Monday, February 18, 2013

Award Winning Artists: A Conspiracy Against You?

Concept/OK: Residency Artists with curator Alison Hearst — Narciso ArgüellesSarah Williams Hearn,
 Gregory Ruppe at the Hardesty Arts Center.
Ever feel like something is rigged? Like artists were chosen before the contest was even announced? 

I've heard the grumbling and gotten questions that imply suspicion about artist winners from OVAC’s programs.  Considering fairness, here's some of the foundational characteristics that may explain some of the reasons why the same artists get selected for many things:

1. They apply.
This may sound obvious, but those with the best chances apply to everything that they are eligible for or that fits their artwork.
Meanwhile, many rule themselves out; deciding they wouldn't get in anyway or it's not worth the effort.

Award winning artists frequently apply for many opportunities for each one they receive. Hard work really is required to receive big rewards.

For instance, only nine artists have submitted to all three of our Art 365 exhibitions and not gotten selected. That means the several hundred artists who applied only applied once or twice. Similarly, few artists apply repeatedly to the OVAC Fellowship (worth $5,000). 2009 Fellowship winner Kate Rivers submitted seven times before receiving the award!

2. They submit outstanding work samples.
Award winning artists’ images are clear, well, lit, and show their work in the best possible perspective. Or their time-based artwork samples are carefully chosen with easy to understand audio.

3. Their written materials describe their artwork and professional practice clearly and thoughtfully.

Award winning artists take time to explain their work in artist statements and work sample lists. They show care in their narratives and cover letters.  

Moreover, artists who address the reasoning behind their work with nuance distinguish themselves. They explain why they chose certain materials, processes, or themes. They show an engagement with the contemporary world, timeless aspects of the human condition, or bold technique that goes beyond their simple enjoyment of making the artwork itself.

See samples of past award winning artists’ proposals here.

These three characteristics obviously can't explain the entire process, but without these an artist rarely stands out in a pool of applications.  Artistic selection is inherently a subjective process.  Paraphrasing the loose quotation of a recent guest curator, there are too many types of art for us to love them all. 

To those who do follow the above and don't get selected for opportunities, I hope you continue working and find ways to stay motivated. Find exhibitions, grants and awards that seem to resonate with your artistic practice and career stage. Continue to hone your written materials. 
And, know that most art world opportunities aren't application-based, so your opportunities may arise at any time.

We asked artists to talk about this persistence, and specifically rejection, in a past blog series found here.  

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