Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Artists Beware! Could Juried Art Contests Be Glittering Scams?

 I entered a juried art competition recently, it was the first one I've entered and it was only £12, no big deal. I was enticed, it seemed better odds than buying a lottery ticket, but was it? I started to get suspicious, and the more I've looked into it, the more these competitions, however prestigious, seem obscene. I didn't get accepted, so maybe you can right me off as bitter, after all I had fully expected to be the next newly discovered "Master" of the 21st century and now I'm not, and I wont be able to spend, spend, spend the thousands of pounds I could have won. Ultimately, I lost £12. Bah humbug!

At first, it is only natural to feel rejected by rejection. What if my art is crap ? Well what if it really is, even if you are crap and don't know it, even if your work is laughable, like the hapless tone-deaf participants on the X-Factor auditions, is it right that they are funding their institutions on wannabes broken dreams? Never mind the struggling emerging artists that genuinely need financial help and critical encouragement. And they know you want that, they promise EXPOSURE, PRESTIGE and TONS OF CASH! How can you resist? and if you were not successful this time, try again, there will be other jurors next time, and if you believe in your work because you know you aren't crap, then you may be tempted to try and try and pay and pay again. Just one more fix.

And so my anger began to build up to a blog post. It's no longer about my £12 (some of these competitions charge far more and you are encouraged to submit more than one entry) it's about all the other thousands of artists who paid the fees and where and who does it go to ? Does it do anything for the arts? Even the lottery puts something back into the community. Are they supporting artists, or are they really supporting their institution.  Even if you are one of the chosen ones, will you have anything "real" to show for it apart from a line of text to add to your CV. Do the institutions give information regarding previous sales that took place at the exhibition. After the costs of transporting your work, insurance and high commissions is it still a profitable venture? Will the artist's work get lost among hundreds of other pieces and who will be attending the private view?

A little search on Google, appeared to back up my suspicions, which I hope are unfounded, but I think all artists should be aware and consider the following which paints a sinister story:

"Juried shows with an entry fee are almost always a total scam. Normally it's a foregone conclusion who's going to be selected for the show, and the people who pay the fee and get rejected are just chumps, pure and simple. Those who don't belong to the clique need not apply. Art is an insider's game; it's all about who you know. If you don't know Jessica, James, Steven, or any of their friends, don't waste your $25"

"The, supposedly prestigious show I was accepted in, this past year, appeared to be focused on the reception which was attended almost exclusively by the participating artists. And they were a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds whose work was not accepted. I did not get the idea that many buyers were in attendance, or that the gallery was even concerned about sales. It was a show for artists, and basically paid for by the throng of artists that did not get accepted. The lucky few that won awards made money but for the rest, it's all expenses"

I also discovered an interesting blog post by Swarez Art, the comments afterwards were also worth a read.

I really do hope this is not the case and I could enter again and be discovered (just one more time, it's only £12!)  I could depict the text of a standard rejection email in paint and enter it next year in a floating frame, but I won't. This experience has reinforced my desire to get on with what really matters, my art. To create my paintings regardless, and hope that my integrity is held within them. Artists should not have to pay for someone to scan over a JPEG of their art or to have their work shown. In the same way, may I never succumb to the pretentious art-speak or prostitute myself, by sucking up to the art cliques to be accepted.

If the winners are already chosen from a select bottleneck of favourites, and the rest of us are the fodder to feed them then this is beyond hideous. All art competitions need to be transparent with anonymous submissions, of which the John Moore's Painting Prize is a leading example. Art is business, and as artists we forget this at our peril.


  1. I recently had a run in with a owner manager organiser of a self publicised 'charity' art competition dispite the fact ihave been excepted by a couple of top academic fine art institutions I didn't make thecompetition fknals, ok accepted personal taste etc., but its what happenede after that made me realise there sensitivity around anybody asking questions such as where do the donations by each entrant go? Or which art organisation , person do they support, a claim on their website , the reply from a mr baker came back stating he worked for nothing, knew a lot of key people in the art world (which felt like veiled threats) and refused to remove my details as an accountfrom their database, numbers are key to attracting more paying entrants, in short its a scam , the man uses big names to promote the competition, so must have money, carefully worded strap lines and a strange concoction of a jury who are eitherold retired practitioners or sisters of famous people with no academic record , watching the bbc broadcast of the "jury"shortlist I realised in anger and fustration my worst fears were true, as the panel sat there stuffing cake either liking or disliking( complete with grimace) each piece no discussion no thought, really pathetic. I also noticed the juries decision was noy unanimous.

  2. So rubbish for you to have had that experience. It could be a platform to see a wide variety of the latest art being produced and a chance to discover new talent. Even "Open" competitions seem closed.