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Should I Enter Art Competitions and Shows?

by Carolyn Henderson on 7/19/2011 11:15:28 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her  freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.


Let's start on the right foot by eliminating the word "should" from our vocabulary.


Nasty word, "should."


Generally, it's used by others, either directly or indirectly, to impose their will or agenda on someone who isn't in line with the program.


My favorite example of this is the finger waggling children's ditty: "Everybody ought to (read 'should') go to Sunday School . . ," but there are plenty of other examples:


"Even if you are unemployed, you should put away 25% of your net income every month to a retirement savings account. Groceries are not as important as you think."


"You should read to your child 45 minutes a day, beginning prior to conception. They should be able to read by themselves at age 4."


"You should eat edamame for breakfast and lunch. Top it with a tasty coating of powdered fermented kelp."


Some shoulds are not necessarily bad advice. But even good advice isn't always applicable to your situation.


"You should enter art shows. This is the best and only way to further your career as an artist."


Or, conversely,


"You shouldn't bother with entering art shows. This traditional route is outdated and a waste of money."


What is it about us as humans that we classify and categorize complex situations into one-sentence, one-size-fits-all dictums?


Can we move toward freeing ourselves from this self-imposed tyranny?


Let's start.


First of all, the options we have before us number greater than two, that is, we are not limited to the choice of entering hundreds of shows per year or none at all. We can enter as many competitions – local, regional, statewide, national, international – that 1) we can afford and 2) we feel like we have a good opportunity at getting into because the quality of our work matches the quality demanded by the show, and the type of work we do is in line with the body of the show.


The first year we seriously marketed the Norwegian Artist's work, we spent more than $800 entering shows. Dollar-wise, that sounds like a lot, but believe me, at $15 to $80 entry fee per show, it’s like buying chocolate by the pound at the seashore: it doesn’t take long to rack up a bill.


But there’s a limit to how much fine chocolate fits into the budget, and every year, we review the choices and determine what is worth the fee and what isn’t, always remembering that, just because we write out the check for the jurying process doesn’t mean that we will be juried in.


Oh, and while we’re on the topic of not being juried in, please remember that a rejection notice is not the same thing as a painting not being good enough to qualify for the show. Depending upon the jurying panel, which sometimes consists of one person, a painting can be rejected for many reasons that have nothing to do with ability and skill.


This last statement is easily confirmed by reviewing the catalog of the show, if it is big enough to support one, or simply attending the show, if it is smaller and more local. Across the spectrum, indifferent or even bad art gets into these events, and it’s your guess as much as mine as to how it gets there. I imagine it follows the same path as the business world, where incompetent people are promoted as managers over better workers, or the education establishment, where instructors of less than stellar teaching abilities are advanced to administrative posts.


If the quality control level is too scruffy, I give the show a pass, but if the overall synopsis is high, it’s worth a shot.


Next week: So Do I Shoot, Or Not?

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Backstory: About Clint. Email EditorTwitter. Republish. ]

Related Posts:

How to Screw Up Your Art Show

Rejection Does Hurt

Art Fairs: Another Scam or the Best Way to Market Your Work?

Home Show Previews

Entering Competitions

Be Ready for Unexpected Opportunities

Topics: Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews 

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mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I am glad to know you are taking this subject on. A lot of us are standing at the threshold, afraid of more costly rejections, unable to decide whether or not it's worth taking the chance.

Tuva Stephens
Art shows are not for every artist, but I personally love the competitions. I started out a few years ago competing locally, regionally, statewide and now nationally. I can certainly see and know the benefits of competitions.

Sharon Weaver
A colleague of mine recently announced that she isn't entering anymore art competitions. She feels that it is just another way to milk the hordes of want-to-be artists. Making money seems a big motivation for many shows but I think there are some which are still worth the effort and financial outlay. The chances for sales is marginal so don't enter thinking you will sell your painting. As with everything pick and choose wisely.

Tuva Stephens
It is important to keep in mind your skill level when entering art shows. In the sea of artists out there you have to figure out how to get your work seen. Competitions have allowed me to meet many wonderful artists across the state and the nation. I do not embrace having someone take 50 percent through galleries especially since I live in rural Tennessee. It is challenging to paint to capture the juror's eye. Entering shows has been a confidence builder for me.

