Monday, May 7, 2007

Review Corrections

Katherine Knight

I have received several emails over the past few days which have alerted me to points in two of my previous reviews that need to be clarified and/or corrected. The reviews are The Water Media Competition Review and the Torpedo Factory Review, and the emails have come from two individuals: Nicholas Simmons, local watercolor artist and one of Water Media Competition jurors, and Tanya Davis, mother of Jennifer Davis (who won the Water Media Competition), and who is also President of .the Torpedo Factory Artist's Association.

First, in the program accompanying the Water Media Competition Jennifer Davis was said to be 17 years old. Had this been true Miss Davis would have been ineligible for the competition, which required that participants be between the ages of 18 and 29. I have been informed by Mrs. Davis that this information is incorrect; that her daughter turned 18 between the submission of her application and the deadline, and was therefore fully qualified for the competition. The information included in the program was a misprint.

Second, Nicholas Simmons was kind enough to address my concerns that the National Society of Arts and Letters, which sponsored the competition, may have pressured the panel of judges to choose the artist who was most conservative (or traditional) in their subject matter and use of the media. My speculation was based on my understanding of the National Society of Arts and Letters, my interpretation of the competition, and on a comment I overheard Mr. Simmons make at the opening that his ‘initial choice had been overruled’. When I asked Mr Simmons to describe the role that the NSAL may or may not have played in the judging he assured me that they played absolutely no role at all, and that the comment I overheard was in reference to which individual piece should be selected as winner, and not which artist. Jenny Davis was unanimously chosen as the winning artist.

Finally, Mrs. Davis informed me that the information I received from Laura Weaver Huff concerning the status of Associate Members at the Torpedo Factory was also incorrect. Associate members need only be juried in once before they are eligible for studio space; those who do not gain access to a studio in their first year do not have to keep reapplying for membership until they are granted access to studio space.

In the interest of fairness I’m including a full transcript of my correspondences with both Nicholas Simmons and Tanya Davis below.

Hi Katherine...I was sent a link to your blog entry re the NASL show. If you have questions about the judging, or at least my part in it, feel free to write ....Nicholas Simmons


Hi Nicholas,
Thank you so much for your email. I hope my review did not come across as sour grapes. I was legitimately surprised at the competition's outcome, and even more so after I researched the panel of judges. Jennifer Davis is clearly very talented, but I believe (as stated in the review) that she was a very, very conservative choice. Since you offered, I would like to know what kind of roll, if any, the National
Society of Arts and Letters played in the judging. Were their tastes and/or values taken into account, or did they perhaps participate more directly?
Thank you again for your email, and for opening this
dialog. I appreciate your consideration!


Katherine, I know pretty much nothing about NSAL, though I met several of the people involved in the organization. Conservative? I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Your article was a bit misleading... I had chosen a different painting of Jenny Davis' while the other three chose the winning piece. I didn't put up much argument since we were all talking about the same
artist. I did take issue with one juror's remark that we "encourage" her to go more in the direction of the winning piece. My experience is that artists as prodigiously talented as Jenny do whatever they please; nobody ever influenced my own direction, I can tell you that.

I was also intrigued with one of the pieces of Shelly Voorhees, and had there been another award available, that painting would have been my choice. Overall, however, her work did not represent (to me) the qualities I look for in water-based media as fully as Jenny's. You might feel this is a reason in itself to reward the work, but I felt a responsibility to adhere to what I believed was the intent of the competition. I also felt the presentation/framing of her pieces was not good.

The person who painted the figures in the bikinis...those paintings could have been done with anything from tempera paint to oil...they really had nothing, necessarily, to do with watermedia IMO. The other painters, as I recall, were so lacking in technical skill, I couldn't consider them as serious contenders, regardless of concept. Technique is not the holy grail, of course, but Jenny's work was far beyond the others in this regard, and it was impossible to ignore. For her style of contemporary realistic portraiture, I've not seen anybody better, anywhere. Yes, I would hope that she gets more experimental in her approach and compositions, but she has a lot of time to do that.....I don't expect to see it all with somebody her age (it was my understanding she is 18 yrs old).

I don't consider anything in art a "no-brainer" and I put lots of thought into my choices and opinions...hope this clears up my part
best, Nicholas S.


Thanks again for your prompt response! I was actually relieved to read it. I had hoped from the beginning that the competition would be an honest reflection of the jury's decision, and I was concerned, based on my interpretation of events, that this may not have been the case. I am pleased to discover that I was wrong.

I would like to clear up a few other things. First, my 'no brainer' comment was in reference to numbers only, and was not meant to reflect on the judging in any way. With four of the six artists coming from my same graduate program, it seemed to me, as an outside observer, that the odds were stacked in our favor; again based on numbers alone.

Second, I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on the subject of technical skill. I do not agree that any of the artists were lacking in technical ability, although it is true that their skills may not have been manifested, or that they may not have exploited their media, as traditionally as Jenny Davis. (is 'traditional' a more fitting word than 'conservative'?) As a group I think the people in my program value innovation, conceptual strength, and technique equally, which is probably why I was surprised that the competition seemed to reward only the latter. Incidentally, I'd be interested in hearing any insights you may have on pursuing these three goals when national organizations, such as the ones you mentioned and others, seem to emphasize technique and tradition so heavily.

With your permission I'd like to use our conversation to update my original review. Although I stand by my remarks, it is certainly not my intention to be misleading, and I would like to clarify my observations now that I am better informed.

