I found myself painting cream this week in a demo as some major art competitions announced entry results. I also found myself and my art colleagues talking a lot publicly and privately about art competitions: who was the 'cream of the crop', who was in, who was out? Hot or not?
The grit of the art pitter-patter I heard was this:
*do politics come into play? (I take The Fifth on that one).
*are competitions fair?
*how did it ALL get so competitive?
*does an Old Boys' Club exist?
*why do judges miss genius?
*why don't the judges see that blue figurative painting has so many flaws?
*why are the same people getting into competitions and others not?
*what does it take to get into this "... "show, ( fill in the blank)?
* should I quit entering this particular competition?
*should I quit art completely?
The big art show "results" announced within a one week period across the USA this week were from The Portrait Society of America's International Portrait competition and The Oil Painters' of American National Show. There was also a flurry around the California Art Club Gold Medal 100th Anniversary Show opening this weekend, April 2nd, at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
My painting "Geek Chic", above, was picked for CAC Gold. However, I was turned down for about the 11th year in a row by another competition.
Thousand of artists apply for each and all of these shows. Many of us know each other somewhat. We are all "friends" on Facebook after all. Ha!
And thanks to Facebook, Blogword and Twitter there is a sharp public sting when we see our rejection obvious along with others' rejoicement. It can be hard.
It can also be hard to judge shows. I recently judged a show and one of the entrants was allowed in at the end of the judging, groan, immediately asking me if I had picked his entry. I hadn't. I knew the news hurt but I also knew I had a judging criteria from my own art perspective just like every judge has in other shows, big or small, national or local.
I don't have the answers to any of the above questions but I have learned entering competitions is VERY IMPORTANT and helps your career when things go well. They also tell you, with a winning entry, the level you are at. But they can't define us. We paint the way we paint because, like our handwriting, we can't change it. It is just what comes out of us, a need to express ourselves. Competitions, success of failure, mustn't mess with that.
I have also learned to expect NOTHING in terms of results.
I have also learned great things happen when you LEAST expect them.
I have also learned rejection hurts for a couple of hours no matter how hard you try to 'let it go' and acceptance puts you on top of the world for the same couple of hours.
Art competitions have been going on for centuries. Art is subjective. There isn't a formula for any of it and there probably is unfairness from time to time. Most of all, an art entry has to 'speak' to the judges amid a sea of entries. Who needs to see another David Leffel copyist?
My mentor told me a story I have never forgotten in one of his workshops: that he entered the same piece in a competition, rejected one year, and awarded a gold medal the next. He kept both letters on his mantelpiece, reject and accept, to remind him of the randomness of it all. What he did with the gold medal, well, I hope he hung it from a high beam so it caught the light.
I have learned to savor the good art competition moments, like dropping my painting off at CAC Gold yesterday. It felt good to sign in right under Mian Situ's name! It might be a long while before I sign under him again.
I am learning to be selective with my entry money. If a competition continues to return no results after years of trying, it is perhaps best to move on and spend your entry fee elsewhere. After all, these entry fees add up and no-one wants to be always an art bridesmaid at the same competition reception for years and years.
I am learning not to compare myself with other artists. Chose my own path and and keep on it. If Prince Charming is visiting another artist that day, giving her or him the winning glass slipper, be happy for that artist.
Thanks to life guru of many, Seth Godin, this week for his mostly timely piece The Tryanny of Being Picked:
IN THE END, let go of competition. If one is able to keep working hard daily at one's craft in a passionate way for a lifetime, putting it out there selectively, surely that is the prize? The rest cream on the cake.
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