Art: Judging the unjudgeable

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Me, the judge. photo by Seth Koenig


Sometimes people refer to me and my artwork. That always makes me uncomfortable. I don’t consider myself an artist. I have zero art training. My degree is in English literature. I’m more of an artisan, someone who crafts things with an obvious purpose.

In my case, the pictures, video — and music — I create are all supposed to tell a story, to illustrate ideas that I desperately want to make clear. They have a function. It’s never really about me.

Art, I think, is supposed to be more of a personal expression.  Making art is much harder, and much scarier, than telling someone else’s story. To put your hands and your heart into it, revealing something about yourself, while trying to master some sort of medium like drawing or painting is amazing to me. It takes real guts, real dedication.

A tough job. photo by Seth Koenig

A tough job. photo by Seth Koenig

So, when I was asked to help judge the 9th annual National Arts Program exhibit in Portland this year, I wasn’t sure I was qualified. But I agreed.

The City of Portland’s NAP exhibit is held every year. Artists invited to participate in this exhibition include City of Portland, Portland Public Library and Portland Public School employees and their immediate family members.

The art, which included textiles, painting, photography and mixed media, was broken up into professional, intermediate, amateur, teen and kid divisions. The level of art work in all five categories was impressive.

It was hard to judge. How do you rate people’s personal expressions with numbers? I’m not sure, but I did my best, as I know they did.

How do I do this? photo by Seth Koenig

How do I do this? photo by Seth Koenig

One of the reasons I agreed to judge the contest this year is a personal one. I don’t think I would have wanted to do it if I hadn’t been attending a drawing group this winter. I’ve always wished I could draw. In fact, I first picked up a camera as a kid because I was frustrated with my inability to draw as well as my friends in the 6th grade.

But a painter friend invited me to his drawing group in January and I said, why not? I’m not getting younger. I don’t have unlimited time to try things. So I bought a pencil, a sharpener and some paper. I’ve been plunking myself down in front of a model once a week now. I took up right where my 6th-grade self left off, but I’ve been having a blast. It’s a great mind-clearing exercise. I highly recommend it.

So, in honor of the brave souls who put pen, brush, pixels and pieces of themselves to paper in this year’s NAP exhibit, I humbly exhibit my own “art” here for the first time since grade school. It ain’t much, but I owe it to the participants.

A sketch by me.

A sketch by me.


Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.