They seem to be everywhere, they are becoming more and more in number and seemingly, there is no shortage of interested artists wishing to participate. What am I talking about? Why, juried shows and juried competitions of course! The question I ask however, is how much do such events really benefit an artist and what might one expect to see by way of return?
Juried shows and competitions have always existed, but in recent years they have become prolific! I lose track of how many email invitations I receive, not counting the numerous announcements on social networks, etc., etc. All of these shows and competitions have one thing in common, they all charge a fee to participate. In recent years it seems to me that artists in particular have become an easy target, presumably because there is no shortage of them and almost all are endeavouring to advance their art careers. As such, the temptation to participate in such events is very great, but does the cost of doing so truly justify the potential (and remember the key word is “potential”!) reward? In a vast majority of cases, I would suggest it does not.
It’s a delicate subject matter, as almost all artists wish to advance themselves and each has there own strategy to do so. Juried shows and competitions are seemingly an obvious way to gain exposure and as such, a small fee (presuming it is a small fee, which is not always the case) seems justified to a great many people. Unfortunately, from what I see on a regular basis, in the vast majority of cases the only people that are really benefiting are the organisers of the events in question. At best, a few select winners will be rewarded via a variety of means, but the other hundreds (and often thousands!) of other participants stand to gain nothing whatsoever. Agreed, not everybody can be a winner, and maybe the fee seems minimal, but in the vast majority of cases, the participating artists are simply lining the pockets of others at their own personal expense. Is this really your objective?
Here come the Judge
As I mentioned earlier, there are literally thousands of such events being proposed, and I could quote examples, but will refrain from doing so. Instead, let us look at a few basic criteria, to try and assist artists to see beyond the publicity blurb and see exactly what they are getting into and what (if anything) they are likely to get out of it. Below is a very brief 10 point check-list, that may prove helpful:-
1. Who are the jury/judges and what are their credentials?
2. Do the members of the jury/judges really have a detailed knowledge of the work they will be reviewing and specifically the work you will be submitting?
3. Are the jury/judges people that you can truly hold in esteem as accredited experts and whose opinions carry valid recognition?
Presuming the answer to 1-3 above is “yes”, let us then also consider the following:-
4. How many people are on the jury/judging panel? In my opinion, less than 3 is not good, because the decisions then become very subjective. However, too many is usually worse!
5. Presuming there is a fee (and there is almost always a fee!), what is the cost of participating and is it truly justified?
6. Does the event benefit from sponsors or advertisers and if so, is that revenue being used to subsidise the event to the benefit of the participants?
7. If I participate, and if I am one of the lucky winners, what do I stand to gain and how will this benefit my career as an artist?
8. If I participate and I am not a winner, do I stand to gain anything at all, or have I simply lost my money?
9. Are there any spin-off benefits to participating and if so what are they?
10. Lastly, do I really want to participate in this event, or is it simply my ego that is driving my rationale?
From a personal perspective, I very rarely participate in any juried shows or competitions, primarily because firstly, I am usually unable to answer the above 10 questions favourably and secondly, because my own career as an artist has (thankfully!) evolved to a stage where I have other options, most of which are more beneficial and with little to no cost to myself (other than my own essential production costs). Notwithstanding, at the outset of my career, I did participate more frequently in such events, albeit on a very selective basis and mostly events with an international focus as opposed to a domestic one. The latter is more personal to me, as my own focus has always been of a global nature, with my own career having always been very cross-boarder.
Other artists may be less concerned with the international nature of the event, but in whatever case, ensure that the event is top-tier within the regional limits of its focus and objective. That is to say, avoid the small, less recognised events, unless there is some unique reason as to why they would be appropriate and thus beneficial to you.
It is a sad reality that the vast majority of all juried shows and competitions are primarily designed to generate vast sums of money to the benefit of the organisers. Rarely are there more than a handful of winners in any of these events and even when the winners are awarded cash sums, it is usually only a fraction of the total revenue that the event has yielded. Ideally, it would be nice to see residual revenue spun across into perhaps parallel or future events, but rarely is this the case. As I mentioned at the outset, artists are seen by a great many as easy targets, and this is understandable, because effectively they generally are!
Thus, before you jump into any such event with both feet, look closely at what it has to offer you. Ask yourself the list of questions referenced above and discriminate as to whether or not you will truly stand to benefit from participating in the event (be it a juried exhibition or a competition). Most of all, do not allow your ego to lead the way and distract you from making a rational decision (which unfortunately, is a common problem for a great many artists!).
Ultimately, if it sounds right, seems right and feels right (in every respect), it probably is right, in which case go for it! Good luck with all of your endeavours to my fellow artists. I hope this article helps you, if only a little, to avoid some of the pitfalls that we all mutually face.
Looking forward to reading your thoughts.
Best wishes from Taiwan,