Should You Pay To Enter Art Competitions?
Art competitions are a large part of getting your work seen, and a great platform for building confidence. However, are paid art competitions really worth it? Are there hidden clauses and conditions? And, at the end of the day, why do artists have to pay to get their work shown? Surely they should be paying you for the privilege.
Whether it’s an entry for an online magazine, a print publication, a social media site, blog, gallery, juried show, whatever, there’s a vast collection of places that young and growing artists can submit their work to. I’m one such artist. Chances are there are plenty of opportunities in your area, or if not, at the click of a mouse.
However, as is so often the case, once you’ve found an opportunity that sounds promising, you discover that there’s a cost. Now whether it’s $35 , $50 or downright ridiculous asks of $1,000+ for one-page publications, a lot of artists simply aren’t willing to fork out money to get their work seen.
Well, it’s simple. An actor doesn’t have to pay for an audition, or a writer to pay to write (there are of course exceptions) so why should artists have to pay for them? In the case of fully-fledged galleries, asking artists to submit a fee seems unfair and a little bit suspicious. If the gallery is as good as it claims (or its testimonials/profile/social media seems to imply) then why does it need your meager $35 to accept an electronic submission? There’s administration fees, but very little else until a piece of art is actually accepted. Online galleries don’t have hanging costs, logistics, and probably far fewer staff and curators. I won’t get into gallery fees, but I believe that these galleries can afford to accept free submissions, as they should be generating enough sales from the competition winners themselves. If not, maybe they need better jurors or PR.
Unfortunately in the art world, we’re asked to pay for a lot of things, and also do a lot of other things for free or for exposure – that dreaded word we’re all sick of. Whilst entering the odd competition might not break the bank, I feel it would be fairer if the fees only apply after an artist has been accepted. Paying a small fee for a guaranteed exhibition space or press release is far more worth it than a long-forgotten unread email and another PayPal invoice.
Is it to keep standards high?
No, I don’t think so. Artists who are just starting out are probably more likely to fall into the trap of paying for feedback, more established and by proxy (but not necessarily) better artists I’d say are less likely to enter in the first place. So in actual fact, standards may even be dropping.
Paid or free submissions?
I’ve submitted to many contests, galleries and juried shows, and have found that I’ve got more honest feedback from the free ones. The smaller, niche publishers and markets have more time to dedicate to you personally, and you may find even a rejection and critique brightens your day when it’s personal and clearly someone’s taken a long hard look at your work. You’re not just another dollar in the bank or a submission in the pile.
There are of course advantages to entering art competitions. You’ll perhaps be encouraged to create a specific piece of art within a set time frame to fit within the contest theme. Good feedback can help your confidence, and a shortlist or a win even more. Not only that, but entering regularly will help you keep a professional and up-to-date portfolio.
The downside is, though, that there are many un-regulated, dishonest companies out there. Some may ask for your money and never have any intention of giving you anything in return, no matter how good you are. Others are downright scams. It pays to be vigilant.
Read the competition’s terms and conditions and entry requirements. Is there something that doesn’t make sense or something you’re not happy with? A lot of times it could be what happens with the creative rights to the work once it’s published. Check past competitions, and you could even get in touch with previous winners to check the validity of their claims.
What is your experience with free vs paid submissions? Let me know in the comments.
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