition. She said again that every entry was good, and that we should be proud of the art we have created.

She then went on to say that we just never know how close we may have come to winning and to make the point, she shared a personal experience. As a watercolor artist with many years of experience she regularly enters statewide, national, and even international watercolor shows which are juried. In other words, not every entry is accepted for the show. She pointed out that despite all the years of experience she has, her work isn’t always chosen, and yes, even now that sometimes stings a bit.

Recently she submitted an entry for an upcoming show with the Kentucky Watercolor Society.  The work was not selected. She was disappointed, of course, and even with all her years of experience, she went through a lot of those familiar feelings of doubt and dismissal. She fretted that maybe her work just wasn’t really good enough and that maybe she wasn’t a very good artist. Oh, how easy it is for us to get down on ourselves when we feel that we don’t measure up  in some way.

And then came a phone call from the KWS. One artist was dropping out, and her painting was next in line for acceptance. So all the while she’d been fretting and fussing, berating herself and feeling discouraged, she’d actually been very close to being chosen. So don’t ever give up, don’t feel discouraged when you don’t win or don’t have a work chosen for display. You just never know how close you came to winning.

I liked that story, liked knowing that even highly-talented artists with years of experience don’t always win, and most of all I liked thinking that maybe my work was closer to getting an award than I realized. Maybe my paintings weren’t on the bottom of the heap when it came to judging. I’d like to think that there is merit to my paintings, and that as I continue learning and growing I’ll come closer and closer to getting those coveted awards and ribbons.

A few paintings from the Oil category

And then the evening ended on a somewhat somber note. Recently an artist in the community was involved in a very serious auto accident. She is hospitalized and in intensive care. Because she and I are in two clubs together, I’ve gotten to know her well, and I learned about the accident soon after it happened. Many of those at the reception, however, had not yet heard the news. After hearing it, people looked at one another, and those words were repeated many times: We just never know…

It’s true. We don’t know from one day to the next what will happen in our lives. What we do know, however, is that we need to live our lives fully, to make the most of every moment we’re given. We need to share our passions, share whatever gifts we might have, and do our part to share love and happiness with others.

So let’s keep those words in mind in all we do. We just never know.






  1. “What we do know, however, is that we need to live our lives fully, to make the most of every moment we’re given”

    Wise words, yes, and specially at my age we realize it’s already late 🙂 life is short !

    How other people, qualified or not evaluate our works is important but more important is how we trust ourselves. Our vision, our language, our choices of subjects or stories: we must be true to all of this.

    Criticism can help us to improve, maybe to change our goals, our paths. But we should not “create” only to win an award. We should do it because it makes us to feel better! It really seems you are doing it well.

    It’s an interesting article, I’m mainly a photographer but since I retired I’m learning to draw or paint: recently I’m more as you in an impressionist style moment and my teacher appreciates it but always reminds me to exercise sometimes still-life drawing, important to learn to pay attention to details.

    Congrats for your work, robert

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Good critiques can help us improve, but as you say, creating art — or any form of creative expression — should be something that comes from within, not something we’re doing to gain approval or to please other people. Good luck on your art journey, fellow traveler.

      Liked by 1 person

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