Art Competitions : behind the scenes of an entry
Australia has many competitive art competitions,I believe around 500. Some have specific entry requirements regarding location, gender, size or subject others are more open. There are landscape, portrait and regional prizes, some just for women others for emerging artists or young artists.
I having been entering a few each year for a while now. There is usually a very decent monetary prize, and if you are selected for the finalist exhibition your work will be seen in a prestigious gallery or online with the added benefit that it might be sold. There is also prestige and recognition which are less tangible but just as important. By being chosen you feel that not just your work has been assessed as worthy but have been too.
It takes time and effort to enter competitions. You must have an appropriate piece of work completed. You need to photograph it (well). The entry form requires an artist’s statement, bio, CV, and your entry fee. All must be professionally written, presented and fit any criteria.
Despite having major sponsors, competitions have entry fees. You can pay $60 to enter just one piece, and you may not even make it into the exhibition. A recent call for entries attracted a $50 fee per entry ( up to 10 could be entered, not many artists have $500 lying around. The entry fee is always a stumbling block for me.
Statements are about your entry must be aware, educated, and theoretical. I have read some artist statements so dense that they have seem indecipherable codes. Most artists have a personal attachment to their work, and it can be tricky to write about a piece objectively and with precise insight. If the competition has a theme, you must massage your ideas to address the theme, effectively post-rationalising a work to slot into a prescribed framework.
Statements usually have a word limit. I entered one recently thinking it was a 100-word statement only to discover it was a 100-character statement. The next one I entered had a 400 word limit and I would struggle mightily to write 400 words say about myself or my work.
My statements have improved partly due to entering competitions. I have recently co opted my daughter to helps me out. She is used to writing reflections at school and now uni and elevates my thoughts into an academic form. Statements have always been an Achilles heel for me. I came from a design background and rarely had anything clever to say about meaning or motivation. I have always felt self-conscious about writing about my work with a deep and authoritative text. I have improved over time but find the heavily vocab-dense descriptions attached to student work deliberately baffling. I often wonder if the words are more important than the image or good technique .Enjoying a work for its aesthetic quality seems to have gotten lost under mounds of word salad. I sometimes wonder if all those weighty tomes are designed as the emperor's new clothes. If it has academically elevated prose attached perhaps the viewer won't notice it is ugly, poorly conceived or with shoddy execution.
Once you have all the requirements assembled you send your entry off and then you wait. Quite often you don't get the " Piss off" email. Just silence until you spy a winning entry on IG or get a "here are the winners" email. The letdown is huge, it feels like a rejection of you personally. It's not that you thought you would or could win, but there is always a tiny flame of hope with each entry carefully filled in and sent out into the world. It is someone saying we see you, we recognise you and your ability
As artists it often feels like you are shouting into the void. If you are chosen, you are being seen and heard. When you don't succeed it takes weeks to pick yourself up and keep going. The thought bubbles peppered with colourful language and negative self-talk are destructive. The personal mental toll can be devastating and yet we keep entering, surely this is a twisted masochism or are the competitions organisers sadists?
Being an artist is a solitary occupation. We spend an awful lot of time on our own and in our heads. Most of us like it that way. But to get your work into a prize is huge. When The Archibald is announced I always think of the artists who didn't get chosen and know exactly how they feel. It is wounding sometimes viscerally. As an artist you enter competitions because maybe, just maybe, someone on the panel will see something in you and your work and just being seen will be enough to sustain your practice for a while longer.
I entered the Moreton Bay Regional Art prize in 2022 and came 3rd. I was stunned to be in the exhibition and when the curator called to say I was a finalist I was so surprised and thrilled. The MBRAP is free to enter, and I love that. I won 1500K and was completely delighted. MY entry was a tiny landscape at only 30x30cm. I deliberately entered a small work thinking that if the gallery had size limitations it might be squeezed in. It turned out ironically that there were some huge pieces in the finalist exhibition. The prize winners were all women which was a triumph for us gals.
In 2022 I also entered The Brisbane Portrait Prize. It was my 3rd time entering. For the third time, I painted my daughter. I worked on my statement for most of the day and was pleased with how I had captured several ideas. My daughter helped me out and I felt it was strong. For the third time, I didn't get in. I was cranky that I had thrown away $65. I stubbornly paint my daughter every year, I am known to be bloody-minded. THis is the statement I submitted with my entry
My daughter is formed from her female ancestors through genetics and the ghosts of familial trauma. She refuses to conform to the almost 'Ford' standards of beauty, practice and ideologies which are heavily pressured in today's society. As a formal, ancestral, artwork she is captured with objects with deep ties to our history; my 'Big Ted', and a couch, slept on by her female ancestors in WWII. Owned by Dorothy, who represented an alternative creative, single life. Her clothes, are a deliberate antithesis of trend, referencing past female occupations and characters, she is timeless. Posed to remove overt human qualities, becoming a porcelain doll, echoing the abhorrent idea of women as possessions