Making Art

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Entering Art Competitions – is it worth the effort?

Should you put your art and your ego on the line and enter competitions? I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about art competitions. I’m not the most competitive person and the idea of entering a completion where my work will be put up against others and judged possibly by judges whose work I don’t even admire can seem a bit dodgy. I mean an ego blow for no good reason? What am I a masochist?.

In her blog “Not all those who wander are lost” artist and fabric dyeing/re-using guru India Flint [of my home state SA, woo hoo! go the desert!!] said recently of competitions:

‘……..when i realised that the Aichi event was a competition 

my work is about paying attention,  
not about winning races.
i want to find the quiet space inside
invest in wordlessness and mindfulness 
listen to inner stillness and to stories

lining up to be judged doesn’t make a deal of sense to me.
so i took the hook out of my mouth, let that one go
and went back to my stitching’

You cn buy India Flint’s excellent book ‘Second Skin’ at

I do really understand her feelings on this because for many artists, their art making is about an internal dialogue expressed physically. And one of the things about art is that there is no actual measure of what is good…… it’s only good to you or not.  I do not like the same work as everyone else. I do not do the same work as any one else. I follow my own inner art schtick. Some people really like my work and others don’t. If you are going to think your work is not good because it doesn’t win or get to the finals, it’s better not to enter. Also you might be taking the status of ‘judge’ way too seriously… it’s just a person judging, another artist, or a gallery owner or someone who has donated a prize. [Of course yes, I am just saying this because I just didn’t get selected in a big drawing competition:)]

There are so many artists whose work was ignored until they were dead or ancient. So many artists whose work many people now love, that when they first started doing it were very ill thought of. Vincent van Gogh, Lucien Freud,  Jackson Pollock. [Not to mention all the endless women artists who noodled away totally unknown, until they got ‘discovered’ a 100 years later – I will do a post about that another time.] You really do just have to keep doing what you belive is good art. And so many artists who are really popular and you look at their work and you think: meh….wallpaper. You just don’t get what it’s about. But again, doesn’t mean it’s not good, just not good to you. And generally when you go to the finalists exhibition of a competition there will be lots of really good work, and a few you don’t think much of.

I had a boyfriend who was an architect and quite regularly he and other architect buddies would enter architecture competitions, This is from the time they were first qualified until now when they are successful senior architects.The work they put in! Hours, days, months! I am not exaggerating. I would say at a minimum it would be 3 people doing 40 hours plus.  And we are talking about them doing their best work here. What really pisses me off about this, is that the competition holder, gets 50+ amazing entries meeting their brief, supplied for nothing other than their advertising costs , and the cost of putting a brief together. Do I get to ask for 50 free meals before I choose which restaurant I will have my party at?. I know these architects choose to enter but unfortunately in Australia, this has become one of the key ways in which they will be awarded work. And if you know as many architects as I do you would know the truly criminal thing is that even if you win, [ you might get about $5000 to divide between the 3 or 5 of you], chances are you will do a lot more work on it, for which you will not be paid. One small firm I know won a huge redevelopment project in Sydney, then worked on it for months and ended up having to take the city to court to get paid, because the city had gone cold on the whole idea. This is not uncommon.

Another larger landscape architecture firm I know won a  very big competition [I helped them on their multimedia presentation], to develop a  whole suburb, project goes cold with the change of state government, they have to win it again when the competition is re-run….!  and I think it’s still not completely going ahead. The work they put in would be in the  1000s of  hours. And every time the competition holder gets to cherry pick the best ideas from all the projects with very little cost to themselves and quite often they will then give the work to very cheap firms. Highway robbery. But wait! this isn’t an architecture blog! this is about Art competitions…..[although I do feel good for having got that off my chest].

I think some of the same applies to art competitions. You announce a competition/prize, you charge each artist a fee to enter [WTF?] because you know most of us artists have heaps of extra money and it’s not like we have to buy our own supplies or anything.. but wait! we do!… TA DA! and bobs your uncle they’ve got themselves a free exhibition.

Sure you might win, its true and no one’s twisting your arm, but it is worth mentioning that they aren’t doing you a favour when you enter a competition… you are doing them a favour. Again they get to pick through and find the best work with little cost to themselves.. I mean they are not doing a public service here.

So I’m against entering competitions right? Well not totally. You can get something out of it.

  1. You might get a piece of work in a good show.
  2. It might be a good trigger to get you making art or  making art in a more focused way, because sometimes we get stuck in a kind of ‘practising’ phase where we never finish anything or push though ‘averageness’.
  3. If you enter a competition which requires you to work in an unusual way for you , you might get a new way of working. Entering a miniatures competition for example, when you usually work large.
  4. And maybe most importantly, you are putting it out there, getting the blood pumping, pushing through the fear.

So am I going to enter another art competition soon? Well maybe. Even though I didnt’t get into the final show for the completion I entered I really like the piece I made. I don’t usually draw as a final piece, I usually draw as part of the planning process, [like sketching something before I sculpt it] or I will sometimes draw for relaxation. I feel like maybe it’s a little door into a new way of working. And this makes me realise one of the reasons I probably didn’t get selected for the exhibition: my drawing wasn’t entirely successful. I mean if you don’t normally work with a medium and you suddenly commit to a large piece of work by a certain date,  there’s a large change it will be flawed. You haven’t been working that way. I usually make a lot of work then select the best pieces to show. Not just chance it all on one piece. And maybe there’s a clue here into the best way to enter competition.

  1. Either go in with a ‘love the challenge’ attitude, to see what comes our of it.
  2. Or enter competitions that work easily with how you normally work. Most competitions require that the work be made in the last year [or sometimes two]. Choose competitions that tie in with how you already work. For example: I could enter the prestigious well know small sculpture competition held in Sydney every year, or the new miniatures competition run up the road in a local gallery without any drama.  You don’t have to twist yourself out of shape to enter competitions.
  3. Personally I would avoid entering competitions that charge a large fee or  have a ridiculous list of  restrictive rules you must comply with. Stick to those with more open themes and low fees.

And finally for your amusement, the piece I entered in the competition.

Above: ‘Furoshiki Stowaways’. It’s about 2 meters long, on paper sewn onto canvas. Ink, conte, pencil and gouache. 

Above : a detail from the work.

2 comments on “Entering Art Competitions – is it worth the effort?

  1. Anna Cull
    November 23, 2012

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort too. I’ve just started entering art/design competitions but I’m doing it on my own terms (e.g. I won’t enter if there’s a fee – just on principle). I do enjoy the challenge and, if nothing else, I’m creating content for my portfolio/blog. Winning is the bonus, not the motivation – although that might change if I win one ; )

    And for what it’s worth, I really like your stowaways. Nice colours and light : )

    • makingartme
      November 23, 2012

      Thanks Anna Cull. Yes I think its a good way to build up a folio… you tend to work at a higher level than if you were just noodlimg along. Good luck with it.

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2012 by in Drawing, Rants and tagged , .
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