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Hear it from the Judges

It is usually the little details that make the difference between runner-up and winning entries. Learning to see things and be mindful of opportunities to improve are skills that must be developed all on their own.

In order to help students in this, here are some tips gathered from past judges to help you tone your skills, make your entry stand out among the hundreds, or perhaps just give it that final tweak that could make the difference in the final round!

The number one tip for each category is to take some time and examine works by great artists/writers in the field you are working. Read good essays and poems. Study good art and photography. This will be the biggest help to you as you develop your skills.

Note: these are mainly just tips, not necessarily requirements, for an entry.


What do judges look for in a winning piece of art?

  • The technical and artistic ability, but also the ability to work within the boundaries. We often receive several outstanding entries that do not fall within the given category. A winning entry must work within its theme in an artistic manner.
  • Originality and creativity! Winning entries usually have a special element that was used to set them apart and add something compelling to the piece—either the type of medium used, or the uniqueness of the angle, or an unusual use of color, or some additional element that enhances or enriches the subject.

What makes one artwork really stand out in the judging?

  • Artwork stands out if it portrays something that the viewer can relate to or might want to relate to (this, of course, does not limit your subject to people). The emotions evoked by the piece of art can make a big difference in whether it is remembered at the end of a round.
  • Just going for the obvious solution doesn’t work unless it’s done with exceptional artistry or from some unique approach. It needs to be done in a way that is more than mere reproduction of subject matter. It must give the viewer a new understanding, perception, or appreciation of the subject.
  • Be thoughtful in the choice of your subject. Give yourself some time to reflect and consider what you want to say about it and how you can go about best expressing it.

What might be an immediate turnoff for a judge?

  • If it does not stay within the confines of the category. Try to see the challenges rather than the restrictions of the categories. Find your unique perspective on the subject and work with it, exploring different angles, approaches, and media. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • If it resembles some other well-known artwork too closely. Of course you cannot help it if someone else had the same great idea first and you didn’t know it, but don’t purposefully mimic other pieces of art. Learn from them, but then use your imagination to come up with your own art.