Wednesday, February 01, 2017

NOT selected by an art competition or open exhibition?

Have you had your artwork rejected by an art competition or an open exhibition?
Did you wonder why?
Did you vow never ever to enter another one - and then entered anyway after the Call for Entries was published?

This post is about
  • common complaints artists make about not getting selected
  • some of the reasons why artwork is rejected 
  • why artists never get the feedback they want and sometimes need.
  • why entry fees are reasonable.
You can also read more TIPS about entering art competitions on my pages about

SBA Stacks - prior to selection 2016

Mystified artists or conspiracy theorists?

Periodically I get letters from artists asking me about art competitions.  More than a few complain about the outcome of their latest effort to get selected. Often they want to know
  • if art competitions are a fraud and/or 
  • why their artwork wasn't selected.
The complaints often focus on a few issues - which are perceived as the real problems in their eyes:
  • organisers don't pay any attention to the costs incurred by artists
  • the entry fees are exorbitant
  • the selectors are biased (for whatever reason)
  • what gets selected is rubbish. 
The latest complaint/query is below - which I've waited a while to post and have anonymised in terms of the artist and the competition highlighted - but you'll get the sense of the issues. The sentiments expressed are not an uncommon theme. 
Hi Katherine
Firstly, thanks for your write-ups. Always very informative and appreciated by us artists.  

I was reading what you were saying about "an anonymous art competition" 2016 with great interest.
It is amazing at how artists pay exorbitant fees to enter these competitions, even though we are mislead and cheated. Surely it is illegal to mislead and comes under the misdescription act. Who checks that competitions are run honestly? There is no organisation to regulate any of them. Has anybody ever challenged them regarding misleading information?

Over the years I have paid hundreds and hundreds of pounds on competitions and travel expenses and each time I swear I will never enter another one again. Yet, we have no choice but to pump entrance fees into the competition system in the hope that our work will get selected and noticed.

I cannot understand and am almost becoming a conspiracy theorist because of this: In your experience, do you know why an artist can have work preselected in every prestigious competition going, yet never once get finally selected at any of them. I have had work preselected for all the major competitions every time, but never get selected. "an anonymous art competition" of 2016 was no exception with the attached image preselected only to be rejected at the next stage of selection. [description of painting]

The reason there are no paintings of people in groups or within a context is that the judges somehow feel these paintings are not worth consideration. Classic example of this is my painting of [anonymous] being rejected on final selection. Even though a different painting style, similar work to the artist you were referring to, [the winner of the top prize]I would love to hear your views on points raised, however, I do understand you are busy if you cannot personally reply.

Thanks Katherine.

All the best

Here's another example of a negative view of art competitions - The problem with open art competitions WARNING! It contains extreme exaggeration laced with abusive name-calling!

Reasons why artwork is rejected

Here's a list of some of the more common reasons why artwork is rejected.

You didn't comply with the terms and conditions

They are there for a reason. You might think they're silly or not worth reading. If that's the case, don't be surprised if your artwork doesn't get selected as a result and you waste an entry fee.

Your photograph isn't the right size and/or good enough

I've seen lots of photos of artwork submitted as part of a digital entry. Sadly, some of the photos submitted with a digital entry are badly lit, not entirely in focus or simply quite atrocious! 

Also if you create a file that is too big, in the wrong format, not labelled properly etc. you just provide selectors with a really easy reason to exclude your artwork.

The open exhibition which isn't

Organisers of art societies have downsized the exhibition and number of works which can be hung - but forgotten to downsize the members entries as well. 

As a result the ratio of works selected from the open to those submitted by members has become "skew-whiff". By which I mean that it's hardly an open exhibition if less than 25% of the entries come from the open entry!

My own definition of an open exhibition is that ideally it should be around 50:50 members and non-members. Certainly no more than 60:40.

The selectors did NOT like your work

REMEMBER that there's absolutely no reason why they should. 

It's your job to ensure that your artwork is a good fit with the type and quality of artwork that is typically selected.  
  • That means checking out the exhibition first - rather than just hoping....
  • Also  allow for the fact that selectors might change each year and hence personal taste and appreciation for a certain sort of artwork might also change.

Your art is an unwanted problem for the exhibition organisers

  • It's not an artwork with an obvious market - if sales are an important part of sustaining the future of an exhibition do not be surprised if your work is not selected if it's  thought very unlikely to find a buyer. There's space for a very few of those type of paintings in an open exhibition which needs to at the very least break even.
  • your artwork is too 'loud' and will have an adverse impact on other artwork hanging nearby. In an open exhibition choosing very loud artwork can cause major problems for those hanging the exhibition since it can visually 'drown' all the artwork nearby.