Carolyn Henderson
Mimi, Tuva: As you say, Mimi, it's costly; but as you observe, Tuva, the benefits -- especially to one's resume -- can be worth it.

Like Tuva, we started out on a local and regional level, where we were able to observe closely the process and determine how well run and worthwhile the shows were. Some were good; some weren't.

We took what we learned to move on to the next level, and even though we weren't able to be on site to observe, we knew enough to look at the little things -- how the brochures/catalogs turned out; what kind of artwork made it in; how the paintings were re-packed and sent to us -- to make judgments on the quality and worthiness of those particular shows.

Everything's a risk. You look at the situation, study it, make a determination, and if you plunge forward, you do so knowing that you did the best you could beforehand to scope out the situation.

Sharon: You encapsulated it perfectly.

"Might Consider...." is the term I use. As for competitions, it all depends on the juror(s) their qualifications and affiliations. I tend to submit to what is going to be relevant for my strategy.

Tuva Stephens
You might consider what show or shows you would like to enter by the caliber of the juror/jurors. Visit their exhibitions. When you can observe your work is as good if not better that the award winners, you are ready for competitions. As to selling I have been fortunate to sell several paintings in smaller local and regional shows.

To compete in the national show you have to have a "unique view,focus, or subject,images that are clear and sharp with high contrast." Elaine Daily-Birnbaum AWS, DF She recently remarked about being one of several jurors of the 2011 American Watercolor Society. There were 1108 artists entries! It was an interesting process in which to select the top 110 works.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Thanks, Tuva
By the caliber of a juror, do you mean their ability as an artist, or their reputation as a judge?
there's no way I would enter a show with 1:10 odds for even entering! On the other hand, come spring I am leaving my desk job forever. I will then have more time (and less money) to find shows that I might feel worthy to enter.

Carolyn Henderson
Terri: Exactly! Within our individual marketing strategies, we look closely for what fits us, and what moves us forward.

Mimi: I do both.

Tuva Stephens
Yes, Mimi and Carolyn I do consider both the ability of the artist and their noted reputation as a juror.

Recently in a regional show the juror was a gallery owner and not even an artist. I failed to check that one out. Several well-respected and skilled artists did not even get accepted into the exhibition. I did get my work accepted. Several artist discussed how he selected work would sell well. I do not understand how you could juror work and not even be a practicing artist!

Margie Guyot
After spending quite a lot of money entering big, national shows over the years, I've called a halt. Wish entry fees ($50 and more), and sometimes a requirement to join the organization ($60 or more), then (if you get in!) the shipping costs, and sometimes an uncrating fee ($100 and up). If your painting sells, some galleries take 50 percent. Then the art organization sometimes takes an additional 10 percent. Not a lot left for us poor artists! And heck, sales have generally been down this past year or so. Entering the big, national shows with the hope of getting gallery representation -- hah! Good luck, buddy! No, I'm scaling back, entering local shows and working on doing my very best work for local galleries.

George De Chiara
I'm taking a similar approach Margie. The cost from some of these shows has become too expensive. One show I've entered for the last few years has raised the entry fee by $5-$10 a year and it still has the same amount of prize money. I don't mind a show making money since I know that's how a lot of associations make the money they need to get through the year, but I need to draw the line somewhere. A show that cost $25 to enter 3 years ago is now $40 or more. Yikes!

Brian Sherwin
Obviously you have to be careful with entry fees -- and do the research needed in order to find out if the competition is worth your time. If the competition is organized well it might be worth a shot.

I know artists sometimes get frustrated with competition fees... but honestly, for the price of a pack of cigarettes and a six pack you can enter most competitions. I suppose it depends on how you want to use your money.

I mean.... the average adult spends hundreds per year on coffee. Everything can rack up over time.

Brian Sherwin
Margie -- In defense of galleries I will say that most artists don't realize how much the gallery owners use money from their own pocket just to keep the gallery doors open.

Galleries in larger cities can easily spend between $8,000 and $20,000 per month just to operate if rent is involved. Even galleries in smaller communities can struggle to remain open.

