Competition + The Arts = (fill in the blank)

competition and the arts

I don’t know why this idea persists that competition and the arts are odd bed sisters. But it does.

I know that for years, competition had so much sport’s testosterone slathered over it that I cringed just to hear the word.

Then one time, when I made sure I got to a local potter’s studio right when she opened (I had a hankering for this lovely, tiny bowl that was actually a small nesting bird), my friends who were meeting me there “accused” me of being highly competitive because I got the bowl and about 3 other items that simply called to me.

Well, blown me down! If you never!

If I’d been asked to list ten-thousand adjectives about myself,  competitive would have never showed up.

I didn’t play sports. Didn’t enter contests. Never felt elated when I got a better test score than someone else, or a better grade in school.

And yet, there I was clearly getting a head start so I’d have first dibs at the potter’s studio.

Of course, that time the competitive label came with a derogatory implication that somehow what I’d done was unfriendly. I remember the sting of feeling emotionally ostracized the rest of the day – but not to the point of giving up my bird bowl!

In re-imagining this distant past, I realize I also had another emotion that…got buried: a thrill that I got that bird bowl and no one else did!

All these black marks against competition have taken me years to scrub clean.

But scrub I have, and now competition comes with either a neutral response or one of excitement.

Over time I’ve learned that…

Competition Is One of Your Best Friends

  • Competition means there is a market out there – which includes you!
  • Competition challenges you to raise the bar for yourself.
  • Competition does not have to be one-up/one-down. It can be a win-win.
  • Competition is there in some form no matter what, so why not learn from it?
  • Competition can be your mentor.

When I’m coaching one-on-one, I encourage artists to take a good, long look at their competition – especially those other artists who are managing their art careers really well.

Read about them. Go to their exhibits, if that’s feasible. Meet them and strike up a conversation. Ask questions about their career path, their philosophy of art, what keeps them going.

Because, the real key to competition, I believe, is your attitude toward it.

If you claim any degree of disdain, which is actually a fear cleverly disguised as intellectual one-ups-manship, or pooh-pooh the notion that you are paying any attention at all to competition because it’s “beneath” you, or ignoring the very real effects of competition inside your art world (the hide-your-head-in-the-sand stand), then you are giving away chance you have to get competition to work for you instead of against you.

Because, what you choose to believe about competition is within your control.

Here’s one of my favorite “let’s take a look inside” questions: the 1-to-10 Scale (where the first number that pops up is the only one you count!):

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=I wish all competition would disappear / 10=intrigued & empowered by competition), where does your competition attitude fall?

My Score:______

——————————————————————————————————

I think you’ll agree with me that one of the ways competition really shows up is in art sales.

When you see another artist making sales, and you aren’t, all kinds of competitive oriented questions come up, especially ones related to “That work? I just don’t get it!”

If you would like to know how some of your colleagues handle the stress of selling their art…

…and find out more about your own relationship with selling art (even if you love everything involved with selling art, this Blue Stocking Art Salon transcript + workbook will take you to a higher level)…

Click here to get your copy of the  “Sell Your Art Transcript + Workbook” (free, natch!).

31 Responses to “Competition + The Arts = (fill in the blank)”

  1. Cheri Homaee says:

    I agree with you. Competition lets me know where I fit in with my peers, how much I need to improve my work. Make sure I am entering the right competitons. Plus if you are winning then it’s time to move on and find newer challenges

  2. Sari says:

    I recently spoke out about competition…But it was within the context of juried art competitions which I do not believe in…
    In my career as an artist, I have avoided all juried art competitions…I did one recently, only because the site was a historic museum site that had been restored in an old Papermill, & I just wanted to show in the space…
    So despite contradicting my own philosophy I entered the competition & was chosen…I was among just a few out of many who were chosen…
    Immediately I knew people who had not gotten in…They felt bad…I did not feel good about that…
    The selection of art, besides mine, was somewhat conventional, which I see alot at juried competitions…Too much realism…Tracings from photos…
    I paid a fee to enter which I hate doing…No emphasis on sales…The only people who get paid in any way are those who win…
    I was sure I was going to win first place because my work was so amazing…I actually invented the no-weld armature design & hand knotted bricklayers rope into the wings…The women loved it…Loved it…But the juror was a man & the Dragonfly was too feminine…
    So I didn’t get paid…The work of course sold soon after privately for a good sum of money…I do well…But in the juried competition I was in the land of small minds & art societies…
    That was my opinion of juried competitions & it held true…Won’t do that again…Though the venue was fabulous!!!
    I write because people may have seen my comments online & taken them out of context…It’s juried competitions I don’t like…A little competition won’t kill you…In the right context…

    • I’m a bit conflicted with my response to your story here.

      On the one hand, I understand the small minds of juried venues, and the male/female mind differences in judging.

