In Defence of Derwent

I have mentioned the Derwent Art Prize recently, urging you to vote for your 5 favourites for the Peoples’ Choice Award. I said this about the prize: “Back near the beginning of the year, Derwent launched the Derwent Art Prize, an inaugural event inviting artists worldwide to submit up to 3 pieces created in pencil (graphite, coloured, pastel, watersoluable)  to win a prize of £8750.00. The closing date for submission was the 1st of July and now the chosen 80 of some 5000 entries are open to the public vote.”

deSince the chosen 80 pieces have gone up for voting, there has been some disquiet in the online art world, some gentle rumblings about the prize and the chosen 80. Here’s a summary of the kind of complaints (not verbatim):

Why does the coloured pencil pieces say ‘colouring’ next to them? This makes the medium sound childish.

Why isn’t there more coloured pencil pieces being that they are the biggest chunk of Derwent’s interest?

Some of the entries are too modern and contemporary.

Some of the entries aren’t good enough – or what I would consider art.

Some of the entries are just squiggly lines.

I put in a huge amount of effort to create my entry and yet there is some that look like they took an hour. Or half-finished.

If I knew they were looking for abstracts or contemporary pieces, I wouldn’t have bothered.

I am glad I didn’t get chosen now that I see what they constitute as art.

Other complaints focused on the brouhaha surrounding the Peoples’ Choice. At first, you could vote for an entry that didn’t make it to the 80 finalists. They weren’t immediately available but you could find the link to them and place your vote. Artists directed their fans, family, friends and admirers and consoled themselves with the fact that even though they weren’t a finalist, they could receive votes for the judges to consider their piece for the Peoples’ Choice. It was argued that it would allow the People to have a real choice and show the judges what art fans considered as art. Actually, it may have just turned into a popularity contest with biased votes being placed and the artist with the most friends and family would win rather than on merit. Then without warning all the rejected pieces were deleted, votes were returned and you were restricted to voting for the finalists. This caused much anger and confusion.

I have watched this with interest and I have empathy for all the entrants and their grumblings, but, and I can’t help but play devil’s advocate, these are gripes that plague the art world all the time. I feel they didn’t need to be said. So I say in return:

Art is subjective. The judges, I am sure, discussed and argued to get 5000 down to 80. If I loved even the simplest doodle, I would argue its merits.

Art comes in many, many forms. Simple doodles to elaborate oil paintings. There is beauty to be found in both. What one artist can do with a squiggle can take your breath away.

Art can feature any subject, shape, idea or concept. That’s the fun, the possibilities and the gift of creating.

You could spend 10 hours on a piece or 10 minutes but if it is done well then the time is irrelevant. A 3 minute life study can be wondrous.

If you like 1 piece in the 80, then you have to appreciate that the judges have done their job. You cannot reject them wholesale. For example, Jane Pirie’s wonderful Savoy Cabbage piece is one of the 80 finalists – a coloured pencil piece. You would be hard pushed to find a better example of what can be done with the medium and she deservedly is a finalist. Therefore I have to accept that the judges have chosen what they see as a great examples of the blend of style, subject and medium.

As for the brouhaha, well, this is an inaugural event. We have to allow for glitches and last minute decisions. Derwent will iron these out and next year will run smoothly.Yes, “colouring” sounds ridiculous and infantile. It has connotations of being at school, keeping within the lines and doesn’t take into account the painterly approach we coloured pencil artists use. Change it to ‘coloured’ – you use that on your tins, why the change? My only complaint, and I think it’s fair, is that one artist has 2 pieces in the 80. I guess the judges couldn’t choose between them – I appreciate that – but it would have been more representative to have had another piece included rather than double up on one in the same style, same medium of a similar subject.

Good luck to the 80 finalists. You deserve to be there.

I would absolutely love to hear other opinions on the Derwent Art Prize, so please leave a comment!


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