Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2018

Empty Nest: Art Judge

By Curt Swarm

Me, an art judge.  Ha!  But it happened.  Two nice ladies from the Keokuk Fine Arts Council approached and asked if I’d be the judge for their tri-state, high school art contest—not a member of a panel of judges, but thee judge.  Gulp.  Eight schools would be participating, Winfield Mount Union, Keokuk, Hamilton, Central Lee, Holy Trinity, Ft. Madison, Illini West, and Clark County.  They’d never had an artist and writer as a judge.
I explained that I had no education in art, that I didn’t know the difference between pastel and acrylic, that I was half color blind, and had been known to confuse Picasso and Rembrandt.  They said it didn’t matter.
I learned a long time ago that you don’t turn these things down, that when asked, you do, whether it’s serving on a board or helping a friend.  Besides, it was a privilege and an honor to be an art judge, not to mention promoting the arts.
I told my daughter, who has a degree in art, and is an artist, that I was going to be an art judge.  She told me that I would have to brush up on my terminology, like, “paints with purpose and clarity,” “eye for detail and depth,” “high energy and unusual creativity.”  
Oh, great.   
I arrived at the appointed time for my judgeship, which was held in the Round Room of the Keokuk Library.  I was, of course, stunned by the quality of work of these high school artists.  And a little jealous.  When I was in high school, the only art offered was industrial arts.  
I sucked in my feelings and got to work.
The categories of art were painting, drawing, mixed media, water color, pastel, and 3D.  I was drawn to 3D first, mainly because of an amazingly realistic farm combine made from popsicle sticks.  It had movable parts.  Then there was a life-sized wedding dress made from newspaper clippings.  “High energy” came to mind.  A colorful mask showed a lot of “creativity and human emotion.”  I was getting it.  
However, I didn’t have to list the reasons for my selections.  All I had to do was point and say, “That one, that one, and that one,” like a point-and-shoot camera.  If something caught my eye, appealed to my inner self, I might not know why, but made the selection.  It’s what I’ve always relied upon for photography, the eye.  
Some of the categories had so many entries that it was difficult to choose only three.  There were five, maybe six great pieces.  
One painting that caught my eye immediately, that was made with tiny dobs of paint, was of a female singer.  It was composed of thousands of tiny dobs, and had to have taken days, if not weeks to create.  Up close, the painting made little sense.  It was just a mass of tiny swirls.  But from a distance, the image of a singer popped out.  You could almost feel the music and the emotion-drenched singing, smell the sweat.  “Super cool” came to mind.  Is that a proper art expression?     
There will be a reception for these young artists on Sunday, March 22nd, in the Round Room of the Keokuk Library, starting at 2:00 p.m.  The awards will be presented.  First place in each category gets 75 bucks, and so on.  Nice.  And a nice promotion of the arts by the Keokuk Fine Arts Council.  I plan on attending.
In disguise.     

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.  Curt also reads his columns at www.lostlakeradio.com.