Your artwork looks amateurish

What might be fine at a local / parochial level is often not OK as you step up a stage in terms of the exhibitions you enter.

Do make sure you go and look at an exhibition in the year before you enter - or at the very least take a look at some of the photos on websites or in the reviews I do of the major open exhibitions and competitions.
    Here are some of the reasons WHY selectors might think your work looks amateurish within the often very tight time slots allocated to view a painting in isolation (we're talking seconds!)
    • obviously copied from a photo - many selectors (and other artists) can tell quite easily - even if you don't think they can.
    • poor techniques - You MUST submit your best work. Your work isn't always as good as you think it is. If you are self-taught and/or work on your own you may well benefit from some independent evaluation if your work keeps being rejected.
    I’m looking for is something which arrests you, something which registers. David Alston
    • "same old, same old" - there is very simply nothing unique about the work! There is no "added something". Strategies for dealing with this include:
      • Do NOT copy the styles of existing artists. 
      • If you choose the same subject as another artist recognise that the best example is going to be the one that gets selected.  Painting the same subject as a prizewinning artwork does not entitle you to a prize as well!
    • the artwork doesn't read well within the very tight time slot allowed to review artwork. Try looking at your work from a distance (eg 6-10 feet) and assess whether it comes across well in a time slot not exceeding 10 seconds. The best work creates an instant positive impact at a distance and also rewards a more in-depth look.
    • your signature is too big - this is very often an indication of an amateur artist. "Shouting" your name via a big loud colourful signature is generally not favoured - simply because it detracts from most paintings.  Go and look at the signatures of old masters some time! (see also my blog post Creating a signature on your art).
    Although there are always the exceptions, it would be better for submitting artists to err on the side of caution regarding signatures, framing, titles and support methods. So what do judges look for at an open submission exhibition? by Lisa Takahashi

    Your frame can provide a reason to ignore your artwork

    Don't be parochial - and don't make personal preferences the deciding factor in framing choices. You are NOT framing for your home - you're framing for an exhibition and (presumably) to sell.

    If you're entering a competition or open exhibition you need to find out what are acceptable frames for the work within this specific context.  
    • Neutral is always good - it allows a work to look good and doesn't compete or clash with other artwork.
    • Take a look at the photographs I provide - in exhibition reviews - of the exhibition in previous years. They're a good indication of the sort of frames which are acceptable. 
    Also see more tips about framing which promotes your art in my section on How to frame art on my website Art Business Info for Artists

    The stacks for the RA Summer Exhibition

    Why artists never get the feedback they want and need

    There simply isn't time to provide feedback.

    Many artists would quite simply be amazed at the time required to review all the entries and then work from a long list to a short list - and then identify prizewinners.
    • To translate decisions about an artwork into feedback would take far too much time.
    • Remember also that not all selectors are being paid and therefore their time is being given for free.

    The Critical Friend Perspective

    Bear in mind that many people (e.g. artist friends) often find it difficult to tell people that their artwork is amateurish.

    I'm happy to tell people - but ONLY if they invite me to offer an honest opinion (and there's a fee for my time but it's not unreasonable)! Contact me if you are interested and I'll tell you how it works.

    The Juror's Perspective

    Another way to get feedback about HOW art competitions and open exhibitions actually work is to read articles written by judges.

    Here's some interesting articles on how the selection process works and why artwork gets selected and rejected - from the perspective of the judge

    Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts.Winston Churchill(suggested by Haidee-Jo Summers in a comment on this post!)

    and finally......

    When artists complain about exorbitant fees, I suggest they sit down and research/work out the realistic costs of accommodating an exhibition, selecting, mounting and manning an exhibition and all the other work involved in administering an open and competitive exhibition for hundreds of artworks. Income raised from fees has to go a long way.

    I don't feature exhibitions that I regard as a rip-off - period.

    I'm very happy to feature exhibitions which use entry fees to subsidise good causes eg
    • the RA Summer Exhibition has ALWAYS been about generating funds to run the RA Schools which provide a free art education to talented and aspiring artists - and while the entry fee might be steep, the commission rate is not. 
    • the Wildlife Artist of the Year has ALWAYS been about generating funds for wildlife conservation etc.
    However I'm not sympathetic to art societies which use entry fees to an open exhibition as a way of subsidising members who aren't behaving in a business-like way and hence keeping their society on an even keel through other measures.

