An evaluator’s journey of exploration

What goes on in the evaluator's mind and what is the evaluator’s experience of the process? Read about the thoughts of one of the experts who assessed the applications in one particular field of art this autumn.

While assessing residency applications, I asked myself: how are the questions on art framed that feel relevant to me right now? Where do I sense genuine new winds blowing and what feels dated? Which applications seem to relate too much to the innermost problems of art, to the dismantling of artists’ identity crises, frustrations and uncertainties? At the same time I find an applicant, who is asking sincere questions about the meaningfulness of making art, almost unintentionally suggest an idea that sounds fun and a new form for a work of art that does not twist inward, but genuinely and in an extroverted way invites you in. When does the personal become general?

An evaluator has to rationalise their choices, but at the same time follow their intuition. An evaluator must have the courage to rely on their expertise, while also accepting their shortcomings. I’d like to take risks, I’d like to push my taste aside. Am I able to see the potential contained in the applications? Do I recognise my own ideals, preconceptions, position, my frustrations? Will I be able to identify the great ideas amidst the flimsy ones in this pile of applications? Will I recognise good applications that don’t include a real idea yet? How can a residency applicant articulate a working stage when they don’t know what it will be yet, when there is nothing there yet, when they have no mental image of the end result, assuming that there will be an end result?

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for an artist to be able to articulate their work, and not always on their own terms. At present, the Kone Foundation allocates funding for art based on applications. Maybe one day in the future we will create a better system. In my view, art is made to be shared – shared sooner or later, shared at least with one other person at a time. Writing an application is an act of sharing, often at an early stage. Instead of a necessary evil, could it then be seen as a tool for clarifying one’s ideas, a step that takes the artwork forward?

It’s gratifying to see an applicant take what they do seriously without taking themselves too seriously. Big words and declarations, promising too much, over-analysing oneself and one’s work often raise vague misgivings, at least in this particular evaluator. Do the artists also question their own ideals sufficiently? At what stage does depositing fashionable words, terms or theories on top of your work begin to seem copied and pasted? An evaluator must try to sniff out good art even when there is room for improvement in the applicant’s writing skills – after all, an application is not meant to be a literary masterpiece. What if the application could be made as a video or as pictures only?

The most inspiring applications are the ones that leave the evaluator with the feeling that the applicant themselves doesn’t realise what a great application with good content they have written. You can recognise, often between the lines, when an individual piece of writing is something that the writer has lived through, experienced, thought about thoroughly, questioned and rethought a few times more. As an evaluator, I too would like to be able to make individual, well thought-out choices that I have questioned and rethought.

The applications carry a tremendous amount of passion, enthusiasm, courage, work, thought and effort – and the evaluator is grateful for all of it. Applications for an individual residency in particular touch my heart, because they are particularly personal. I also find it exceptionally exciting to read applications from young international or returnee artists who are not yet well known in Finland and who, despite their young age, are already independent thinkers.

When reading the applications, if not before, you also realise that the applicants should not take the decisions made personally. The evaluator can only offer the residency to a very few. There are a number of factors that influence the choice to grant or not to grant a residency to an applicant. Speculation is often pointless. Evaluators change yearly.

In all sincerity, I must say that every applicant is brave in their own way. It takes courage to submit a proposal, to expose oneself and one’s work for evaluation.

Author

Evaluator

The writer evaluated the residency applications for the Saari Residence in a certain sector of art in the autumn of 2018.