by Maria Doubrovskaia
Art competitions are some of the most overlooked opportunities available to contemporary artists. Yet these events can do a great deal to advance a career in the arts. They have steadily grown in popularity and importance in the art world. Today, they range from widely known international art competitions, such as The Frieze Artist Award and Agora Gallery’s Chelsea International Fine Art Competition, to smaller ones, like the Tallahassee International Juried Competition, and other regional and local contests.
Art competitions are sometimes juried, sometimes judged, or they may have both a jury and a judge who makes the final decision. Generally, the jury and/or the judge of a contest will select several finalists out of hundreds or even thousands of entries. Generally, the artists selected receive recognition, sizeable rewards, and great opportunities to exhibit, promote, and sell their work.
The finalists gain visibility through promotion and publicity and often receive financial rewards as well. But while we should always aim for success when applying to an art competition, participating in an art competition is a good idea even if you do not walk away being selected on your first try.
When you apply to an art competition, you refine your skills as a professional artist and allow art collectors, art buyers, art consultants, and art aficionados to view your work and provide valuable feedback. Since these art competitions frequently double as art exhibits where an artwork is for sale, there is always a chance of earning money in addition to possibly being selected. In short, art contests help make important contacts and provide many opportunities for professional growth.
Art competitions are…well, competitive by definition! But artists have nothing to lose and lots to gain by trying. Here are some tips that will help you optimize your chances of being selected in an art competition.
First, Do Your Research
As you seek opportunities, look for a good fit between your work and the art competition. Just to get the sense of what the event is like, it might be useful to research some of its history. Find out who served as judges and jury members in the past, who were the previously selected artists. Definitely know who will be evaluating your application. Usually, judges and jurors are art critics, prominent artists, curators, and gallery owners.
Their artwork, critical writings, the kinds of artists signed to their gallery, etc., will tell you where their artistic preferences lie. If your own style resonates with what you see, the art competition is probably right for you. Of course, it doesn’t have to be an exact match, but if you are a sound artist, it hardly makes sense to apply to a realist portraiture contest juried by figurative painters. Do not change your style and interests to suit the tastes of the jurors, and do not apply to art competitions geared toward completely different styles and types of art.
Make sure that the art competition is reputable, even if it is relatively new. Scams are not unheard of in the artwork. Beware of exorbitant fees. It is entirely standard to pay an application fee of $20-$75, but look out for requests for several hundred dollars.
Get Serious about the Application Process
Once you have done your research and settled on a number of art competitions that interest you, you are ready to delve into the application process. To present your best self to selection committees you should demonstrate not only artistic talent but also a high degree of professionalism.
To do so, start by reading guidelines and instructions closely and following them accurately. The importance of this step cannot be underestimated: the vast majority of applicants are rejected simply because they do not follow instructions. For example, ask yourself if your selected images correspond to the theme of the contest. This seems obvious, yet artists often hope that the power of their work will override the requirements of the event. It will not. If the art competition has a theme, stick with it.
Selection committees are usually interested in what artists are up to now, not what you were doing several years ago. Be your best curator: select your best recent work and make sure that your selection is visually compelling, coherent, and that it stands out. Imagine how challenging it must be to have to sort through hundreds and even thousands of images in order to make only a few selections. Your task is to present the authentic you, the one whose work is remarkable and different from the rest.
Since your images should present your art in the best possible light, they must be of the highest quality. This is so important that I would recommend investing in a professional photographer. Make sure the images are the right size, and list and label them correctly.
Useful article: How To Take Great Photos Of Your Artwork
Your artist statement is your opportunity to contextualize your work and explain who you are as an artist. Writing an artist statement is as demanding as it is crucial. Make sure it is up-to-date, cogent, and free of errors. Ask your friends and colleagues to read it and give you feedback before including it with your application.
Now part of the Agora family of artists, photographer Ada Luisa Trillo began her professional collaboration with the gallery in 2018, when she was selected by the jurors to participate in the 33rd Chelsea International Fine Art Competition Exhibition. Her photo documentary series, depicting low-cost sex workers in Mexico and the Caravan from Central America, impressed not only the jury of the art competition but also the Gallery Director, who selected Ada’s portfolio for representation. The artist is now getting ready for her second exhibition at Agora Gallery in September 2019, this time as an Agora artist.
Apply Like It’s Your Job and Don’t Give up
Do not let rejection deter and dishearten you. Instead, embrace it as part of the game. Being selected in an art competition is a bit like being selected in the lottery. The pool of applicants is usually enormous. Chances of being selected can be rather slim. By the way, you can usually research exactly what these chances are for each art competition. Juries and judges make their choices based on a host of factors, some of which may include their mood that day, whether they have a headache or not, how good their lunch was, etc.
So if you do not make it on your first try, do not feel bad about your art. Instead, do not take it personally and use the opportunity to refine your skills and keep applying. The more you apply, the greater your chances. Just remember to stick with choices that make sense for you and your artwork. Persistence pays off and victory, when it is finally yours, is sweet!
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Maria Doubrovskaia is a visual artist and scholar. She moved to New York from St. Petersburg, Russia, when she was a kid. The Chelsea Hotel was seedy, and the Limelight was still a club back then. Maria loves cities and prefers slightly dangerous cities to glossy shiny ones. Some favorites are Naples, Palermo, Dakar, and Brooklyn before 9/11. If Maria was not a visual artist and a scholar, she would be an anthropologist.