      On the other hand, even though you didn’t go with a rigid adherence to your stated values, because the value of showing in that space trumped the value of opposition to juried events, I’m a bit dismayed by what feels as if you swung right back to rigid in spite of an end success (a good sale!)…

      Or, am I missing something here…

  3. It’s essential! What is the debate?

  4. Sari says:

    Though I’m not crazy about the value judgment words, the fear, the snobbishness or the word rigid, considering you were posing a question, I like how you responded with the 1+1=2 logic…
    I push myself very hard & usually just compete to my own standards…I think I don’t like bias…So maybe yes real competition…But when the standards are skewed or the jury rigged it causes misplaced feelings…I see alot of bias in the art world still, so I lean away from value judgements…A heart is a precious thing to step upon…Just today an artist teacher wrote how her student avoided the unhappy mistake of brown…When too many colours run together…When I showed with a Djibouti owned gallery, brown was the goal colour…
    I think competition needs context…Is this work better than that one? Well what are the parameters?
    The win didn’t feel as good as most wins for me…& I’m about the GoodWin!Smile…

    • Oh, Sari, good for you for working around the way a word online can come w/ unintentional tones of voice. And I can see how rigid feels judgmental, though I’m not at all clear about the reference to fear and snobbishness, neither of which I was experiencing from you in your story.

      Your point about context for specific forms of competition is important.

      I wasn’t actually even thinking of formal competitions when I wrote this, but more about something I hear ofter from artists about how other artists are so competitive that they are not wiling to talk with other artists about mutually important issues, esp. career track information…

      • Sari says:

        “If you claim any degree of disdain, which is actually a fear cleverly disguised as intellectual one-ups-manship, or pooh-pooh the notion that you are paying any attention at all to competition because it’s “beneath” you, ” …I abbreviated this to “fear” & snobbishness”…What I was saying is that you were posing a question, but then imposed these conclusions on anyone who differs on the issue…So why pose the question if you already know the answer? I’m also saying that there are some good reasons that historically the word was considered a dirty word in the art world…Many facets to this diamond, some of them sharp, some of them politically incorrect…
        Actually now that I write this, I am confused…I sense you are all over the place too…
        You are going back & forth on this as well…
        When I went to private french school, we all shared homework, exams, tests, we’d help each other cheat, we were all friends…
        Then when I went to this prestigious high school for only gifted children(you had to write a huge exam & only 35 girls & 35 boys were selected out of 750 selected writers)…At this new school nobody helped me cheat…Nobody shared homework…if I missed a day I couldn’t count on someone giving me the last day’s notes…These were all the smart kids…
        It was a big difference for me…
        I learned that I liked the first way, the old way…I learned about competition too…
        I see the competition stuff alot in art school graduates…I also see alot of copying of work there…Not only are they copying from photographs, from their peers, but from old masters & new work they see online…
        I think these young grunts get handed way too much expectation at an early stage of their careers & they compensate by having to steal…Then that causes a rebound effect of the not sharing mentality…
        Ugh this comment box is too small for me to continue further…I can’t see what I’ve written…I think I am losing the plot…

        • Sari says:

          After a hot humid walk, thinking about what you said, I realized, that in fact, I did “win” the juried competition…I got 10 times more money than if I had sold it during the event, but I needed the event in order for the collectors to see the work in person…I think what happened is, like, I didn’t win American Idol, but soon after I got a recording contract with Lionel Ritchie’s studio, which is a way better thing…(yes, “way better” is what I am going with)…
          I gather I was being a sore loser…I suppose juried competitions are only fun if you win them…My problem sometimes is understanding that I won…When you work outside of the box, the parameters can be harder to see…

          • What a marvelous insight, and exactly what I was hinting at in my first response to your response to the juried event.

            I get myself tangled up in to-do lists where I can’t see my accomplishments that I’ve crossed off because I’m tend to whip myself forward.

            It’s emotionally draining and does not free up the energy I need for the rest of the to-do list.

            So I was imagining from what I heard you saying that a bit of something similar was happening to you in different arena: juried events.

            Maybe winning, in some paradoxical way for you in particular, would have been like putting you in a box… don’t know… just feeling out loud here…

          • Sari says:

            No, you are absolutely right…I realized it too…Winning within the context of the juried competition would have been putting me inside a box…

        • Sometimes I pose questions where I’ve already thought a long time about the answer (for me), but never assume my answer is the only one, and certainly not the only accurate one. So I ask for other points of view.

          My thoughts around disdain had nothing to do with a global dismissal on anyone who differed with that idea – it’s just my idea.

          I’d be in a lot of trouble if I didn’t take a stand on where I stand, but only let others take their stands (as you do with great intellectual curiosity and skill!).

          Also, I don’t feel all over the place on this issue. My blog post is exactly where I am. As are my responses to these fabulous comments.

          I want to say to you, very personally, Sari, that I love your challenges and comments and heart here and wouldn’t do a thing to change any of it (or you!)

  5. I appreciate your topic… and have shared it to my Facebook page and asked for discussion about this competition with your peers on a day-to-day basis, not juried competitions. Juried competitions is another topic!

