There's no prestige in being played.

7 Reasons Artists Should Avoid Art Contests and Juried Shows

1. Art contests offer false validation.

Do you think an art contest will validate you as an artist? Think again.

Art is in the eye of the beholder; it is entirely subjective. 

Art contest judges are not going to buy your art, so you’re paying them to pass their judgment and biases onto you and your art.

Art contests do not validate you as an artist or your talent. 

Instead, they take full advantage of your need for validation as an artist. It’s wrong. Real validation comes from people who value your art enough to pay for it.

Do you want to show your art or sell your art?

Can you imagine if actors had to pay to audition for a role? 

What if an author had to submit a check with each manuscript? 

So please do not pay to enter art contests or juried art shows. You’re paying for a very thin hope that you’ll get to show your art. 

Why pay to show your art when you can sell your art and receive legitimate validation?

If you’re not concerned about selling your art, then you have a respectable but expensive hobby.

2. Art contest organizers know that you do not yet know your niche.

If you’re entering art contests, you don’t yet know who wants to buy your art and why but you can learn.

The art contest organizers know this, and they’re taking full advantage of your need for validation and your lack of a marketing plan. Artists who know their niche don’t waste their time and money on art contests.

Do not be crushed by the tyranny of hope. If you want to sell your art, then you need a written plan. A plan to sell your art without a plan is a plan to sell no art.

3. The only ones who win art contests are the organizers. 

Very few art contests involve selling art; they are only about showing art.

Even a piece of art does sell, have you ever wondered why art contest organizers will not share the contact information of the people who purchased the art?

What are the art contest organizers hiding? Art contest judges have to pick at least one “winner” to keep the game going.

Even if you did “win” an art contest, which is highly unlikely, you would lose referrals.

Referrals have a positive compounding impact on your success. Over 80% of your art sales can come by way of referrals because 92% of consumers trust recommendations from their friends.

However, when you lose contact with your customers, referral sales are forever lost. You’re losing not winning, even if you sell your art.

4. You’re wasting your limited time, energy, and money.

How much time and money are you wasting? Art contests yield an increasingly negative return on your time and money. The cost of entering art contests adds up quickly, including:

• entry fees

• art materials

• framing

• insurance

• photography

• shipping

• commissions

“I have entered contests in hopes of being noticed and selling my art. In the last year and a half, I have been a finalist in The Artist Magazine Annual Competition twice, have been featured in Southwest Art Magazine (only after agreeing to buy advertising space of course), was selected for two international books which I had to pay to be in, and won four awards in Europe due to being seen in the books. One of the awards was being named Top 60 International Masters of Contemporary Art by Art Tour International Magazine. I have spent approximately $10,000 and nothing to show for it!” -Artist Terry Sigler

5. There’s nothing prestigious about being played.

Art organizers know that artists seek validation, so they’re playing the prestige card. If you want a blue ribbon buy yourself one. Prestige is not a product of allowing yourself to be manipulated. These “prestigious” contests feature expensive destinations, but they often exist only online.

Art contests only serve to pit artists against one another. It’s not like a sports contest where you win or lose according to the explicit rules of the game. Art is entirely subjective. Who wins and who loses an art contest hinges upon personal tastes and hidden agendas, so they are biased. Success comes from serving a target market and competing for their time and attention. You don’t gain success by participating in petty competitions with your peers.

6. Art contests kill your confidence.

Persist without a plan at your peril. So many artists buy into the false notion of “never giving up,” and this serves art contest organizers’ financial interests. Art contest organizers will continue to encourage you to enter again. However, constant rejection is a sign that you need to change course. 

Ongoing rejection will kill your self-confidence and erode your spirit. If something isn’t working, give up. Find a better path.

Are you planning to be a successful artist, or are you just hoping to be successful?

A plan to sell your art without a plan is a plan to sell no art.

7. Art contest organizers are accountable to no one. 

Who wins the art contest? The only ones who profit from art contests are the organizers. We can only imagine how much money they’re taking in versus how little they payout.

