Narrowing down a long list of up to 24 artists to a shortlist of four is not an easy task. All nominated artists have achieved a level of competence and professional recognition, or they wouldn’t have been put forward for the prize in the first place. It is however true that both a strength and a difficultly of the Northern Art Prize (given its broad nomination criteria) is that long listed artists usually span a wide range of career stages. So, how do our selectors choose between them?
The decision is based upon a range of materials submitted by the artists, including still images, audio-visual material, a statement and a CV plus supporting material which includes publications, press cuttings etc. Our selectors spend a day viewing and discussing the materials to reach their final four. Inevitably selectors will come to the table already aware of some artists’ work whilst other artists will be new to them. It is naïve to suggest that selectors can completely jettison their prior knowledge of an artist, however we ask them to pick the shortlist – as far as possible – based upon what is in front of them. When considering artists with differing levels of experience they often discuss how an artists’ past work has shaped their current practice, or the future potential indicated by recent work, but selection depends primarily upon how relevant and engaging the current work is perceived to be. The shortlisted artists are those whom the selectors are most keen to see more from in the Northern Art Prize exhibition. Here their final decision about a winner will be based upon experiencing the artists’ work in exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery.
Shortlisting is unavoidably dependent on how well artists are able to represent what they do in images, documentation or written explanation. So each year we consider tweaking what we request from artists based upon experience or feedback from previous years. This year nominator statements (in which nominators explained their nominations) helped the selectors to grasp each artists’ work more quickly and provided each artist with an advocate, rooting for their work.
The more practical side of shortlisting sits alongside the thornier question of decision making. With a panel of five arts professionals, who may or may not agree with one another, how is it possible to ever reach a consensus? Well, we’ll save that question for the next post!