Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In Defense of Art Awards

-by Justin Gerard

Art awards, and whether or not to submit to a show, have been a debated theme here on Muddycolors and in the industry in general of late. Arnie Fenner covered the symbolic importance of awards in his post Do Awards Matter. And Dan Dos Santos covered the career importance of awards in his post Rejected!

Today I would like to pose a third value of awards in art.

Consider THIS:

Trevi Fountain

I propose that art awards make the world a better place. They compel us to strive for something greater than our current abilities.

In 1732 Pope Clement XII held a competition among Rome's artists to see who would finish a fountain begun in the previous century by Bernini. Competitions like this were quite popular during this era and resulted in some of the most impressive public architecture and sculpture in the world today. Many artists submitted wonderful and daring designs to win Clement's competition. The result is what you see above, one of the grandest public works of art in existence.

Competitions have a long and vibrant history in the art world, from the Prix de Rome to the Paris Salon. While competitions have historically been unfairly judged by biased panels, the result has still always been a flowering of artwork and artistic ability which has improved the understanding of art culturally overall. This has benefitted all of us by giving us a strong artistic heritage and visual language that we use to both communicate and understand ourselves and our fellow man better.

Because of this I believe that the existence of judged competitions (with awards) should be celebrated. Every year I try my absolute best to get into Spectrum... and every year I get pieces rejected. Through this process I grow and become a better artist.

But what if I lose? Won't that be a crushing defeat for me?


And is that such a terrible realization? We aren't perfect and to do anything truly well takes serious dedication. To be an artist means that you have dedicated yourself to being able to do something well that an average person cannot do well. To get there we need more practice.

Losing is not a refutation, it is a challenge.

But what if the competition is biased and unfairly judged? And anyway, isn't all art highly subjective?


I believe the real prize is being better able to do the thing you set out to do. And isn't that what we as artists all wanted to begin with? To be better able to share our vision with those around us?

If the attempt at an award compelled you to achieve something greater than you knew you were capable of and made you a better artist (and it will) how is that not a victory?

It isn't always fair, but that isn't the point. Every year I can't wait to open up Spectrum. Why? Because I know that thousands of people have pushed themselves beyond their abilities for this and I know that what I am about to see will move me, inspire me, terrify me and challenge me.  My world is made brighter because of what they (you!) have tried to accomplish.

So... Look, what if I don't want to have to work for it? Can't I just pay off the right people? 

Maybe, who knows?

In conclusion, I discourage attempting to corrupt appointed officials, and I encourage you to enter these competitions. Even though it will cost you money and you might fail.
I believe it will not only make you a better artist but it might also just make the world a better place.


  1. Awards create community. I think it's natural to want to believe we can do it all on our own, but having a community makes us all better. Shared goals are a good thing.

  2. It seems to be a big discussion in some parts of the community at the moment. I would say, that everybody has (of course) the right to have his/her own personal view on this theme. I know artist who do perfectly fine without taking part in awards. Personally I like to take part in competitions for a couple of reasons and because of these I also advise people to do so too:
    First off, I am not yet in the place that I am too engaged with assignments. So instead of... say play computer games or just scribble randomly away...contests keep me engaged with something that is quite similar to an assignment. It makes me produce illustrations in a certain time with the goal to achieve high quality. The good part is, that I have more space to make it a personal piece.
    Second, if it pays of by getting in an annual/exhibition/short-list or even winning something it pays off double. Not only did I generate art and try to get better while doing so, but my (future) clients can see what keeps me engaged in the mean time. Of course my work could be good without winning anything, but a client may have a hard time figuring that out. Putting it in your CV might make some of them feel better in choosing me for an assignment in the future. That's when my prestige can make them feel like getting something of it as well.
    Third: Taking part in competitions gives me a good view on what is going on in the art/illustration world. Because of this I can place myself and my skills in context which is quite important in a freelancers' life (at least when you are not at the point yet, when your art is considered timeless yet...).

    I actually don't understand what the big fuss is about all this. The people who want to take part in competitions, can take part, and the ones who don't enjoy it, won't take part. Nobody is forcing anybody to take part in anything. The world of competitions is as big and wide as the art world itself. There are big and small national, international, medium-focused, object-focused, paid, not-paid and more or less strictly judged competitions out there.

  3. Justin, I love the refreshing take you have on this subject. The others have given valuable perspectives as well but yours is not only positive, it is uplifting. Well done.

  4. There really shouldn't be a fuss about all of this Justin, you're right. If competitions and awards don't work for a particular reason then so be it, there are plenty of ways to direct a career. Giving blanket advice about it in the negative is problematic though. How are young artists to know what works and doesn't work for them personally without trying different avenues? Scaring people off of something because of a bad experience reads as bitterness. So I agree with Lester and not only enjoyed your positive approach to the subject but how positively you said it. For some of us the competition and awards approach has been overwhelmingly positive both in terms of career and community