Most galleries are technically a small business -- and with recent changes regarding how staff is to be paid and the benefits that have to be offered we will likely see commissions rise... especially if President Obama has his way. Just saying.

I think we sometimes forget that most galleries are a small business... so if small business is hit by politicians you can expect that exhibiting artists will get pinched in the end.

Brian Sherwin
Off topic -- but if I had my way galleries would benefit from a cultural initiative that offers tax breaks and other forms of help for all art galleries. There would be a catch though -- the galleries in the program would have to have a monthly exhibit featuring an artist from outside of the gallery -- artists who don't have gallery representation would be the focus of those exhibits. In other words, if the gallery owner wants a break he or she has to give more artists a chance.

Katarzyna Lappin
In my case the art competitions paid off, however I am starting limiting amount of shows to enter my works.

Last year I was able to win cash prizes in three different competitions and this covered all other art show entries which did not bring monetary benefits. Each show teaches something new and down the road I learned which shows I can skip and which of them to continue to enter.

The local shows are more beneficial for me and more practical. I get more buyers out of those local events.

If I get into a big nation wide show it's more for the excitement and building my resume. I am not expecting sales from those.

Rejection and money loss hurts when it happens but it's always a thrill getting in. The money spent for shows is like an advertisement expense. It doesn't guarantee a sale but it does expose the artwork to the public.

I think that entering the art shows is one of the good ways of self promotion.

Tuva Stephens
Margie and George,

You are so right! It is expensive to enter those National Shows/Watercolor Societies.

I pick and choose and have gotten gained acceptance and awards from several national competitions. As long as I feel motivated, I will continue. As long as I can enjoy the ride of competition,I am willing to try.

I am enjoying working with several national/international artists. Their critiques are valuable in helping me grow as an artist. Although I taught high school art for 34 years, I am beginning to pick and choose presenting workshops for special art groups.

Tuva Stephens
I know for a fact there is research being done regarding marketing art (What's Working) during this tough economy.

Many galleries have closed in West Tn. People do attend exhibitions to purchase art because usually the commission to the art group is 10-30 percent.

Carol Schmauder
Thanks for the article, Carolyn. I have only taken part in local shows and hope to one day be qualified to enter an national show.

KJ Todd
Definitely, we need to enter art shows! Wouldn't it be selfish to create a painting and put it in a closet? Get your art out there and share. I think art students should be required to participate in an art show before an art degree is is an amazing amount of work to do and it teaches you so much! Artist to artist is nice...but witnessing when a non-artist finds themself in your art, relates to and finds joy in your vision, there is nothing like it! My day job limits me, but being in an art show makes me feel like I have a life, doing what I love!

Jana Botkin
First thought in relation to the first sentence of the post - I saw a tee shirt that said "Don't Should On Me". 8-)

About juried/judged shows - I used to enter a semi-local one that had great monetary prizes. But, it involved the fees and three 200-mile round trip drives. To top it off, despite always being accepted and always placing, NOTHING SOLD! That was before the economy went south.

None of my customers have ever heard of the shows, and while we artists impress one another with these events, it is the customers' opinions that really matter to me.

After making a blanket decision that I am finished with shows, I entered The Richeson 75. Silly me, thought it would bring me publicity or sales! it's not over yet, and more will be revealed, but I believe my efforts are best spent making art for my local and loyal customers.

Jo Allebach
I have limited entries into competitions. I have entered a local show and for 4 years in a row I was rejected for the show but sold the paintings. The first time I did not get in I felt bad but now I just hope for the call to come that says I do not have to come pick up my paintings because they are sold.
However, I really need to get out there and submit to some more shows.

George De Chiara
"None of my customers have ever heard of the shows, and while we artists impress one another with these events, it is the customers' opinions that really matter to me."
You are right on with this statement Jana! If I go to a shows reception the only people there are the artists who got in and those who didn't seeing what did get in, I'm not going to waste my time and money entering that show again. I think it was Clint who said something to the effect of which would you rather have on your resume, the shows you hung in or the collections (i.e. -sold works) your work hangs in. If the public is not at the show you get the first one every time.

