Competitions February 21, 2016 15:01 3 Comments

I've been entering competitions for the past two weeks--five so far. Originally, I rejected the idea after a local museum posted a competition that made it seem like it would be basically a losing proposition for me even if I was accepted and I sold my painting. 

But then I got to thinking about how much money I spend on Google Adwords for my shop, Alchemy Works. I budget $100/mo for that without even thinking about it. Does it do any good? A friend and I both agree that from our experience, paying for Adwords helps us maintain our standing in the search rankings, regardless of how much Google denies that has anything to do with it. I also pay $100 every two months for print ads for the shop.So I started to think that I might pay up to $100/mo to enter competitions. It's a business expense, after all--not that I've got much gross to claim so far this year for Harold Roth, Artist, but hey, we all have to start somewhere, and a business expense is a business expense, especially when you are building your business.

I started prowling around the Art Times site page "Opportunities for Creatives." This lists all sorts of calls for artists. Another one is Art Show. And there are more besides. I didn't realize that there were so many different calls for artists out there. The first one I entered one is about competing to be shown in a gallery (a one-shot deal), which is basically a chance to sell the painting and to get a line on a resume. Next was a themed online exhibition which could give linkjuice, very important for a new website like my art site. The more links you have from other sites, especially authoritative sites (which have been around for X years, X being the mysterious Google number), the higher your rankings will be in the search results. The higher the rankings, the more visitors. The more visitors, the higher the rankings yet again and more visibility and hopefully some resulting sales, although I don't get my hopes up, since typically I know from running an online shop that 1-2% of visitors result in actual purchases for most sites. Not very high. But it took me three years to build my shop into a going concern, and I expect it to take at least that long to build my art site into an income supplement. Baby steps

It's important to build good links and attract people who are actually looking for what you sell. Links from an online exhibit could help. For that reason, I've looked for competitions that feature placement in online exhibits, hoping for link juice even though there are no prizes and no possibility of a sale off the exhibition site, only a link back. This kind of competition is basically paying for a link if you get accepted. Links for pay are usually garbage, but it is not all bad if it's a focused link.

I also found competitions put on by organizations, like the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic or the National Oil and Acrylics Painters Society..These seem to have more money in prizes and more prestige. Coolness! I can only hope my work will be accepted. 

I've learned a number of things from entering competitions so far, even before I have received any results. if I don't have paintings that fit in to a particular competition's theme, I can't go off and try to create something to fit into that theme. It just feels klutzy to me, and it's a waste of my time..It's probably not a good way to develop one's body of work, since it's inevitably going to be some kind of side thing that does not fit in all that well with one's main corpus. Maybe it's worth it for some artists, because it inspires them to do something they might not have done otherwise, but I have so many ideas for paintings that I don't need any inspiration. I have, if anything, too much inspiration (my idea of doing the Golden Dawn's color scales, for instance), and I feel like my style is still developing and that I have to focus on that. Since I am relying more and more on "letting things arise" when I am painting, trying to impose a rational concept on the process feels counterproductive to me. More like an obstacle than anything else. I'm sure it works for some people, but for me it feels artificial.  

Another thing I've learned is that the various requirements of these competitions have forced me to think about how I describe what I do not only to the rest of the world but how it feels to me, to put that feeling into words so that I can examine it and think about it further. For instance, some competitions request an artist's statement, an artist's biography, both, or a description of the process of creating the work(s) entered in the competition. Having to write these things has taught me a lot about how I see what I'm doing, how I see the creative process, and how I go about my paintings. I haven't got anything to put on a CV except for going to art school back in 1970-72, but I can describe my artistic life and my artistic process. I have learned a LOT about what I am doing by having to put it into words for strangers. Nothing like multiple perspectives to help a person see a phenomenon truthfully.

Finally, I've learned that I am very very different from the gumbie I was back in art school. Then I was completely and totally baffled by the art world. I had absolutely no idea how to market my art, what kind of art I should or could make, and how I could fit int. Honestly, the art world was a very different place than it is now (for which I am grateful). Just reading over some of the requirements for submitting works to competitions made me think how terrifying it would have been to have to come up with, say, an artist's biography for Harold Roth back in 1970. Of course, the fact that the school I went to did not teach us how to sell was another problem, but even if they had, I doubt I would have been able to do it at that time. I was just too naive, too lacking in confidence, and too undisciplined. Forty-five years of life has taught me a lot of skills, which is happily surprising.

I have no idea if entering these competitions is going to prove financially black. At this point, I feel like if If I get link juice, I will be pretty happy and will consider it money and time well spent. But the biggest benefits have already come--in a growing confidence (yes, I DO know how to write and follow directions, lol!) and a good, new perspective on what I'm doing through writing the artist's biography and so forth. 

If you've entered competitions, what has been your experience?