Finally, I'd also like to invite you to the Opening of the 2nd years' Masters Thesis exhibition and 1st year's open studio event on Saturday, May 5th at American University's Katzen Center. This will certainly be a more accurate representation of our work and values than was afforded by the Water Media Competition. I'm afraid I can not accept your low opinion of my classmates without at least offering an opportunity for it to be improved upon. I hope you can
>make it. Information on the museum can be found here:
and directions here:
Thanks again for answering my questions,


(from Tanya Davis)
It's come to my attention that you published incorrect information on your blog Artifice regarding my daughter Jennifer Davis' eligibility
for the National Society of Arts and Letters contest.

Please correct the record that Jenny is in fact 18. Her birthday was a few weeks after she sent the form in last fall, but well before the deadline. There was a typo in the program you picked up.

Further, the ladies and gentlemen of the NSAL, as well as the owner of the host gallery Heineman Myers Contemporary Art, have been very gracious and completely thorough in maintaining the integrity of the entire process. Regardless of who wins an NSAL competition, as artists we should all applaud any effort to raise awareness of the arts.

The jurors for the NSAL contest were all accomplished professionals with excellent reputations. They were Judith Brodie, Nicholas Simmons, Stephen Bennett Phillips and Walter Bartman. Juror Nicholas Simmons was kind enough to attend the reception. You may have overheard him telling Jenny that the jurors all selected her but that there was disagreement about which of her pieces should be sent to the finals in Arizona. Nicholas told us that he would have chosen one of her more colorful pieces, but that the other jurors selected Jenny's more somber offering. Nicholas was of the opinion that either one would serve her
well at the finals.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion regarding the aesthetics of artistic choice. I am always happy to see people writing about the art world, and encourage you to continue to express your opinions. I presume you are a young writer; there are always lessons to be learned about checking facts first, especially when integrity is called into question.

I noticed that you also have a blog piece on the Torpedo Factory Art Center. I wish you had stopped in to visit me. I am the President of
the Torpedo Factory Artist's Association, and I could have given you more accurate information: either you misunderstood the artist you interviewed, or she misspoke. In fact, artists need only pass the independent outside panel of jurors once in order to become an Associate and be eligible for sublets. Of those who pass the jury, some decline participation for various reasons; often they have regular jobs
and want to be Associates so that they can take advantage of opportunities in the future. Most of those who actively participate
find space within a few years.

If you do not already know, you will probably find out when you leave college, that it is very difficult for many artists to make a living with their art alone. While it is difficult, it is not impossible. The
Torpedo Factory Art Center is one of many venues and opportunities artists may explore. In the art world, there are as many different career paths as there are artists.

As an artist working in public at the Torpedo Factory, I enjoy getting a lot of visitors. I often find myself giving advice to young artists and amateur artists of any age who want to become professionals. First, work hard to master the tools at your disposal. Second, figure out what
you want to say with those tools. Third, always put your best foot forward. Respect your own work by giving it the best possible presentation. Last, remember that art is subjective, not objective. There is no single right answer, so of course you can't expect everyone to like what you do. That's the free market. Learn to accept that some people will respond to your work and some won't, and there's nothing
you can do to control that. React with grace. Contempt and disdain for
those who do not choose your work may seem cool in college, but it is not an effective marketing tool in the larger world. In a long art
career, there will be many rejections and you never know when you will run into these people again. I can tell you a lot of stories about jurors rejecting a piece from a show, and then a year later the same juror not only accepting the same piece, but giving it an award.

I am cc'ing Jack Rassmussen. He has been kind enough to curate for the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery, so he is familiar with us.

Good luck to you in your career.

Best Regards,
Tanya Davis



Thank you so much for your email. I have been corresponding with Nicholas Simmons about the Water Media competition all week, and am preparing an amendment to my original post to clear up some questions that he was able to answer for me. I will certainly correct your daughter's age in this amendment. It is unfortunate that the program printed this information incorrectly.

Regarding my visit to the Torpedo Factory: I understood from my conversation with Ms. Huff that associate members who are interested in gaining access to studio space but are unable to do so within their first year of membership must continue to reapply until they gain the access. Since Ms Huff has been an associate member for nearly thirty years, and is presumably well acquainted with the ins and outs of
>membership, it did not occur to me to double check her statements. I did attempt to speak with Jim Steel, upon Ms Huff's recommendation, regarding the specifics of the Torpedo Factory's relationship with the City of Alexandria, but he had unfortunately already left for the day.

I also appreciate your cautions and advice. I fully supported myself in DC as an artist for three years prior to enrolling in AU's MFA program, and did the same elsewhere before that. I am therefore well aware of the difficulties, rejections, and subjectivity inherent in my chosen field, as well as the importance of reacting with grace. It is good to be reminded that these dynamics and hardships will not change as I move ahead with my career.

I'm glad that our blog is able to generate such dialog. That was its intention and we, too, are trying to raise awareness. In the future it would be helpful to address these issues on the blog itself, rather than via private email. If you are finding fault in any of our writings it is likely that others are as well. These conversations would be helpful in providing a more accurate picture of our Arts community.

On a personal note, I would like for you to know that I do not take these reviews lightly. I try to approach each event with an open mind, to acknowledge my biases openly when I am aware of their interference, and to support or dismiss them as I become better informed. My opinions are sincere and thought-out, and my facts are all checked to the best of my ability. Obviously everyone makes mistakes, and I will correct mine as soon as possible.
- Katherine Knight

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