By the Numbers
One of the many perks of being a member of the CPSA is receiving their magazine To the Point. In it, you'll find photos of all the pieces in the Annual International or Explore This exhibition, and, tucked away in a table you'll find the statistics showing what types (landscape, portrait, still life, etc) of pieces were accepted into the show. I've always been a little curious to compare that table to, say, a corresponding table from the Pastel Society of America or Oil Painters of America and see if the split is similar, or if there are subjects that colored pencil artists tend to gravitate. One of the other things I've been curious about is the CPSA awards summary: are there certain subjects that tend to be more represented with awards? First stop is the CPSA website, which lists all awards with photos for each year. I've focused on the Annual International show for this exercise. CPSA doesn't assign a category to each piece, so I make up my own. This turns out to be a little challenging: is Scott Krohn's self portrait assembled out of stones a portrait or a still life? Hmmm. To get warmed up, let's start with something easier: how many awards were there each year, for the last 5 years? [ws_table id="1"] The number of awards has decreased. Keep in mind the awards have sponsors, and sponsors change over the years. If you look at the cause of the decrease:
- Named awards decreased from 6 to 4. The CIPPY, Prismacolor and Dixon Ticondara awards are the only 3 of the original 6 named awards remaining, but the CPSA District Chapters award introduced in 2010 makes the 4th.
- Awards for Excellence decreased from 9 to 5
- Awards for Outstanding Achievement decreased from 7 to 3
- 3 intermediate awards between Excellence and Outstanding Achievement were created in 2010, the Award for Outstanding Recognition
- Even though there are less awards, the cash value of the top prizes increased. The CIPPY awarded $2500 in 2009, and $5000 in 2014. The total value of awards in 2009 was $16,200 and in 2014 was $15,200.
Personally, I prefer fewer awards with the higher value for the CIPPY. I like the Best of Show to win the big prize, and with typically 125 pieces in the show, 15 awards seems like the right number. So, next question is what subject matter tends to win the most? [ws_table id="2"] This table represents the same year range, 2009-2014, as the previous tables. Not too surprisingly, "Still Life" is first, and "Portrait" is second, as these are traditional major categories of subjects. If this were an oil or pastel contest, you might expect the third major category, "Landscape" to appear next, but it is relatively low on the list with only 3 awards; instead, "Animal/Wildlife" takes the third major spot. "Urban Landscape" (city scenes, street views) is next, mostly composed of works by Elizabeth Patterson and Jeff George, followed by "Floral", then we're into subjects with 5 or less (1 per year). A few observations:
- Allegory/Narrative, which I think appears often in oil painting works, did not appear often in the CPSA shows. The only 2 I put in the Narrative category were both of Joseph Crone's superb black and white film noir scenes
- Whimsical is a category I made up for illustrative/wondrous works. It's dominated by Paul Van Heest, who received 4 of the 5 awards
- Nude, another traditional painting category, received only 1 award, Elisabeth Ehmann's traditional and beautifully drawn female nude
- No awards for Abstract works
- Satire appears only once, with Philip Carpenter's "Art in America"
Lastly, I've heard people comment that the same people always win, so let's see how the numbers look. There were 6 shows between 2009 and 2014, so the best result an artist could get is an award at each show (6 awards). Here's the actual counts: [ws_table id="3"] Most (74%) were single show award winners, and no one received an award at all 6 shows. Another way to think of it is to envision being one of the 15 award winners. It's the Awards Banquet, they've just called the winners up to take their seats, and you sit down and look around curiously at the other 14 people, wondering what they'll win, and if they've won before. Odds are:
- This is probably your first award, and the same is true for 10 of the other people around you
- 3 people probably received one other award in the past 5 years
- At this point, you + 10 people + 3 people = 14 of the 15 people seated.
- The last person is probably familiar with his or her seat, because he or she has won 3 awards, and this will be his or her fourth
- You and everyone else have an equal chance of winning Best of Show. The number of first, second, third, and fourth time award winners receiving the CIPPY was about the same.
There you have it! Fascinating stuff. Now that we've covered the numbers, I'll give a few non-number based thoughts: I don't think some subjects are more likely to get awards than others; I think that colored pencil artists tend to work in some subjects more than others. Personally, I find landscapes particularly more difficult in colored pencil than figures, for example. Similarly, the lack of Abstract awards is because there are few Abstract entries (note there were other shows outside of the 2009-2014 range which had Abstract awards). I think concept is more important than subject, and usually the pieces which are top winners evoke some type of reaction and connection when you see them (particularly full scale, in person). When I saw Jeff George's "Life and Death" CIPPY winner at the 2009 show, I wasn't walking away thinking about the technical aspects of the work, I was thinking about the work, and what it said. I was mulling over mortality and this cross section of strangers, the awareness of all the similar crowds we walk through, oblivious of the lives that continue on and the others that don't. I thought about it after I had left the gallery. I imagine this is what the juror reacted to as well, much more than the composition, color, and rendering of the people (which was also expertly done). Regarding the number of repeat winners, I was surprised by the actual numbers. I thought most (more than half) would be repeat winners in the 6 show study, but actually nearly 3/4 of people were first time winners - pretty much the opposite of what I expected. Strangely artists that I thought always won would actually win an award one year, then win an award 5 years later. It's funny how your perceptions can skew reality. Well, hopefully this wasn't too much math, but instead some food for thought. Enjoy!