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…rejecting and being rejected.

Some people look upon art competitions with disdain. They consider them only as 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. 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.

REJECTED – “A Day in the Life of” – 50″ x 30″ – Oil

Dianne Massey Dunbar agrees: “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.”

Marc Hanson uses competition as a yearly barometer for his progress. “Nothing like seeing your work amidst the work of your peers, year in and year out, to see how you’re doing.”

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.

REJECTED – “The Bells of Innsbrook” – 50″ x 50″ – Oil

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…making a living from the work they create?
4.  Honestly assess whether your work fits the theme, character, and quality of the competition.

5. Be sure to read carefully the show guidelines and make sure you follow them exactly. Failure to do so will result in a REJECTION. (The two paintings shown here were rejected from the 2016 Oil Painters of America National Exhibition…held in my home state of Texas and 30 miles from where I live. I was shocked that both were rejected. Why? I overlooked the maximum size restriction of 1200 square inches, or 30 x 40 inches. I know how stupid feels…and I even paid money to feel stupid). Be sure to abide by show guidelines.

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 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.

What do YOU think?

Next week: An interview with Cherie Dawn Haas, Editor of Plein Air Today Newsletter.


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