    I do feel competitive when I see another artist passing me in my level in any way. But, it does as you said, making me strive to do better, more work, or quality up! What it doesn’t do, is make me not give them the kudos they so deserve. I will always say “way to go.” Then I am back on my thinking process of how to do better myself in whatever way that is.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic which is a good way to be, and not a jealous way to be. And, I have downloaded your transcript and workbook for myself, and my “Marketing Group” to have a go at.

    • Sari says:

      I entered a donut designing competition for fun…The prize is 10K & your donut gets sold in Tim Horton’s…You can enter a new design or the same one every day…When you submit your entry, it gets published with other recent donut entires that day…Maybe 40…After I started publishing my donut design, I noticed that subsequent entries that day were using my ideas…Prior to my entry, everyone was in a sort of generalist place…Mine is a Canadian themed one…With a Maple Leaf design…So then people started to submit flags & other Canadian names…While I improved the general level of the entries, I stopped republishing my design daily…Though the frequency of the repeats might get me more notice from the judges, the copying or inspired by donuts were crowding & confusing the scene…
      If competition is about protecting your own original ideas, then why do art coaches encourage free for all publishing online?

      • Ah, yes, the vagaries of our new Online Universe.

        So, a contest where everyone sees everyone else’s entries and can subsequently change their own, that’s a misguided contest to be sure.

        This is where navigating our offline world with our online universe is an evolving process. As a specie, we’re nubbies at all of this.

        Clearly the people who designed this weren’t able to think through how the Online Universe actually works and adjust the rules so it’s a fair playing field.

        It’s called: unintended ignorance, and I would hope you would let this company know they screwed up.

        • Sari Grove says:

          I live in a country ruled by unintended ignorance…Some people call it Canada…It would be like telling the 3 stooges that they screwed up…I’m not even sure they would understand…

    • Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D. says:

      I love this attitude of gratitude, Marsha, for the good work of other artists even when it brings up competitive feelings.
      I’m pretty certain that good energy swings back around and lifts all boats, as they say…
      And thank you for taking the transcript workbook out to other artists – that’s the best news anyone could have given me today!
      For, like you, the work I do is most satisfied when it’s shared…
      – See more at: http://smartistcareerblog.com/2013/07/competition-the-arts-fill-in-the-blank/comment-page-1/#comment-2715

  6. Sari, it is unfortunate that competition is a ‘negative’ experience for you. Frankly, competition exists in every other aspect of life, so why not in the art world?

    I also do not understand feeling ‘bad’ about the results of a juried show…feeling bad for others, etc. It is a subjective process and we get the opportunity to learn from that subjectivity. Have you ever juried and judged a show? If not, it is a real eye opener.

    • Sari says:

      Carol…I win…I am aware of that…So I have to curb that tendency…I am actually coming from a position of being very competitive…

    • Sari says:

      Carol…I win…I am aware of that…So I have to curb that tendency…I am actually coming from a position of being very competitive…

  7. This conversation just reminded me of my experience some 15 years ago when a painting of mine was on the cover of “Watercolor!” magazine. I did not even know I was going to be on the cover.

    The shocker for me was that I received very few phone calls or comments about that achievement. I also did not think of it as ‘competition’ until I experienced so few kudos.

    The lesson for me was to make sure I never did that to an artist I knew. Ever since then I have made a sincere effort to congratulate my peers for their achievements. We can and need to be good “sports.”

    • PS I did know an article about my work would be in the magazine but knew nothing about the cover. That was a surprise for me!

      • Sari says:

        I mean, YEAH! By the way, Kudos on the cover! (smile)…
        & on that point…(we’re agreeing), When that teacher asked you your favorite colours, & you said orange & red, & she said that was wrong since they didn’t go together, & you went home & were upset…Then you became a school psychologist…because you understood that maybe there was some fixing in teaching needed…
        Going back to your earlier comment…For me, if competition implies judgement…If art implies artifice…Then for me, my work, the artifice, has been a place to escape to where dreams are possible…For me, art was the escape from the judgment of the other worlds…So I always held art to a higher standard…A place where orange & red could be side by side, as they are on the colour wheel…A place where judgement might be suspended…

  8. I simply love the bullet points on the positive aspects of competition. Under “Competition Is One of Your Best Friends.” Especially the one about Competition being a mentor.

    I don’t consider myself overly competitive except with myself. Always looking to push myself a bit further and make me a better marketer or person.

    One of the great things about looking at the “Competition” is that you can learn so much from those who are already doing what you want to achieve. I seek to learn from them to find that path to success for myself.

    Also what is amazing about art is that if you are using your own voice and creating artwork from your heart there is no real competition out there only your own mindset.

    I believe every artist who creates with their own voice has a blue ocean in front of them and the “competition” is not as important as really understanding the idea that you are unique and have something to offer the world through your art and that it is your real job to get that message out to the world.

    The unique talents and vision that is combined through your art is important to the world… and you might as well accept, live with and benefit from it while you are in the world. So get it out there!

    Anyway that’s my take on it.

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  10. Ritik says:

    The only picture I found so far is the rtnfiag at the Grand Canyon. I have spent about 15 minutes looking for others but to no avail. I hope to be able to get around the site better tomorrow. I see your from Bolton Landing. LOL

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