Reprinted from my blog with the American Tapestry Alliance, July 12th, 2017
When I began weaving tapestry, I entered exhibits for the fun of it. It was so exciting to have my work accepted into a juried exhibit. I won my first award in 2003, how validating!
After a few years of weaving and exhibiting, I realized I wanted to develop my reputation and eventually sell my work. Since I don’t have an art degree, I thought if I built a strong CV, my work, and I would have more credibility.
I began entering more exhibits in the US with an occasional international submission. Shipping abroad was a bit daunting, not to mention costly. I was already a member of the American Tapestry Alliance. I also joined The British Tapestry Group and The Canadian Tapestry Network. This gave me a foothold outside the US, along with more access to information about international exhibits to enter. I am also a member of my local group: Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWiNE).
As I built up steam and had work in 8 or 9 shows in a year (2008 and 2009 respectively), I decided to be more specific about the shows I applied to, so I developed a list of criteria. The exhibit had to have at least one of the following:
- An award
- A catalogue
- A juror I really want my work to be seen by.
This meant I may be applying to fewer shows, but my work would still, hopefully, be out in the world. It was.
But why put yourself and your art on the line? Rejection can be hard to take. What are the benefits of exhibiting? I was just guessing when I made these decisions. Was I right? I think so, but what do others have to say on the subject?
“The important thing about entering art competitions is not to focus on what you didn’t get, but to appreciate the value of what you did achieve. Think of entering competitions as a stepping stone to building a successful art career.”
Emptyeasel.com has an article titled: Why Every Aspiring Artist Should Enter Juried Shows. The author wrote about four good outcomes of entering exhibits: building credibility and visibility; learning to judge your own work: and keeping your portfolio current.
1 You’ll build credibility.
When you have work in a prestigious show where few are chosen and many apply, and especially when you win an award, you build credibility. A respected juror thinks enough of your work to choose it for an exhibition. When you receive an award, they are saying your work stands above the crowd. Seeing tapestry in prestigious shows helps the public become informed and see that tapestry has credibility.
2 You’ll build your visibility.
Exhibiting in any show puts your work in front of the public. A juried show is even better of course. Tapestry is not as easy a sale as a painting or other fine art works. The public needs to be educated but also become familiar.
3 You’ll learn to honestly judge your own art.
When you are choosing work to enter into a show, that is an opportunity to look at your work objectively. Seeing your work as it stacks up to your peers is a useful tool. Attend openings and evaluate how your work compares to the rest of the exhibit. Be honest with yourself and be objective. This is an excellent learning experience and an opportunity to compare pricing as well.
4. You’ll keep your work and portfolio current.
Having a deadline helps you keep your information current. Be sure to update your portfolio, CV, Artist Statement and Artists Bio whenever something new happens. This way you’ll be ready when you want to submit to an exhibit, or if someone contacts you for information. If you have a web presence it is important to keep your information up to date there too.
I would add to this list:
5. Openings: a place to network
If the juror is present when you go to the opening of a show, especially when you have work exhibited, introduce yourself and have a business card on hand. Networking is an important part of getting your work out into the world. Be sure to be polite and brief.
In the Agora Gallery article, mentioned earlier, the author wrote:
“The act of entering a competition requires a certain amount of time and thought: a reflection that helps artists identify, establish, and unify their voice and artistic concept. It takes you a step back, allowing you to see beyond individual images and forces you to consider your work as a whole. Whether it’s the first time you’re doing this or the hundredth, evaluating and re-evaluating your body of work is a fundamental part of being an artist. It shows you how you’ve developed as time passes, how you are improving, and what the combined impact of your collected works might be. Each work has an individual essence, presence, and impact, but it is also a part of the greater whole, and you need to be able to appreciate that. Putting together an entry for a competition encourages you to develop this viewpoint, allowing you to make more informed decisions about what you should be working on next.”
Aletta de Wal, artist advisor and certified visual coach, wrote:
“In the end, gaining entry and winning awards aren’t the only benefits of entering shows and competitions. Be sure to keep your eye on the “bigger prizes” of sticking your neck out and bettering yourself as a professional artist.
No matter what the outcome may be, with every submission you’ll be building your reputation, getting your work out there, and improving yourself and your art.”
According to Agora Gallery director, Angela DiBello, “Participating in art competitions takes courage and is an act of faith and belief in one’s own talent and strengths. Anyone who simply enters a competition is a winner.”
In the Agora-Gallery article “3 Benefits Of Entering Art Competitions” the author writes about becoming more self confident. This happens on two levels: having the confidence to enter, and the increased confidence that comes from being accepted and receiving awards. When I began entering my work for exhibits I had lots of rejections. At first I was so disappointed. I was taking it personally. I learned a bit about how the jurying process works when I received a letter from a juror. She wrote that although she liked my work, it didn’t fit with the other pieces that had been chosen for the show. This was my “Aha” moment. I shouldn’t take the rejection personally. I began to see that there are more factors involved with the decision process than the quality of the work and none are personal. I had also seen that more than 50% of my submissions had been rejected. After talking with other artists I found that to be the norm. I also realized I needed to shift my response to the rejection for self preservation. This all helped improve my confidence, but the acceptances, of course, did more.
There are drawbacks to entering exhibits. Some people think exhibiting is a waste of time, effort and money. Some of the reasoning behind that perspective comes from taking the rejection of your work in a show as a personal affront. In addition, the waiting period to find out if you have been accepted can be agonizing, and the entry fees can be high and feel unfair. The artist is subsidizing the exhibit whether their work is selected or not. (There are a few exhibits that don’t charge unless you are accepted.) The artist also has to pay for shipping. These costs add up, especially when you are submitting to numerous shows each year. There was an interesting analogy in The Practical Handbook For The Emerging Artist by Margaret R. Lazzari:
“It would be somewhat like charging musicians to perform a symphony which the audience enjoys for free.” Lazzari suggests choosing “reputable, high profile, well maintained gallery spaces.” Lazzari also writes that sales from juried exhibits are rare and success in juried exhibits doesn’t necessarily lead to other venues. I would have to agree. I have had work in 64 exhibits over 14 years. From those shows I have sold 3 tapestries – not very good odds. I’d love to know what others people’s experience has been with sales in juried exhibits. On the other hand I was in a group exhibit with TWiNE in Kennebunk, Maine in 2008. This led to a solo show at Maine Fiberarts in Topsham, Maine in 2009. My connection with MFa has led to being invited to be in numerous of their exhibits over the years. It is a relationship I value highly.
There comes a time when your career begins to make a shift. You’re receiving invitations to participate in gallery exhibits or exhibits organized by peers. There may be opportunities you organize yourself. At some point, you may be represented by a gallery. Cooperative galleries are another option. In any event, when a dealer is looking at your resume or CV they want to see progression from exhibits to something more. Awards, invitations, published articles you’ve written, work included in books and magazines, exhibits you have curated, lectures, teaching, etc. These all point to the fact that you are serious about your work and that your career is moving forward.
When do you stop entering juried shows? There are many opinions on this. It is a subject for another article. Until then, I suggest you take a look at Joannemattera.blogspot. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to read the comments and let us know what you think. Where are you in your career? Have you just begun, are you still entering shows or are you no longer submitting to exhibits? If that’s the case, let us know why.
Until next time,