Beauty is not all in the eye of the beholder. In reality, we can all agree that we judge things with our five senses, most of the time first with the eyes, visually. We are all automatons designed to absorb and digest information with instincts finely-tuned for survival and procreation. Our biology is fast. Our nervous systems operate with electric power (e.g., the movement of electrically-charged ions across a electrochemical gradient, actively maintained by ionic pumps embedded in the nerve cell membrane).
I’m judging a book by its cover, before I even know its a book. Superficially, we all judge a book cover for the aesthetics of just the book cover. So judging a competitive painting piece should be simple on visual merits alone. A judge in competitive painting contest would look for several things (in priority order):
- Clarity – how distinguishable are structural elements from other elements?
- Contrast – how far apart are the darkest to lightest values on the piece?
- Use of color – how well does color compete or cooperate (form a good relationship) within the piece to help clarity and contrast?
- Technique – the least important, hardest to judge without watching an artist actually work. Did the artist apply paint/reagents to the miniature in a way that supports/enhances, rather than detracts from clarity, contrast, and color?
Here’s the problem: if two models are very close on the technical points above, then the judge would have to use less concrete clues as to the skills of the artist:
- Story – does the piece connect with the viewer on an emotional/affective level, not derived from any technical flaws (e.g., clarity, technique, any of the above)?
A way to describe how “story” might be used, is by examining the adjective words that a judge might need to describe the painted model. For example, words like “gorgeous” are useful, but a winning submission might evoke more narrative-like words, such as “gloomy”, “light hearted”, or “crunchy”.
Another measure that might be helpful is to understand how deeply the painted model be interpreted. In other words, the deeper a person studies a piece of art, the less and less objective the measurement becomes–awesome stories don’t need a hard ending. A great movie, for example, is one where you walk out of the theater and wonder what the characters are doing even after the credits scroll.
Of course, you can study and teach yourself how to be a better painter through technical improvements. But, how do you improve the story elements of your painted piece? So much goes into a painted model’s aesthetics, including the sculpt itself (space marine, a tank, etc), brute force talent, and planning ahead. Suffice it to say, I think my ideas on how to improve story elements will be another blog post in the future. For now, I’m sure that one piece of advice that has helped me get better is to paint more and admire and study painted models by other artists.