Hurry up and fail already!

Sailors' Moon, the 31 in 31 Collection


Lately, the concepts of success and failure have been much on my mind.


"Hurry up and fail already, would ya?!" said no one ever. We're constantly pushed to succeed, put on our best game face, and get out there and win! What does that mean in the art world?


You see, fall ushers in a huge season for art competitions. And although art competitions happen all year round, fall and spring have an especially large number of them. Some are attached to exhibitions in hallowed places such as museums or other public civic venues, others can be online or part of the ubiquitous art festivals and fairs. In some cases, just being able to participate in an exhibit, festival, or show is a competition in itself (it's called being "juried in") — the competition's awards are an additional judging.


I never really gave much thought to competitions in general, but now that I'm a full-time artist, they have become a very visible (and peer-pressure driven) part of my world. I've never been one to give much credence to such awards as a collector of art. When I buy art, I buy it because I identify with the artist's story or the painting's message to me. Whether that artist has won one or no awards matters not one whit to me. Sadly, that's not true for many folks. Many people will often want to buy a painting, but end up deferring to a judge's opinion instead of valuing their own far more.


Art competitions are inherently subjective because they're based on the particular jury's or judge's aesthetic, skills, preferences, and prejudices. Their decisions are neither right nor wrong. The ribbons they award are merely their opinions. Period.


There's only one rule in art for a collector:  buy something you will love looking at every. single. day. 


It doesn't matter if that judge liked that painting. I can find you at least five judges who would disagree. (And vice versa.) Don't feel embarrassed if you didn't like any of the award winners, but loved another painting. What matters is — do YOU love that painting? You do?! Then buy it and enjoy it!!!


Thus my mixed feelings about art competitions and how they're linked to artists' perceptions of "success" and "failure." I've come to view them as a double-edged sword. Bottom line: the only real winners are the competitions' organizers who make big money off of both groups. Artists pay to be considered for entry because they need someone else to say "you're good enough." Collectors who buy the award-winners end up paying a bigger premium and collectors who buy the rest, pay more also because the paintings made it into the competition to be judged.


The one place where hurrying up to fail works for me is in my creative practice. I constantly experiment and try different painting techniques, drawing techniques, subjects, surfaces, painting mediums, brushes, palette knives and other mark-making tools — all in an attempt to help me give voice to what I see in my mind and heart. It may take 100 fails before I finally hit on something feels right for what I want to express. But once I find it, wham! Another great tool and process in my box. That's when I feel like I won an award.


What about you? Do you hurry up to fail? Why or why not? Does your chosen vocation have competitions? How do they help? How do they get in the way? Drop me a note and tell me more. I'd love to learn from your experiences and happy to share mine.