Pros and cons of art competitions

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It’s very possible that the painting you entered in that last art competition was a real dog. You know, the one that was rejected. But hey, your mom loved it. On the other hand, you may have submitted a real masterpiece but unfortunately ran into an incompetent judge or one that just had different tastes. Either way, the rejection was real and you felt the blade of the knife. Having juried many art shows and submitted work to many more, I’ve experienced both sides of the coin…being accepted and being rejected.

Sometime ago I wrote a blog concerning my experiences as a member of a committee responsible for selecting paintings for an Oil Painters of America Western Regional, just like the one coming up next month at Southwest Gallery in Dallas. There was some controversy raised when I posted a link to that article on Facebook. Some felt that art competitions were a waste of money and were in some way favorable to the “hot” artists. I was also accused of being too harsh for suggesting that maybe the reason one was not juried into a show is because the work just wasn’t good enough. It is in fact a reality that, if we want to grow as artists, we must sincerely consider that possibility. (Click images to enlarge)

John Pototschnik – “Junctions” – 20″ x 40″ – Oil – (Accepted: 2022 OPA Western Regional)


Some people look upon art competitions with disdain. They consider them only a means of padding the pockets of the organizers. Others wonder why anyone would allow some stranger to make judgments regarding another’s personal expression. They don’t like the idea of having some externally imposed standard, or another’s personal bias, deciding whether their work is acceptable.
Of course, each of us make judgments every day regarding the quality of all kinds of creative endeavors, from the quality of our clothes to the quality of wedding photographs. We are even critical of other artist’s work, so why should ours be exempted? Yes, fine art should be judged, critiqued, and scrutinized on many levels…and it isn’t as if we have no standards of judgment. Let’s just look at the last 600 years for starters.

Most thinking people will agree that art should, and therefore must, submit to some kind of critical standard. Art competitions are one way artists can assess their growth and see how they stack up.

Here are what some of today’s important artists think about art competitions.

Roger Dale Brown: “The one thing that has been highly beneficial in my career, was to affiliate myself with some of the major art organizations in this country. Becoming a member and participating in national contests was instrumental in my growth as an artist. I used the contests as a gage for my creations. I could compare my work to the art that was accepted to see where mine was lacking. I would then set goals to correct what I was deficient in. It is a great opportunity to learn from others, study the blogs, podcasts, demos, paintings at the shows and catalogues which are filled with some of the best art in the county.

“Our journey with art is a solitary one, so to be involved with good organizations and competitions, is not only a good learning experience for me, but it put me around some of the best artists in the country. Because of that I started developing relationships and learned the mentality of those artists. It afforded me the opportunity to see a glimpse into their painting process. Even though early on I didn’t get into a lot of shows and took many defeats, I never got too down on myself. Those defeats encouraged me to work harder and study more. That was important for me to grow and get better at my craft.”

Roger Dale Brown – “Autumn Reflection” – 40″ x 40″ – Oil


Dianne Massey Dunbar: “There are two main reasons that I enter art competitions. The first one is to see how I stack up against other artists. Secondly, I enter competitions to hopefully have my work seen by other artists, collectors, galleries, and even magazines.”

Dianne Massey Dunbar – “Rain On Windshield” – 18″ x 24″ – Oil


Marc Hanson: “Nothing like seeing your work amidst the work of your peers, year in and year out, to see how you’re doing.”

Marc Hanson – “When the Leaves Dance” – 24″ x 36″ – Oil


Deborah Tilby: “I have had a good relationship with galleries for many years but it became increasingly apparent that I needed to be putting some of my own effort towards marketing my paintings. The research I did suggested that entering reputable competitions would be a good way to widen the exposure to my work. I started entering competitions on a regular basis and have been fortunate to have done very well with them. I know that winning and placing in these contests certainly helps create more awareness but it is also my understanding that even entering  helps get the work in front of a wider audience.

“If you do choose to enter a  competition it is important to remember that it is only the opinion of one judge or a small jury, so be careful not to become too discouraged if a painting does not place nor too complacent if it does. I do feel that entering competitions (and international exhibitions)  has increased my audience immensely.”

Deborah Tilby – “Golden Glow” – 12″ x 16″ – Oil


 Here are some good reasons to enter juried art competitions:

1. Creates a healthy challenge.
2. Forced to critically assess work relative to the judging criteria and to the work of others.
3.  Work is evaluated and recognized by peers.
4.  Helps in evaluating artistic growth.
5.  Chance to win money and prizes.
6.  Incentive to continue artistic growth and to take on newer and greater challenges.
7.  Creates opportunities for gallery representation, invitation to other shows, art sales, exposure to new markets and new collectors, teaching and demonstration invitations, magazine features, and commissions.
8.  Association with respected organizations and with established, recognized artists.
9.  Builds resume and adds to your reputation and credibility among those in the art community.


Important considerations before submitting work to a juried competition:

1.  Weigh all expenses and time involved versus possible reward. Only you can decide whether reward outweighs cost.
2.  Consider reputation of the hosting organization. Choose those that have an established, well respected identity.
3.  Is the juror qualified? What style and quality of work does the juror produce, and is he/she a recognized professional in the art industry…making a living from the work they create or sell?
4.  Honestly assess whether your work fits the theme, character, and quality of the competition.


False assumptions:

1.  Being accepted into, or winning a juried competition, will open the door to greatness and unlimited opportunities.
2. The judge will only select work that is similar in style and subject to his/her own.
3.  The average art buyer is greatly impressed by awards and resume and will make a decision to purchase based on an impressive resume and awards won.


Practical advice:

1.  Accurately and honestly evaluate your work. Seek critiques from professionals who will be honest with you.
2.  Do not waste time or money entering national shows that you are not ready for.
3.  Build confidence and establish a reputation for quality work among local groups before launching out regionally and nationally.
4.  Consider on-line competitions while still applying all of the previously mentioned considerations.
5.  Be selective. Only submit your best work, professionally photographed…or its equivalent.
6.  The more prestigious the hosting organization, the more meaningful the award.
7.  Evaluation of art is not a scientific process. Personal taste will always play a part in a juror’s selections. Even though you’ve done your best…carefully evaluated and considered everything…success is not guaranteed. Keep your head up, try again.
8.  Resumes seem to be of little value outside the art community. If an art museum or prominent art collector is interested in acquiring one of your works, or if you’ve applied for membership in one of the important nationally recognized art organizations, they probably have value. For me, they do provide great material for those introducing me at local art club meetings.

Thanks to the artists that graciously contributed to this article. To view more or their works, click on links below:

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John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE


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