September 16, 2019

What Makes a Great JBA Entry?

The John Byrne Award is unusual in accepting all kinds of creative work, on any theme. This gives our entrants total creative freedom, but it can sometimes make it difficult to know where to start. There have been many thousands of entrants since the award began in 2012. Check our website for previous winners to see how entries and their rationales have been successfully presented in the past.

So, What Makes a Great John Byrne Award Entry?

John Byrne Award-winners are the entries that best explore or question or express a chosen topic or theme. Essentially, a great John Byrne Award entry knows what it is trying to say, and communicates this in a powerful and effective way. Your entry is judged equally on your creative work and your written rationale.

In order to help you fulfil our judging criteria (which ask whether an entry is reasoned and relevant, constructive and compelling), we’ve come up with three questions you should ask yourself before submitting.

What does my entry communicate?

Firstly, we need to know what your entry is trying to communicate, so it’s helpful for you to really consider what your work is trying to say.

A good way to do this is to ask yourself, ‘Why?’: Why did I write/ paint/ compose this piece? Why does it look/ sound the way it does? Why is this important?


Don’t worry if you don’t think your chosen value is ‘deep’ enough! We only ever judge how well your work expresses its chosen value, and NEVER the value itself.


Not only will answering these questions help prompt your written rationale, but it can also form the basis of your entry title – you may wish to phrase this as a question but it’s not essential. It is very important however to give your entry a title that truly reflects your work, as this will become the benchmark by which your entry is judged – your work might be extremely powerful in expressing your chosen value, but if we think it’s about something else, we won’t see this.


If you chose to make your title a question, avoid simply adding a question mark to end of your piece’s description or title, unless it really makes sense– ‘Can we ever really know what someone else is thinking?’ is intriguing, but ‘The Mona Lisa?’ or even, ‘A smiling woman?’ is far less so.


How does my entry contribute to a discussion?

Whatever your chosen value or theme, the message that your work is trying to communicate will probably fall into a wider context or discussion.

When our judging criteria looks for work to be reasoned, we are looking for an awareness of what came before in the discussion of your values or idea: It could be that you have done a great deal of research into the issue you are exploring; or you have experienced something first-hand and are able to communicate how it feels; maybe you are on the fence but have thought deeply about your issue. All of these things happened before you created your entry, and represent the background to your discussion of your value or theme. When we ask for entries to be relevant we are looking for a theme which is meaningful or pertinent to current thinking; something that could potentially engage groups to explore new ways of looking at a subject which may divide people for example.

When our judging criteria asks entries to be constructive however, we are looking for an awareness of what might come next in the discussion, and of how you want to contribute to this. Perhaps your entry presents a radical new idea, or prompts a discussion that no-one but you has even thought of. Perhaps you are expressing an old idea or universal experience, in a particularly powerful or new way.  A really well-reasoned and constructive entry knows exactly where it fits in the discussion of its theme or value and communicates this clearly and confidently.


Answering this question in your statement helps us to see your working; how your unique thoughts, experiences and skills helped you get to the end result, and what you want your work to achieve. This is what your written rationale is for, so make the most of it!


Is my entry compelling? Could it be more so?

The final way in which we evaluate our entries, is to ask whether they are compellingYour entry is compelling if it is effective, well-executed and well-thought out. We want to see that the piece itself is a powerful, intriguing and thoughtful representation of your value or theme.

A good written rationale is clear, concise and confident in what it is trying to communicate, and gives us the information we need to understand you and your work.


Remember, your rationale has a limit of 250 words, so try not to waste them by describing your piece, giving us your biography, or detailing all your methods and materials – unless it’s genuinely  relevant to your chosen value or question.