A primer for visual artists when entering exhibitions, contests, and competitions

Breaking into the art world is a difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be. To be a successful artist, you must be determined, hard-working, and passionate about your field of work. It also helps to understand how the art world does business: how to find the opportunity that is the best fit for you, how to avoid predatory scams, and how to build your resume for the future. This guide will give you a good starting point for your journey to becoming the artist you wish to be.

Tips for Entering Exhibitions, Contests, and Competitions:

  1. What are the restrictions for applying? Many exhibitions specify that they will only accept art from local or regional artists. National and international shows may entice you with larger prizes and prestige, but they also attract larger applicant pools. This is not to say that you shouldn’t apply to those shows, but also consider starting with smaller events and building a resume. Some events may showcase artists of a specific age cohort, such as artists under 30. Other opportunities may spotlight emerging, mid-career, or established artists. Make sure you fit the age and experience criteria before attempting to apply.
  2. What are the guidelines for submitting work? Often times, art shows will have a certain theme or other guideline that submissions must follow. There may be medium and size restrictions, or submission limits that you should make note of by carefully reading postings and open calls.
  3. How do I choose which works to submit? When asked to submit a number of works to a competition, it is best to use substantial pieces that are linked by a central theme. They should adequately represent your artistic style, while also fulfilling the demands of the exhibition.
  4. Is there a fee? Arts organizations often rely on upfront entry fees to rent exhibition halls, cover the costs of hosting the shows, and to furnish the award for the competition. Beware of vanity galleries that charge exorbitant fees to show your work (we’ll discuss this more in a future post for the series). At the same time, be sure to consider other benefits included, such as gallery membership or magazine subscriptions, when determining if a fee is worth the chance of not winning the award or being exhibited. Other possible expenses to be aware of are travel, lodging, and shipping-related costs.
  5. How will the show be judged? Research the jury members when applying for juried shows to make sure your work fits their criteria. What kind of work are they looking for? What kind of work have they done? What sort of works have won in their past shows? If the contest is being judged virtually, make sure you submit high-quality images of your work — you won’t be able to pass off a blur of pixels as your latest avant garde masterpiece. 
  6. What are the conditions of selling your work? Should your work be accepted, there are some questions you need to ask. How will commission work? Who pays sales tax? Does the artist retain copyright/reproduction rights? Is my art insured? Knowing these answers before you commit to an exhibition is imperative.
  7. How will the exhibition take place? You want to be aware of where the exhibition is taking place and how it will be advertised. Is it being promoted toward buyers, or other artists? Is the artist expected to be in attendance? Inquire about previous attendance and sales to make sure it will be worth your while.
  8. Do you really want your work there? Early in your career, you may think the best course of action would be to throw all your work against the wall and see what sticks, so to speak. This is not always the case. Be discerning about the galleries and exhibitions you apply for. Make sure you are a good fit for the gallery and vice versa. Establish real, working relationships with members of the art community and they’ll support you in turn.

Find upcoming deadlines for exhibitions, contests, and competitions on NYFA Classifieds: Opportunities & Services for Artists or search NYFA Source, NYFA’s free database of 12,000+ opportunities for artists.

NEXT: Part 2 of 4: Beware the Ides of Arts

– Written by Sean Doolittle

Image: Installation image of La Crisalida exhibition in NYFA’s Gallery in Brooklyn, NY.

Amy Aronoff
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