The Problem with Art Competitions

So I was going to enter a competition for a Self-Portrait contest with a well known Art Supplier that had a $2000 competition winning and now I’m glad I didn’t follow through. Although it didn’t have a fee attached to the submission, the contest was open to anyone within the U.S. That means from amateurs to serious emerging artists beginning their career to the most esteemed professional artist. Now guess which one wins this one? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a professional realist artist will win over someone who is an amateur or even an emerging artist.

I do follow a lot of artists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (to follow me see navigation menu above) and saw the vying for ‘votes’ on each of their submissions. I noticed one artist in particular that I know for a fact already is well established and obtains commissions up to $80,000 each.  Now, what would an artist that already gets that kind of notoriety would want to enter a contest that only has a $2000 grand prize?  I’m sure this artist already paints on the finest Kolinsky sable brushes while others can only afford hog bristle. To me, this amounts to stealing from emerging artists who really could use this money to advance their careers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I truly admire the skill of well-established artists and in defense, the competition was open to all. This is where the problem lies. This competition should be divided into four categories; student, emerging, mid-career, and professional. The prize levels could be distributed according to the category. The prizes could even reflect what is more valued to each individual category as well. The student would probably benefit from art supplies, the emerging artist with promotion and PR articles in a well-established art magazine, the mid-career artist with Art Marketing Consultants to further advance their career and the professional artist a gallery representation. All could benefit from the money of course, but when there is an all-or-nothing competition, the professional who is already established will always win.

Then we have the competitions from well-known agencies, shows, and magazines offering cash awards for your entry; all for a fee to be paid upfront by the artist. Some of these fees get very steep the more images you upload for review. I used to enter these but now feel this is just a form of gambling, hoping for a response or win after you paid the price. Although they all say it is good for an award to appear on your CV, all I say is that you are out of the money and the already affluent magazines are richer. Not to mention, again, the ones who win are the artists who are already established or paint in a super-hyperrealistic style.

The decks are stacked no matter what and for those like me, who are trying to make a career sometimes it feels like I’m paddling upstream in a torrential storm. I’ve made it into competitions before and I have received recognition in past shows and so I’ll continue looking and possibly submitting where appropriate. Sometimes it’s best to stay local within your community and start from there and then reach out to a larger audience. Or maybe just be satisfied with your own art and save your money for art supplies. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.