The XX Pros And Cons Of Art Competitions
Rep. Dean Phillips

Art competitions are everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, for sure there is at least a few around you. There are local, regional and even universal art competitions. Even if they differ in terms of artistic knowledge in order to apply, all of them have something in common.

Everybody applies with same goal (win), and all of them keep appearing newly over and over again. But, can art competitions be a complete waste of time? Honestly, it depends.

Are art competitions a waste of time ?

Consider the Benefits

If you are a student what is in it for you? A scholarship ? And if you are not a student? Perhaps international exposure? Like everything in life we must always consider both sides before taking any decision.

Art Competitions can bring a lot of benefits to emerging artists. An award from the National Portrait Gallery in London, for example, can bring exposure for an artist who lives in a remote place. An art competition that has as award a scholarship can provide someone the possibility to study that otherwise wouldn’t. Therefore, before jumping into art competitions for the sake of it, everybody must check what is in for them.

Are art competitions a pointless waste of time?

Actually can be. I know some artists who end up suspending their creativity because they only focus on produce artwork for shows and awards. The main problem here is the disappointment that comes if they don’t get the place. Have in mind that competitions have usually a thematic and rules in order to participate. Again, I advise every artist to do a list of pros and cons before deciding if they must participate in an art competition or not. Time is precious and no one wants to be burning it for the sake of it.

The pros

Learn and grow

Artists can obviously learn and grow from art competitions. New experiences even if bad ones always make us evolve and learn as human beings. In order to grow as professionals, we must know that only focus on work it won’t get us anywhere. When I speak here about learn and grow I mean it in the emotional sense. Artists need to learn how to deal with emotions, even if negative ones, and art competitions can be a great exercise that stimulates resilience.

Motivation

Some artists work better under the pressure of something. A commissioned artwork, an art fair, a gallery exhibition … you know, deadlines. To some artists, having a date to finish a project can actually boost their creativity in order to produce more and better artwork. Motivation is an important point in everyday life, and to some artists is the chase of something that boosts their dopamine ending up motivating them more.

Goals

Our goals aren’t static. As we grow we start having different goals. Perhaps because we achieved our inicial goal, and now we have a different one, or even because we realised that our previous goal wasn’t the right “direction” to be. Competing can be a good lesson about goals that obligates us to look deep inside our desires and life options.

Exposure

Artists know the importance of exhibiting their works. More than being an important opportunity for sale, the more that an artist exposes his works the more he/she will become known and respected in the art industry. Art competitions can provide artists with certain exposure not only locally but also internationally that otherwise wouldn’t.

Network

Competitions can give artists the opportunity to meet new artists, collectors, gallerists, patrons, advisors etc. In this business (as in any other actually) networking is one of the most important things. Who you know can have a huge impact in your career as an artist. Applying for an art competition can make artists do contacts that otherwise they wouldn’t even if they don’t win the competition. I saw artists who didn’t win certain competitions doing better in their careers than those who did. Only because the ones who didn’t win focused much more on networking and making new contacts. Who you know as an artist can be more important than anything else. Period.

Galleries & Patrons

As we spoke about network let’s now focus on Galleries and Patrons. Galleries are always trying to get fresh blood capable of impress (perhaps the next Picasso) and patrons are looking for pretty much the same. Getting out your work in art competitions can make your work arrive to the eyes of a big patron or gallery that otherwise would be impossible.

Self Confidence

Even if competitions can have a bad impact on ones self esteem, they can also have a really good one. Imagine an artist that got the opportunity to study art abroad under a scholarship thanks to a competition. Can you imagine the serotonin and dopamine boost? Competitions aren’t to everybody, therefore when an individual is able to win one is just the best feeling in the world.

Consistency

It is no new that sometimes artists have problems with consistency in their artworks. Moreover the more competitions that one applies the more he/she develops consistent work. Artists need to have a certain style that makes the viewer capable of identify him or her just by their artistic style. Consistency is only possible after a lot of practice and mistakes.

