Now, about art contests and awards …

Detail of “Wired,” oil on panel. REJECTED!!!1! from a recent art contest!

So my mind has been straying in the direction of juried art shows and contests. Dealing with rejection. Hoping for acceptance.

I’ve had a troubled, unhappy (in my own mind) history with entering art shows and applying for art awards. I can’t say I ever had a meltdown over a rejection or felt even remotely close to having one. But still, so many times it felt “unfair” or depressing, to try and try and . . . nothing! It seemed at times that they were “picking on me”! Waaaah! It’s so not fair!

Looking back, I realize that there were legitimate reasons for some of the rejections. And I have also had some moments of clarity which helped me understand why I shouldn’t take any of it too seriously.

But before I get to all of that, let me explain why art shows and contests have some importance. It’s not for boosting up our egos, or “proving” to ourselves that we’re really good. In a way, it’s not for us at all.

One of my friends, a sort of “man on the street” guy with lots of business sense and street smarts, spelled it out. I’m ashamed that it never even occurred to me before—clearly, I’m oblivious and living under a rock! He explained, “People don’t know what is good art. They don’t know what is good and what is bad. They need to see a bunch of ribbons and listings of awards to prove that you’re good. They don’t trust their own judgment.”


I couldn’t fathom such a thing because it seems the easiest thing in the world to pick out what you like and what you don’t like, and why else would you buy art, other than because you like it? But a lot of people don’t think that way.

So with that in mind, we must tighten our belts, suck it up, and enter these accursed shows and compete for awards and participate in contests. Because some buyers won’t believe their eyes when they look at our art. They must see a few ribbons and awards before they feel comfortable writing a check.

Preparing for contests and awards: Become friends with rejection.

Accept it, because it will happen. It’s inevitable. Truly, if you always got accepted, it would become boring after a while. The rejections make the acceptances all the sweeter. Think of it that way.

In order to take some of the stings out of rejection, enter some contests, accepting the strong possibility of rejection, and embrace it. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but more in a whimsical way. In other words, don’t glumly pout that you just KNOW you won’t get anything, but treat it more like a joke. “How many times can I be rejected this year?” Something like that. DON’T TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. It shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Why you shouldn’t take it too seriously.

As cliched as it sounds, it’s just someone’s, like, opinion, man. One judge preferring landscapes over your portraits, or another judge preferring abstract works over representational, doesn’t magically transform you into something inferior.

There are judges who are trying to prove some sort of point. To “send a message.” This is more apt to happen locally, where the judges may be familiar with you personally. I’ve often suspected that, when I was a kid, I was overlooked for recognition because I was the “class artist” and was already taking private art lessons. I didn’t need the “extra” attention, I suspect was the mindset. So it’s like they pretended that I didn’t exist! What they didn’t know was that I was getting a lot of pressure at home to quit making art, so an award wouldn’t have been unappreciated (assuming that my work had earned it). But I started to see that it was never, ever going to happen.

I’ve talked to other artists who have told similar stories. More polished work is overlooked in favor of a newbie, perhaps a newbie with not a lot of recognizable promise, as a gesture of “encouragement.” So, the award wasn’t about “which work was the best,” it was to give someone a shot in the arm, boost their ego. Well, yes, I guess I understand that such things have their place. But if an award is about what’s deemed the best, give the award to what’s best. If it’s for “encouragement,” then call it that instead. It confuses artists who don’t know yet to not take the awards seriously—they are under the illusion that working hard and trying for excellence are what it’s about. If they see enough shows where the “best” is overlooked, they’ll give up and not participate. (Which is what I did for a long time.)

And I don’t mean that these artists will drop out because they’re pouting over a rejection. But they can see that objectively that some work is more skilled and some work is more newbie, and when the newbie “wins” some sort of excellence awards while the more skilled artist gets nothing, it sends a message. And that message is, stop wasting your time entering contests. 😉

I’m not saying that many shows or awards are “set ups” and are already slanted to be unfair. Most shouldn’t be. But you may run across something like this now and then.

Not everyone can get an award.

Even when you are vying for an award or for a juried show where there are no politics or gestures of “encouragement” given to newbies, sometimes the competition is really stiff. Everybody’s work is excellent. In such a case, it’s not just self-delusion to convince yourself that it’s okay to be a loser! 😉

The FASO Bold Brush contest is a good contest to check out. On their main page, they show all the latest applicants to their current monthly contest. It’s helpful to see who else is entering art because you’ll see how much wonderful work is out there. And it’s inevitable that not all of it will get awarded. Look at the paintings that did get awards. (Here’s December 2014’s winners.) Then look at the other entries, the ones that got nothing, or the ones voted as the “Fav 15%” (voted as the favorites among the non-awarded paintings for that month). Most of these paintings are still pretty nice, but they are still losers, losers, losers! LOL! Doesn’t that make you feel a little better, to see all those losing paintings?

(I am very fond of the Bold Brush contest, in part because of the lower entry fees, as well as them allowing all of us to see every painting entered. And the “Fav 15%” is a nice way to be “encouraging” in a sane way. The bar is set pretty low to get into the “Fav 15%” each month. You have about a one-in-seven chance of being included.)


It’s easy to lose perspective and assume that you didn’t get an award because you’re a particularly miserable type of loser, but when you see who else lost, then it becomes clear. A lot of good work has to lose. But eventually, if you don’t stop trying, it’ll be your turn to win.

Legitimate reasons for being rejected.

One of the things that I didn’t understand when I first started entering art shows was that a lot of art shows want original work. When I was in high school, I was doing a lot of fan art (drawings and paintings inspired by my favorite movies and TV shows). There was almost no chance this art would get into any regular “Fine Art” show. But I didn’t know that and assumed that I had “Loser” written on my forehead and was destined to always be rejected. So that’s a legitimate warning–always submit work that is your own (painted from life or from your own photo, or—if the rules allow it—someone’s photo that you had permission to use as reference). Don’t do paintings of movie stars or use famous photos from National Geographic as reference. It goes without saying, don’t do cartoons or anime for Fine Art shows, unless the shows are specifically asking for this genre of art.

Just as you shouldn’t take it seriously when you are rejected…

You shouldn’t take it too seriously when you are accepted. It’s great, it’s very nice, but take it with a grain of salt. It’s still one person’s opinion, it doesn’t change who you were the day before you got the award. Yes, it should mean more when you are familiar with the judge’s work and you value their opinion specifically. But still, as lovely as it is to get an award, don’t let it go to your head too much. Use the encouragement you get to move forward and push yourself harder. List the award in your Bio or CV, and leave it at that. Remind yourself that it was your desire to add more awards to your CV that prompted you to enter the show in the first place!

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