Art contests featured swanky destinations that often exist only online. A typical example is a so-called gallery in Laguna Beach, California. They charge a $35 entry fee for each monthly competition. When Artist Maureen Maki lost, she learned that hers was one of 400 submissions. The judges told her that “it was very tough to decide,” but she should try again. 

Maureen not only lost her money in the contest fee, art materials, shipping, framing, and photography, she also lost her time — a resource that will never be restored.

Do the math. 400 contestants x $35 = $14,000 per month, $168,00 per year. How is it possible for art judges to carefully critique 400 monthly art submissions?

That’s 4,800 critiques each year. Art contest promoters have a strong incentive to accept unlimited paid submissions, and they’re accountable to no one.

Until vulnerable artists learn how to gain real recognition by selling their art, they’ll keep falling prey to predatory art contest organizers.

Ann Rea

Ann Rea, Fine Artist & Mentor

Ann Rea is a San Francisco-based fine artist. She created Making Art Making Money®, the leading and most reputable business program for fine artists since 2005. Rea’s art and business savvy have been featured on ABC, HGTV, Creative Live, The Good Life Project, in the book Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields, the San Francisco Chronicle, Art Business News, Fortune, and Inc. Magazines. Rea’s artistic talent was commended by her mentor, art icon Wayne Thiebaud. 

Learn The 5 Perspectives of Prosperity, Making Art Making Money®. 

27 Responses

  1. My boyfriend has just finished an artwork for The Book of Kells art competition. Now that he’s read through the terms and conditions on the entry form he’s read that he’ll be giving up ownership of his artwork. Ownership and copyright of all entries will belong to Trinity – whether artworks win or not. He’s decided to not enter and will sell prints of his artwork instead. Thank you for your article. It really helped clarify other reasons not to enter art competitions

  2. Back in 1990 I was juried into An international art competition at a place called The Pyramid Gallery in NYC. I thought that was my ticket to success. Both of my paintings were stolen. The gallery owner approached me and said “Bad news for you James your paintings have been stolen” What? Yes I’m convinced the owner liked them and kept them for her own amusement. I was allowed to exhibit 2 other paintings and received an honorable mention. Nothing good came from it at all except becoming a little wiser. I was then juried into the Parrish art museum in the Hamptons. 1994 Nothing came from it. 1st prize was given to someone who made a 6 inch terribly rendered clay camel. The worst in the show in my opinion. Also I entered a competition in a local art organization. Was not included but went to the show. It became clear to me that those who gave large donations to the org were entered. Most of the work was sub par. So yes, art competitions are a waste of time, effort and money. I have sold my work in shops, small galleries but most of my sales came from the internet. When an artist wanted a web presents back in the 90s you had to pay a handsome amount of money or figure out how to make your own website. I did the ladder. This gave me an upper hand on most artists. However nowadays anybody can have a web presents by clicking a button showcasing their food, pets, politics and more nonsense. So even social networking has lost its power. So now I am preparing to have annual art shows at my home. I have sold more than 50 paintings throughout my “career” but one can’t live on 100,000 over a 30 yr span of time lol! So my advice is to figure out a way to earn a living outside or in a related art career that allows you enough free time to create your masterpieces and supplement your income. There are 3 ingredients to success in the art field:Talent, Passion(drive) and the biggest one of all is LUCK. So may I wish good luck to you all!

  3. I am in general agreement with this article. I’d never pay to enter an art competition.
    I’d never be delusional enough to think I could make money winning any sort of contest. However, just starting out promoting a artist’s career, I’m entering any free competition I can find. I’m doing is just to spread the name around. It’s just one more place on the internet to post a tagged image. Most competitions have entry fees from $35 into the hundreds. There are much better ways to spend $35 on promotion than entering an art contest.