Jana Botkin
Thanks, George! After visiting your website, I am guessing you are a fellow member of the "Jack White Fan Club" - hope you sell like crazy on eBay! I just bid on Lost Buttons - speaks to me with its color and its sentiment.

My husband and I have had good luck with local and regional juried shows, both in terms of awards and sales, and we can hand deliver and pick up the work so shipping hasn't been a problem. I'd like to enter something at a national level, but I haven't yet because of the shipping thing.

Brian: "Most galleries are technically a small business -- and with recent changes regarding how staff is to be paid and the benefits that have to be offered we will likely see commissions rise... especially if President Obama has his way. Just saying.
I think we sometimes forget that most galleries are a small business... so if small business is hit by politicians you can expect that exhibiting artists will get pinched in the end."

And if Eric Cantor gets *his* way, the same is true, only in a much more catastrophic way. No one will be buying much of anything, much less luxury items such as art. Well, except for the recipients of GOP largesse.

Debra LePage
It's a good day to be catching up with these posts and hearing about other's experiences. Shows/Competitions seem to get my adrenaline going (especially if there is a theme) and the deadlines help work get finished, photographed etc. It's nice to win an award though I also have yet to see many sales of anyone's work-even in national shows. Mostly, artists and their families are in attendance at openings but it does make for a good social experience since most of us work in isolation. Whenever possible, I try to see the AWS traveling shows or other national shows when they are located close by. It's a great learning tool, not to mention enjoyable. I have not experienced shipping work and can imagine that is a bit stressful. Thanks, Carolyn-Once again, an engaging article!

Donna Robillard
It's been interesting reading everyone's comments. For myself, I only enter 2-4 competitions per year - it's just a personal challenge. I've place a few times and have won a little bit of a monetary prize. I entered one earlier this year that I had been accepted into 3-4 before, but did not get accepted this year. However in the end, it was a good deal because I got accepted into a new one - another thing I can put on my resume!!!

Tuva Stephens
You mentioned about the lack of sales at national level. The Watercolor Society of Alabama had about 6 paintings sell in their 70th National exhibition. It was my first time to enter and was fortunate to win one of 24 awards from the 110 works exhibited in this grand exhibition in Tuscumbia, Ala.

I also try to attend the Traveling Exhibition of the AWS as it comes to Tullahoma, Tn. each year. It is amazing to see the selections.

Tuva Stephens
To save on the expense of shipping work I network with a couple of other artists in the area who enter the same national and regional shows. We take turns delivering and picking up work within 3-4 hours away.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Such a timely article for me. I have read other articles that discuss this ... what is the reason for entering the show. Local, so you can meet your other local artists and possibly start learning the ins and outs of entering shows. Regional, a step up in quality of art hopefully and some of the same reasons. Of course, we want to challenge ourselves to paint better and these competitions can do that.

Now National and International shows ... that is where the most problems are. We have the entry fee ($40 and up), and if accepted we have the shipping cost (could be $50 or more) and and the shipping agent fee (about $40 - 80), and the return shipping cost (another $50 or more). Oh, forgot, we have the purchase of an Airfloat Box or something similar ($80 - 125). Now we are talking major amount of money.

There are some good reasons to apply to these shows ... building your resume is the top one, of course. But, at what point do we say enough? Or as commented above, be selective and choose wisely. When we get to this point, research is essential into who is the judge, who are the people coming to the reception and show (the demographics of the location / region), and are there sales. And, also as mentioned, sales are so slow now ... and most attendees are the artists and their families.

Okay, I know I just restated everything already mentioned, but it is helping me to come to grips with what I need to do ... be selective and don't completely give up the competitions just yet. I have already made the decision that money is tight, and the entry fees need to make sense ... which shows are best for me now. And maybe at some point, personal / gallery sales will be better and I will decide they are more important than the planning that goes into entering competition shows.

Sorry for the ramble, but wanted to put in my thoughts ... and thank you everyone else for yours!

Tuva Stephens
Great summary. Are the shows hindering or helping the way you feel about your art? I will add that local, and regional show award money can help pay for expenses as you branch to national.

You ask about when do you stop the competitions.

