Letter from Editor

Good Intentions but Bad Habits – Art Competitions

You probably see art competitions all the time and ignore them, because they’re asking you to submit work for a fee.  You could spend all day finding places that want to charge $25, $50, $100 for your chance to win BIG money or be featured in a publication.  Most artists know these to be scams of one kind or another, a way for people to make money off the backs of artists.

Today I ran across another version of this, but it’s not considered a scam by most people.  The local township art competition.  This usually comes in the form of some sort of marketing piece they want to have made but don’t want to track down a professional artist.  Instead, they announce that they are ‘accepting submissions’ to be selected to WIN local fame, notoriety, and some sort of cash reward.  I’m not going to name any names but a certain local township wants a map illustrated of all the local parking spots.  They’re offering $500 and exposure.  Does that sound… a little low to you?  You would be correct.  Not bad for a student, but I really don’t think they intend for this to be a student project.

What is wrong with this?  Don’t artists need both money and exposure?

Yes and no.

Any kind of exposure is good but ask yourself who’s going to look at your work, track you down, and start buying your art?  Let’s say your illustrated map is seen by 200,000 regular people.  How many of them buy art?  How many of them will follow your social feed and help you grow?  How many will simply look at the map, and your name, and then go about their day with a smile and a shrug.  So let’s take ‘exposure’ with a grain of salt because this isn’t like an interview on the Late Show with John Stewart involving national exposure.  We’re talking about a small town in Pennsylvania.

$500.  I could use $500 and I imagine any of you could as well.  What’s the likelihood you’re going to win?  How many people are participating?  How many hours did you pour into this piece of art for a chance (not a guarantee) that you might be compensated?  I can tell you right now that an illustrated map with 10 locations is going to take several hours to make.  If your hourly rate is anywhere close to professional, you’re going to realize that $500 is not even close to what you’d charge a client.  More like $2000 or higher depending on the edits and revisions needed.  This is student-level money.

  • It’s not enough money
  • It’s not ENOUGH exposure
  • We’re taking away a well-paying job from an artist
  • We’re wasting 14/15 artist time because there is only one winner (assuming 15 entrees)

You may be involved with a committee that has done something like this in the past, and you may say: “Our artist was super happy to be selected and receive their award!  You’re overreacting.”  But that’s the thing, I’m shining a light on a bad habit our society has.  The habit is not considering art as work.  Whether an artist enjoys making art is not relevant to what you perceive as ‘fair’ compensation.

Some bad thinking that leads to bad habits:

  • Some people believe that the harder you work and the more miserable you are, the more you should be paid.  Artist are not sweating in a mine or getting hurt on construction sites so their work is not ‘real work‘.
  • However, if your job is traditionally a low-paying one (such as fast food) then you should accept that fact that your compensation is low.  Artist have been lowballed for such a long time that their highly skilled, unique accomplishments are considered ‘easy‘.

So considering those two ways of thinking, it’s not surprising that a local organization would consider an illustrated map to be… well… easy.  The spirit of being American is competition right?!  There are winners and losers, you take a chance, you gamble!  USA. USA. USA.  Except… there is only one winner and the other 99% are losers.

The take away here, in summary, is that be careful what art competitions you get involved with.  As an artist you need to be aware of what is worth your time to work on, but also consider how it will affect all the other artist in your community.  Is creating a piece of art for FREE something that benefits you and your peers?  Demand more.  Write letters/email/comments and ask for compensation.

Hi, I’m Nova Nightingale

Writer and Artist from the Delaware Valley Region of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Southern New Jersey. Champion of sub-culture and alternative arts, working to support and promote those artists who don't fit the usual norms.