    An open entry exhibition should ALWAYS be self-financing and NEVER be a way of subsidising other activity - UNLESS that is articulated clearly to those entering.


    1. Great post Katherine. When I read the letter you posted above my first thought was that the artist in question should seriously reconsider their framing. If you are consistently getting pre-selected for major shows and never making it to the final hang I would be wondering if your presentation is letting the work down. As you say the selection panel have only a very short time to make up their mind about each work.

      Alternatively, could you be 'enhancing' the work with photoshop before entering so that the digital image you send in is really rather a lot stronger than the actual painting?

      To be pre-selected so many times is actually encouraging I would say. Get along to the exhibitions, consider whether your work is a good fit. Be selective about which ones you enter and enter those ones consistently. If you are getting pre-selected you are on the right track. Don't give up at the first, second or third hurdle! Persistence reaps rewards.

      Visit the show and look at the kinds of frames displayed, and take the opportunity to meet the members and ask advice, if it is an open exhibition attached to an art society.

      And remember everybody gets rejections.

      My favourite Winston Churchill quote works well for art competitions...
      "Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts."

    2. Thanks so much for your comment Haidee-Jo - and I LOVE that quotation!

    3. Thank you for the informative and helpful post

      Many years ago at a small outdoor community art guild show (not where I live now), the judge stood looking at a painting for a long time, longer than for the majority. Yet, no award, not even an honorable mention was given to that painting. The awards went to the usual well known local artists. A big juried show in the area accepted that no award artist's entry (not the no award painting) to the surprise of some. Balance.

    4. Fab post Katherine and great quotation Haidee-Jo. I've never understood why some artists get so angry at rejection and I have seen a few comments myself sitting on the council of the SWA.
      I have made a few comments myself but only in jest I hasten to add as I have had a number of rejections as well as acceptances.
      I have to say tho it's our human nature to sit and scratch our very confused heads. I recently had some work rejected from a society that has previously not just accepted my work but sold it on the first preview day. Frames? I used the same frame and slip. And I have to say when I picked up the rejected pieces the foam covering had not even been removed.
      What I am trying to say in after the initial head scratching I simply accepted the situation. At the SWA selection is made on a majority vote so I accept not everyone liked them enough plus the 'D''s chalked in the back told me they had been at least gone through a second consideration process.
      The point I am making is rejection happens for all sorts of reasons and even though we ought to give ourselves the best chance by following the rules and getting the right frame etc we have to accept this happens to everyone. I am sure some of the best artists have good stories to tell.
      Two things spring to mind tho, do you submit the same paintings to another juried show? I am inclined to say yes.
      Also this thing about trying over and over again, is there any mileage in thinking perhaps our vanity makes us believe we are good enough? I am approached frequently on whether I think work should be submitted and of course the dilemma, how do you tell them they are not quite ready for juried shows? Who am I to say? Similarly should jurors tell some applicants to stop wasting their money? It's all so subjective
      Tuppence worth
      Ps and as for the submission fee, where in prestigious London do you get to show your work for £15 a pop?

    5. Looking at a painting for a long time does not equate to rating a painting highly.

      Sometimes if you look at a painting for long enough you can count the ways in which it fails to 'perform'.

      However the most common reason is that sometimes there's something about a painting which you know is wrong - and it takes a while to work it out. Ones I've spotted include:
      * water going uphill
      * two completely different light sources in the same painting
      * mixing vegetation from different seasons
      * the scale is completely wrong i.e. the size of the people does not relate to the size of the buildings.

      One I remember being pointed out to me was a boat which had completely the wrong rigging.

      I could go on - those were some that I could think of very quickly.

      As for your last point, maybe you can try again - I can't make sense of your penultimate sentence. Is there a word or some punctuation missing? Maybe try rewording?

    6. ps I am coming up as "unknown" but I don't know why?...Not intentional!

      I don't have a problem with "rejection" at all. It's not actually rejection, simply that what you have is not required for that particular event.

      What I do have a problem with is submission fees which quite frankly are too expensive to make submitting worth while. I know different people have different resources, and it may not matter to some to throw £30 here and £30 there, so I guess this doesn't stop people submitting but it does stop me. I recently probed a bit into an "opportunity" and it was for an exhibition which lasted....yes, two whole days! The submission fee of £30 was for six works, BUT WHY NOT GET SELECTED ARTISTS to bear the cost? The submission fee was described initially as being a "submission admin fee", which was incorrect, as I then got an explanation that it was to be used for publicity.

