A day spent looking at art

K-12 art, that is. Today I volunteered as a judge for NY States' Olympics of the Visual Arts, which is put together by art teachers from the NYS Art Teacher's Association. I participated in the program as a student, and it was wonderful to go back and judge work; in my case, illustration.

The competition begins in January, when questions are released in categories of Drawing, Painting, Fashion, Architecture, Sculpture, Illustration, and Photography. Students answer the problem of their category with a work of art, which is brought to the competition. But students are judged on their research, sketches, and development as much as the finished piece. As judges go through the these long term problem solutions, the students are at work on a short term problem, which they get that day. Students come with standard packs of art supplies with which to solve the problem, and may not bring any additional supplies, effectively leveling the discrepancy in funding between school districts.

With a combined 20 entries in elementary, middle, and high school illustration, it was an intense day. Unlike Odyssey of the Mind, in which I've found parents often intervene, OVA is very much hands-off for adults (teachers and parents) and the spontaneous problem is watched carefully to ensure that the product is entirely the result of student work (it can act as a way of revealing if adults were involved in the long-term).

After the day spent judging, I've drawn a few conclusions. Firstly, those whose sketchbooks contain the most sketches, ideas, and research fair better in the end, both in the execution of their final product and in placing. Secondly, some of these kids are brilliant. One particular entry blew me away, the high school 1st place. Not only did the student include an essay in which he analyzed the poem before beginning sketches, but his hand, skill, and experimentation were admirable. The work, done entirely in Photoshop, was mind-blowing and I can only hope plans to continue illustrating are in his future. Honestly, his handing of composition, lighting, and perspective in Photoshop are as good if not better than some of the work I've seen at the college level. The middle school work awarded Most Creative was a three-dimensional piece with two sides. The students used mixed media to solve the problem and took into consideration light and reflection in their solution. If photographed, I could easily see one side of the piece as the front cover and the other as the back. But what really set this piece apart was the research and numerous sketches which allowed myself and the other judges to follow the students' thought process.

So, though an exhausting day, it was wonderful to be involved in an art education program that meant so much to me as a student. And, if you happen to be a teacher in NYS, please check out the program.