Art Competitions – Developing a Thick Skin

Elaine and juror Gregory Kondos

Elaine and juror Gregory Kondos

I was honored last weekend to actually meet acclaimed landscape artist Gregory Kondos at the Crocker-Kingsley Art Exhibition. I was especially honored because he chose my watercolor “Cottonwood Bend” as one of 75 pieces accepted out of 1600 entries of mixed media to be in this year’s show. The competition, which is held every two years, is open to California artists and it’s a very difficult show to get juried into. I have been rejected numerous times – too many to count! In fact, I gave up entering because it seemed out of my reach. Each time that I was rejected and then went to the show, I came away disappointed, as it seemed the art selected had little rhyme or reason. There were some great pieces, but many others left me dumbstruck. My traditional representational landscapes just weren’t making the cut! One year I remember being so frustrated that I vowed never to enter again! One of the pieces accepted that year was a cube of about 25 stacked square Tupperware containers with lids. Each container had a dead leaf in it… that’s it! This was only one example among many other similar pieces that were also accepted. I do like contemporary art, but I never did understand the meaning or creativity behind that Tupperware piece. It left me feeling defeated since it had been accepted over one of my watercolors.

I’ve since entered many other art competitions and slowly came to understand the jury process better. Not only does an artist need a thick skin to enter competitions, but we need to be able to accept rejection gracefully. Just because our piece wasn’t chosen for a juried competition doesn’t mean it was bad. Typically, good competitions get numerous entries (often thousands) and there is limited space, depending on the exhibition space. Now, imagine if every one of those entries were all by famous artists. If there is only room for 40 pieces, then many would need to be rejected, but it doesn’t mean their work was terrible or they weren’t skilled!

imageAnother point to ponder is, if the show gets 1600 entries, then an artist’s work needs to catch the juror’s attention within seconds. If the juror looks at each entry for just 30 seconds, that is about 120 images per hour. To look at 1600 images would take about 13.33 hours. That is a lot of time for a juror to be viewing art, let alone choose 75 from that group to be in a show. I would expect a juror feels pretty burned out as she gets to the last few! It’s also the reason why submitting a good photo of the art is really important. If it’s not a good representation, then it will surely get rejected. Additionally, some competitions have several jurors that have to concur on the art selected, which is a huge process.

The other thing I’ve learned is an artist should enter a show that you like and one that is suited for your work and skill level. Be sure to consider if the competition is multi media versus one medium; contemporary versus traditional; local, national, or international; and is it more for established artists or emerging artists? Multi media shows may have the artist competing against 3D art and photography. I learned that certain shows accept more contemporary pieces and are less likely to accept a traditional painting. International shows will draw more entries than local shows. Also, if you enter a show above your skill level you will be sadly disappointed. The same goes for entering a show that an artist has advanced beyond. Be sure to compete against your peers at the same level of skill.

Also, look at the juror – that is crucial. If Jackson Pollock were a juror, I’m guessing he wouldn’t choose many (or any) traditional paintings. So this year, when I saw that Gregory Kondos was the juror for the Crocker-Kingsley show I decided to try one more time. Although he is an impressionist, I knew he was a renowned landscape painter and he loves the Sacramento Delta. I also admire his work. So if I wanted to try again, this was the year to enter. I was thrilled to get into the show! I didn’t win an award, but getting into the show was an award in itself after so many years of trying.

So how does one approach such an acclaimed artist as Gregory Kondos? Well, at the reception during the awards it was announced that Mr. Kondos had actually been rejected 13 times before being accepted into this show. That’s 26 years of rejection and persistence… and now he was a juror! That both humbled and inspired me! So I took the opportunity to approach him with a big smile and said, “I think I may have beat your rejection record!” He took my hand and kindly said, “You weren’t rejected, you just weren’t selected.” Now that’s a great quote from a great artist, and words of wisdom for us aspiring artists to remember. He was gracious enough to sign my show catalog and take a photo with me (even better than an award!). It was an end to a great evening and gave me even more respect for one of my favorite California artists!

Click this link to see my watercolor painting “Cottonwood Bend. ” It will be on exhibit at Blue Line Arts, in Roseville, CA through Feb. 21, 2015. If you missed the opening reception, there will be a closing reception on Sat. Feb. 21 from 7-9 PM.  I will show the painting in progress and share about how I created it in a future post.

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