Wyatt Waters was never much for competitive art.

The renowned Mississippi artist and Olde Towne Clinton champion says, in his younger days, he entered juried shows but didn’t get into many of them.

An ego bruiser?

“Yeah, it’s not so much ego as I have to make sure it doesn’t define me,” he says.

As the adjudicator in the 7th annual Cedars Juried Art show, opening Thursday in Fondren, Waters says his goal is not to pit artist against artist — but artist against self.

“In painting and art, those have always been personal pursuits. All my friends are artists. There’s a competitive nature, like Paul McCartney and John Lennon competed. Do I want to beat them? No, I want to beat me. I want to get better.”

As a child, Water’s father, Bucky, an athletics coach, used sports motivation to teach his son life lessons.

“He said, ‘We play as a team and we play to win, but what we’re really doing is trying to develop ourselves individually and bring ourselves to the community of the team,’” Waters, admittedly unathletic, remembers. “So I was always interested in competing with myself.”

Waters’ mother, Lucy, encouraged art and, when he was in elementary school, tapped his kindergarten teacher, Rose Taylor, to teach young Wyatt.

“(Ms. Taylor told me) that I would be an artist, that I would have a gallery, that she loved me and she was praying for me,” Waters says. “I looked up to her and listened to her.”

What is Waters listening to these days?

Gut feeling.

“We live in a world determined with science, legal words and logic,” Waters opines. “Every once in a while, we’re a little too civilized and we’ve lost touch with intuition. Something inside that says, ‘That’s not right’… we don’t listen as strongly to. In the world of art, that’s the height, the honesty of it.”

A graduate of Mississippi College, Waters says that honesty and connection are, in his mind, the most important marks of a successful artist.

“That’s on lots of levels,” he says. “Design? Sure, there’s that abstract component. But I don’t think that’s the pinnacle. The pinnacle is when you emotionally connect with people. When I paint, I’m just trying to be honest. Because what people judge most is honesty. It’s one of the things I judged the (Cedars) show with.”

Waters, tasked with narrowing down hundreds of entries into those that would be a part of the annual Fondren Renaissance presented art show, says his word is simply an opinion.

“I’m here to say, ‘These are my thoughts on this.’ I try hard not to judge based on personal choices of my own.” The watercolorist adds, “There are not that many watercolors (in the show) and that’s what I work in. I didn’t think about that until I got done (judging).”

Waters says, in making final selections for awards this week, he will walk around, reflecting, allowing the work to speak to him once more.

“I take a clipboard around and sketch thumbnails of things I am drawn to. It puts it in my head for processing, like planting a seed. I let (the art) wash over me and respond to what I am seeing.”

“Win” or “lose” — if those abstracts even apply here — is not the mark of success in Waters’ eyes.

“Even when you win, you can’t listen to that stuff,” he says. “If you didn’t get in or you don’t win and I made that decision, genuinely prove me wrong. But not for me, for you. If you win, feel good about that, but don’t feel too good because I’m not the real judge. You are. You are the one judging yourself.”

How does this competition-phobic artist see his place in helping to shape the artistic community in the metro area?

“It’s an honor that someone values your opinion enough to ask you to do this,” he says. “The responsibility I have in judging and picking the show… it’s a real responsibility I have to the community. I hope the show inspires people to improve their own work, to do that better thing.”

See the list of participating artists here