      Yes, well, I do understand costs of putting on exhibitions, I have organised many myself, but in the end I do feel that a lot of less experienced artists are simply exploited on a regular basis. WE DO HAVE A CHOICE because the best thing to do is to group up with other artists and put your own exhibitions on. Work cooperatively and don't bother about the "prestige" element. It is really not worth it. Unless an exhibition is really well established there is no status attached to it anyway, and even if there is, this doesn't mean that you will even get your costs back. It's a choice for people to make, but try and disconnect any sense of self worth or status from it. Many "opportunities" are simple opportunities for someone to squeeze a bit of money from a persons belief that in order to "succeed" they must take the opportunities which are given without actually thinking about if it makes any sense. There ARE some good opportunities about, though not as many as they should and could be. Care needs to be taken, for sure. This is a bit of a rant, but why not. I really think its up to artists to start to demand a bit more. Make your own opportunities, contact local cafes, form groups, work cooperatively and creatively, network, open your studios, contact businesses, network, ...etc basically BE ACTIVE. And when you spot a CRAP "opportunity" write to the people concerned and tell them exactly how rubbish it is and how it doesn't help artists at all! Things like paying £80 to put YOUR WORK up in a hotel, etc (basically providing them with free decoration) is one "opportunity" I have a vague memory of reading about a while back. If people REALLY care about art, artists and want to give you opportunities they will ensure that they they don't take money from you for NOTHING, or if there is a submission fee they will ensure it really is minimal. It's not our responsibility to help other people fund exhibitions. If they want funding they need to do the work themselves and and get it from other sources. Small charges to take part are often made, from artists already selected. I find that more acceptable because you are paying for something you get. But submission fees are too easily a great way of generating income. Artists are potentially a great income stream. Never forget that without your WORK there wouldn't be an exhibition. RANT over!

    7. Do feel free to rant on this topic! :) Artists, in my experience, should never ever be taken for mugs!

      I'm surprised more is not made of the fee for submission and the fee for hanging system. At least that way, those who get the benefit of being exhibited pay more for towards the cost of putting on the exhibition.

    8. Hi Katherine, what a great post!

      There certainly seems to be a lot of debate about this.

      I agree with the points that you made and I did chuckle a bit about the rant in the link to the blog with the foul mouth! He did come across a bit of a bad loser.

      We win some and lose some. We can't be liked by everyone and the nature of the beast is that the only opinions that matter are the ones of the judges. If you don't get through maybe your art doesn't appeal to those particular judges or maybe it simply isn't actually very good compared to the other entries.

      I must say though that I do agree with 'unknown' that the fee system could be thought about again. A £30 fee might not be much for some people but for others it is a massive chunk of their weekly income. This does keep the arts as elitist where the poorer artists simply can't enter these things and get that step up. More wealthy artists can enter as many works as is the limit without worry. The art world needs to be more accessible to people struggling financially too. Yes the fees have to come from somewhere but I do think that the people who get selected should put up more and the initial entry fee should be a lot less.

      I have watched my peers who I went to University with and the poorer ones have fallen to the curb and the wealthier were able to enter competitions and travel and make the most of opportunities. And it was certainly not to do with who was the most talented or who was lazy Another rant as a comment haha. The sign of a good post stirring up emotions :)

    9. 'Twas ever thus.

      I'm not sure that an art competition can resolve one of life's great iniquities.

      Some competitions and exhibitions do have lower fees set for those who are still students.

    10. No an art competition cannot solve the rich poor gap but there are a few simple adjustments that can be made to make the art world more inclusive to people less affluent. The art world often comes under criticism for being elitist and there are a few small steps that can make things more accessible for certain groups. Lower fees for students is great, but what if you are not a student? For example, a middle aged woman disabled by a chronic illness. Unable to work as is house bound and exhausted. Doing her best to carve out an art career and receiving no benefits. A £30 fee is going to be harder to find than for some. The fee could be reduced and the people who are accepted could pay a bit more as at least they are paying for something tangeable. I wouldn't mind paying more if I got through as that sweetens the deal. In general the arts can be very 'pay to play' as it is. It is good that things are starting change for the younger generations but there are lots of other groups of people who are denied access in a way. Little things can make a huge difference. I just think that we shouldn't accept things the way they are and always seek to change for the better. I wonder if there are any other ways like sponsorships etc?

