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When artists judge other artists

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For an artist, the opinions expressed by his fellow artists about his work are often the most valuable critical comments he can receive. This is equally true of face-to-face discussions in his studio, and of the decisions made by a jury of his peers sitting in judgment on work submitted to a local, regional, or national exhibition.

At present, there are very few open-juried museum competitions in the United States, and only one, the National Academy of Design's Annual Exhibition here, whose scope is truly national. The National Academy, founded in 1825, with Samuel F.B. Morse as its first president, has always viewed its annuals as crucial to its commitment to promote quality in art.

Since I've missed no more than two or three of these annuals since 1956, I was delighted when John Dobkin, the academy's director, acceded to my request to be present during the selection of works submitted to this year's annual, the academy's 159th. I was especially pleased since this annual was open to everyone , and not only to academy members as is the case every other year.

I arrived five minutes late on the day of the jurying and found everything already in full swing. Some 1,440 artists had submitted works in four categories: painting, sculpture, watercolor, and graphics, and academy assistants (some of them students of the Academy Art School) were busily preparing them for viewing.

The jurying system was simple but effective. Each category had two all-artist juries, one for selection and another for awards. As each work was placed before a jury of selection, it was designated ''in,'' ''out,'' or ''doubtful.'' Once the initial decisions were made, the process was repeated with the ''doubtfuls'' until the judges were satisfied that only the best pieces were left.

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