Creative Direction

Once art competitions have topics, that restriction can teach artists how to be creative inside that topic. The more different topics an artist tries the best he will do in the future. More practice will eventually result in a better creative direction.

Resilience

Well well well, resilience. If for some people the chase of an art competition can be a downside for others the chase and resilience capacity is what motivates them. The artistic field is not an easy one and everybody must be resilient here in order to survive.

The Cons

Wrong focus

Sometimes artists who are competing will only focus on shows and awards suspending their creative development. Such wrong focus can make artists doubt of themselves when in the end the only wrong thing here is the importance that they are giving to the competition. Some artists work better without any deadlines and making pressure with themes or dates will make them feel bad. You should/ must know yourself and know what it works better to you.

Unmotivation

Some artists will get discouraged if they don’t win the 1st place of a competition and that will make them unmotivated to produce more work. Therefore relying only on motivation is a bit unreliable. It’s quite common to see some artists thinking that if they get motivated suddenly they will become great artists.More established artists know that only motivation is not the way to go, and even if unmotivated they are able to spend days, weeks or even months producing work

“An amateur waits for inspiration to strike, a professional just gets to work”

Discouragement

For some artists, realising they have worked very hard and not gotten the prize can be discouraging. If you get discouraged easily maybe art competitions aren’t for you. Be aware that this can happen. A bit like motivation, discouragement is quite similar. If you want to be a great artist you need to develop a certain barrier that will make possible to you keeping producing work even after receiving 10000 no’s.

Self Worth

Well, probably everyone in a certain moment in life had doubts about their self worth. Life isn’t static and doesn’t always goes as planed. Therefore I see a lot of artists doubting of themselves for no reason. Be aware that applying for an art competition can have serious impact on your self-worth not just as an artist but also as an individual.

Depression

Is no new that some people are more prone to depression. Actually some people stop creating all together because they either didn’t get into a show or didn’t get an award. Of course that depression is a much more serious topic and losing a competition all alone won’t probably make anyone depressed. Therefore we must always count with the “last drop’, someone that is already depressed and applies for an art competition and doesn’t get it can more easily develop depression.

Top place or nothing

In competitions one person has to win the top award(s). It is “everything or nothing”. The way competitions can make artists feel pressured can be damaging. Everything or nothing can be hard to digest.

Jealousy

In a few painters “not winning” results in jealousy. Ok, that is totally understandable. Moreover the problem becomes when an individual can’t control this feeling all together and can actually become paranoid.

Stress & Waiting time

Art competitions have strict deadlines. 1st you have to apply according with their dates and then wait and wait and wait until the results are divulged. Sometimes this takes a few weeks, others can take months. During this waiting period some artists start developing stress and anxiety related to the competition. In this case, art competitions can be a big waste of your time with serious repercussions in your mental health.

Costs

Here we go again, money, money, money … Some art competitions can actually be free in order to participate, moreover others require a fixed fee, or a fee for every work sent. Even if this fees aren’t usually high I advise you to calculate them. Canvas, paint, pens, pencils, shipping, fees etc are all expenses that artists have in order to participate in art competitions. I advise artists to calculate it all upfront in order to don’t have bad surprises and don’t end up with a bigger expense on materials than the 1st prize can actually cover.

Judgements

If you are competing then of course you will be judge… not everybody deals well with negative comments. There are so many different art movements, mediums, and ways of working and even more diverse opinions about what is good art and what is bad art. One person will like an art work and the other person will dislike the same work. Art should not be about the number of votes you can win.

Conclusion:

  • Art Competitions can bring a lot of benefits to emerging artists
  • Art competitions can make artists meet important people that otherwise wouldn’t
  • Artists who work better under pressure usually do better at competitions
  • Competing can suspend artists’ creativity
  • Art competitions can be a waste of time
  • Art competitions can have a negative impact on artists’ self worth and motivation.

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