Acceptance and awards led to increased confidence for more growth. Growth is a key for me as I have my work juried by important artists. By entering competitions you are exposed to the many styles and artists out there.

For me art competitions are like a sport. If you compete with the more skilled team, it just may make you a better player. You have to step up your game with each and every entry.

BTW I am branching out SLOWLY not entering every national competition I can. (Although I taught high school art for 34 years, I have only been competing on the national level for 2 years.) It is still exciting so I will continue until...

Marsha Hamby Savage
Thanks Tuva, to answer your question ... yes shows do help me feel better about my art ... not meaning I don't feel good anyway most of the time. Just knowing someone (an important artist or judge) saw something worth showing others makes me feel good. And, knowing other viewers that I would not have reached, that also makes me feel good. That's what we do, other than pleasing ourselves.

I am also very competitive and love that aspect. My issue stems only from the costs involved and this slower economy. Planning where the limited amount of money goes, that is key at this time. Also, the logistics of keeping up with what is going where and has been promised to a "potential" competition. Believe me, I am organized and have no problem, but sometimes it irks me that I can't show a painting that has been entered into a competition (something new comes up, etc.).

I have won money and art supplies, and at very opportune times! Yes!! I have a friend that says, when it is empty, if you believe it will get filled up. And, that has happened.

I definitely won't stop competing totally -- just getting a little more selective. Thanks so much for your comments.

Tuva Stephens
We are on the same wavelength when it comes to entering competitions. You have to be organized and it is difficult knowing what to enter in which shows. You almost have to create game plan, doesn't it?

Brian Sherwin
Kim -- I don't want to turn this into a political debate... I just posted an article on FAV that is better suited for that and you are more than welcome to take part. However, in response to your comment the way I see it is that both the Republicans and the Democrats have hurt the economy. However, the fact remains that President Obama made several promises to the art community that he has not lived up to. I don't think he is the Champion of Art that so many thought he would be.

As for small business... like it or not the more burden you put on small business the more doors of small business you will see closing. Your average small business scrapes by -- the same can be said of art galleries that earn enough to remain open. Not every gallery has the financial backing that say Gagosian Gallery has -- most art galleries are more of a mom and pop type venture.

Sure, we all want to see employees make more money and have more access to benefits -- but sometimes it is just not realistic depending on the size of the business. When you force small business to benefit employees in the same way that a larger company offers benefits... well... you greatly hamper the ability of the small business to stay open. Period.

End result -- those jobs are lost. The taxes the town/city receives from the business operating ends up lost. The economy becomes worse as people who had jobs scramble to try and find employment elsewhere in an economy that is low on jobs right now -- and towns and cities scramble to make up for the revenue they once had from those small businesses being open.

I'm originally from a very, very small town -- so I know what happens when small business dries up because of the burden placed on them from government regulations concerning employment status. There is a reason why the majority of farmers in my home area are now part of a corporate alliance -- and trust me, that did not increase jobs... and I personally know farmers who have lost their farms because of employment regulations and not earning enough in the first place to meet those demands.

Small galleries face some of the same challenges when the government steps in. Killing business... killing jobs... -- no matter if the intentions are good-- does nothing to help the economy overall.

Brian Sherwin
I have to agree with everyone that has mentioned going after regional success. In my opinion that is what all artists should be doing in the first place. Sure, it is a great if you win a competition a few states away -- but in the long-run it also helps to be a known artist in your home area.

It just makes sense to go after regional opportunities -- most of us have a better chance of attracting local media and so on compared to opportunities elsewhere. Not to mention that if you do become a national success having built up regional success will always give you something to fall back on when and if the well runs dry.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Brian, so right! Have always been a big proponent of showing work locally and regionally and making the impact there before going on to national and such. We just are coming back to focus on this, in this economy. Thanks.

Casey Craig
I hope each artist will seriously evaluate what they want to achieve when entering shows and competitions. I would caution that if it is just a line on a resume, it is probably not worth it.

I went through a period where I entered a lot of shows. Started locally, then regionally then nationally with my resume in mind. Spent a lot of money, won a few awards, only won money once, and never made a sale from these venues. Others here have had better results, but of all of the galleries I've dealt with none of them have asked to see my resume.