  4. Thanks for the enlightenment. I have learnt so much from your analysis. This is more like an eye opener especially for up coming Artists

  5. I have been a freelance artist and illustrator for 35 years and I agree with everything here.
    Whilst having ambition, showing work wherever you can and wanting to be recognised in your particular field is to be applauded, the problem, in my opinion, comes when the need for approval for what you are doing becomes the reason for doing it.
    Inwardly I suspect most creatives are insecure, it just goes with the territory. So for some, external approval can be seen as a panacea, “if only I were well known everything would be fine”. So when an opportunity presents itself to have work included in this, or that show,
    many feel compelled to take it. The “fear of missing out” now becomes the underlying driving force, so the financial outlay, however much, is simply seen as an investment in career advancement.
    Paying to enter art competitions, or for consideration for inclusion in open exhibitions is similar to asking interviewees to pay for their interviews for a job, or asking actors to pay for their auditions.

    1. Fine artists who sell their art do not have careers they have businesses. If you had a career you would have a job. If you had a job you would receive a pay check. If you sell your art you get paid for the sale and you have to file a profit and loss statement for your (business.) The only ones who win art competitions are the organizers. Don’t waste your limited time, money, and energy on these games. Find and serve your niche.

  6. So, does this apply to art contests that have no entry fee?
    With free ones it’s not really a waste of time because then I have artwork I can sell of show off.

    1. Waste of time and energy. The ONLY content you should be entering is a contest for your customers’s time and attention. If you don’t know your customer and what value you offer then THAT is what you need to focus on. Unless art is your hobby. In that case, enter away!

  7. I understand that these are a waste of time, but then why do so many of these exist? Aren’t they monopolizing on the fact that there is a HUGE gap between artist and getting into a gallery first time? They don’t want “nobody’s” but how does one get “experience” enough to be “accepted”? I’m not saying this like I need their validation. As a self taught artist, I feel like it’s a bigger disadvantage. Like I’m not seen as someone credible or trustworthy enough to showcase? Am I wrong? I’m genuinely curious! The question is IF these are a waste of time, then what else are we supposed to do to jump into the art world? Shouldn’t there be a stepping stone because most people starting out don’t have the financial means or time to just do everything on their own…

  8. The Luxembourg Art Prize ( http://www.luxembourgartprize.com ) : => Yet another on of those… Scams… Its a ruse, no one in the actual Art World cares about this irrelevant Event. In my humble opinion, and I am making a good living in ART for 35 YEARS now , this is an utter waste of money alltogether. The judges are Nobodies. The website is an utter mess, confusing and miss-labeled wording, which can only originate form people who sold cars before, but have never looked, nor bought, nor sold any ART before.

    1. Very well said! I’ve participated in the Luxembourg Art Prize for many years, and never had a chance. When I saw the winners each year, I was disgusted. It’s clear that it’s nearly impossible to win. Not because of the traditional sense of competition and rivalry, but how artificial it seems (and the ridiculous price). I hardly see any people outside Europe be chosen as the finalists. That said, not all art contests are as despicable. I’ve entered a lot as a child, and many of them were geared towards creativity when we were given a topic. Lots were juried basied on: creativity, colour, and technique. It’s just so sad that many competitions in the adult world are not only more subjective, but corrupt.

  9. Great article!
    Exactly the conclusions I’ve finally come to.
    I live in a smallish city and what I’m seeing is that the artists/curators asked to select who gets in – let alone wins are artists who they exhibit and support. Nepotism at it’s insidious worst.

  10. Great article, I benefited greatly from it as a professional artist and an academic art student. But you talked a lot about selling artwork and also talked about the marketing and selling plan as headlines.
    Please I want to know what are the steps of the marketing plan in detail and how to sell. Please direct me to your article if it exists
    Thank you so much

  11. If I had never paid the entry fee, I would never have written my artist’s biography and I wouldn’t have taken the time to build a portfolio. With this first entry fee, for which I paid quite a lot, I gained self-confidence. Any amateur artist should realize the beginning is like this: there are a lot of us. I am definitely not participating for a cash prize, but for myself, to shake up the inner stagnation that is typical of beginners.

    1. If it helps an amateur feel confident then that’s great. My point is that the only ones who really win art contests are the organizers and they are accountable to no one. Buyer be warned.

  12. I have a degree in art and certification to teach it. i’ve sold a few paintings and sculptures at local art fairs in a depressed area. None have gone for over $100. I’m now in a retirement place in suburban chicago. I had notecards made of several landscapes. ?These sell well but make little money. What next?

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