    11. I guess the way I look at it is that if somebody is serious about becoming an artist then you are in effect trying to set up a business.

      Businesses need working capital - for all the expenses they have to incur before they can start making money.
      To do that you have to create that working capital.
      To do that you do whatever it takes.

      Let me tell you a story.

      I have a friend who was absolutely determined to become a well-known and best-selling author. At the time she was a mother of two small children with a husband whose take-home pay meant that they needed two incomes. So she set about creating money for the family by selling her art on eBay - and because she this was a means to an end she became very good at what she was doing and sold a lot of art. Not expensive art - but art that was quick to produce and which had a ready audience. (The moral of the story being that it's not that difficult to raise £30). The trade-off was that her husband gave her protected time to write each Sunday. She did this for some time while she wrote her first book. She managed to sell the rights to that book which enabled her to give up making art and write full time. Her third book became a New York Times Best Seller. She is now an enormously popular full time author with a series of best selling books which are published in lots of countries, lives in a large house and her husband gave up his job. This isn't a fairy story. It's a true story about what you can do if you really want something a lot - and need to find a way of financing time - or creating your working capital for your business. You just get your head down and get on and do whatever it takes.

    12. Yes I completely agree. You have to make your own chances in life and fight to get what you want from it. I think my experiences as a care worker have made me see what can happen to people, not just physically but mentally when you are in certain situations in life. If that makes sense? So for example if you have a mental health problem like depression it can kind of knock that fight out of you. I guess you know what you see. I am a very positive person and for me I read a lot of business books and am taking things in to my own hands and love a challenge and will fight and strive for what I want. But I haven't always been this way. I have been ill, helpless and hopeless. When that happens to people small barriers seem like huge walls. I suppose that is why I like to make sure the playing field is even to give those people some hope. Because I have seen some very talented and driven people lose everything to depression and illness etc which often translates to funds. I hear what you are saying though and I do agree. I think I am too empathetic for my own good! I still do think it would be fairer for the people who got through to the shows to pay more though. I just do think there must be a better way.

    13. I understand completely.

      However if you are depressed or low or had the stuffing knocked out of you lowering the fee for entering a competition isn't going to make any difference. It's only when you're recovering and can make your own way again that you will understand that what makes a difference between 'doing' and 'not doing' is YOU wanting to make a difference.

      If you want to make art, you will make art.

      If you want to get into an exhibition, you'll make sure you send in a stunning piece of artwork that has to be hung.

      Lowering the fee so you can become one of the 95% of people whose work will be rejected is NOT going to add to your total sum of life happiness. You are going to be fed up about it no matter what your underlying state of mental health.

      The thing is life (and being an artists) is real and it's tough - it's not a series of handouts.

      The thing about separating out a hanging fee from an entrance fee is that you create a seperate administrative task which takes time and effort to invoice, recover and bank the money - and that then needs to be funded - so they'd probably have to raise the fee to do this!

      I prefer the RA's stance on it.

      They charge high application fees which allow them to fund free places at the RA Schools for those who are talented. They're not charging what it costs to process the application and cover the costs of the exhibition - they're adding in the costs of funding 12 free places at the RA Schools on an annual basis. It's entirely up to you as to whether or not you want to contribute to somebody else getting a free handout and help to make a career. It's entirely your choice. They have made their choice as to how they want to do this.

    14. Why I Hardly Apply to Juried Shows

      Hello Katherine,

      I somehow came across your informative blog and this post which peaked my interest. You wrote your frank and honest reasons artists get rejected when applying for shows. I quit applying a couple years ago, mostly because I figured my work was not unique enough yet hopefully not amateurish. The other reason had to do with an artist friend who shared several experiences of his own as well as those of his friend. His friend is well known in the art world, therefore often asked to juror major international shows. There was this one experience in New York when he chose what he strongly thought to be the best art pieces, but the other juriors explained that although they agreed with his opinion, that it was another painters "turn" to be accepted and or win the prize. Their votes overrode his. In addition to that story, my friend once contacted this curator to ask why after 6 or so times applying to their exhibition was he always rejected? He further explained who he was, his position in the art world, and so on. After which the curator told my friend to contact him directly next time he applies and he will be sure he gets in. My friend never applied to this show again. These and a few other shared experiences have swayed my decision not to apply to juried shows and to keep my cash for something else. Even so, I appreciate your opinions and say thank you!



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