It is your work, not your resume that will bring you collectors and/or representation, so proceed with caution and good luck!

Tuva Stephens
I agree it is the work that bring collectors. It is also nice to test the waters to see how good you think you are if only for a few years.

So many art educators have done well to pursue art competitions and now earn a living doing workshops because of the their status. Professional art is now my status after being an art educator. It is nice not to worry about sales and "just do my thing." Although I do commissions upon request, I do not seek them.

Thanks for the warning from your own personal experience. It is nice that every artist can find a way to satisfy their own aspirations in different ways. As for galleries it is much cheaper and more economical for people to wise up and know they can purchase art work in other ways...and save money. Artists have to work every angle they can to find their own way.
Good luck to you also Casey!

Marsha Hamby Savage
Casey, I so agree. A previous gallery said to me it did not matter how many awards I had won. It is really something we do more for ourselves and maybe a little on the resume. But you are right, the work must speak to a viewer... that is what matters. And, that is why the re-evaulation at this stage of my career ... what shows are worthy of entering and why do I want to do so?

That is the million dollar question for each of us ... what are we looking to get out of these competitions. Different stages of a career, there are different opportunities.

Margie Guyot
Casey -- You are so right! We need to stop and ask ourselves what our goals are. Do we want recognition -- or do we want sales?

Everybody's got their hand out, trying to make money off us poor artists!

Better to focus on local venues, where we can easily drive (and keep an eye on galleries) -- and do our very best work.

Brian, I do understand what you were saying, my point was that there is the potential for political fallout on the economy, art included, from every front, not just one side of the aisle.

Brian Sherwin
Kim -- That I will agree with. :)

Esther J. Williams
Carolyn, I think it is a natural process for an artist to want to enter art shows if they feel their work is worthy of such an exhibit. We want to be successful. I was seriously pursuing a lot of art competitions for awhile. I started with some national ones, did`t get in, then read an article to start local, then regional, then national. Duh, why didn`t I think of that? It has been a ten year road and I learned so much by experience. We learn and grow by all the influences we meet in the art world and competitions thrust us head on into that pressure. Like you say, we do not live in a vacuum.
I feel entering art competitions is a growth process for an artist to learn what is trending, if their art is ready, gaining exposure, possible awards and meeting new people and places. Always learning and that is what makes an artist better. Always in the forefront of the artist`s mind is the sales potential and recognition. I think it is a societal game for many and for me, factoring out the worthiness of what strange things people do in the name of the art society, weighs heavily in my decision to enter shows anymore. There are a lot of nutty people in the artworld.
Success to an artist can arrive in many ways. I meet lots of people in my pursuit of the next collector of my art, I found many of them outside of art exhibitions. But I tell those people in conversation that I have been in many juried shows and won awards. It impresses them and explains the price of my art to those who want original art for fifty dollars. I still will enter the juried shows, for the reason that art collectors on a certain upper level expect to see a resume and awards. Also, I am getting into the higher quality shows more as my art skills clearly have developed. So, I climb the stairs through the years and never give up.
Oh, I tell my husband all the time, you need to stop saying should have or could have or would have. The power to act is in the now, our choices are now, time to change is now. We can`t cry over spilled milk, dare to dream and cry the blues because we didn`t grab an opportunity. But to have faith in ourselves and the knowing of our potential is enough to try our hand at anything in life in the present.

April Cook
I like your reminder that a rejection notice does not mean that your art isn't good enough for the show. It can be hard to get turned down when you have worked so hard. Does applying, even if you are rejected, increase your visibility and chances of getting in next year? Thanks for sharing this information!

Carolyn Henderson
In a show that is run with integrity, April, applying from one year to the next shouldn't be a plus factor, because the entries should be juried without the names of the artists evident -- this prevents nepotism and favoritism, two issues that a show does NOT want to be known for!

Carolyn Henderson
In a show that is run with integrity, April, applying from one year to the next shouldn't be a plus factor, because the entries should be juried without the names of the artists evident -- this prevents nepotism and favoritism, two issues that a show does NOT want to be known for!


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