In art, as in life - nothing ventured, nothing gained
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” – William Shedd
Judging and supporting art prizes is an activity I adore. Yet it comes with disappointment too, as for every winner, there are many artists not selected. And rejection is tough.
In one instance, I was one of several judges. We’d completed our visits to a degree show to make the final selection. Six participating BA Fine Art graduates from a selection of 190 students were to be shortlisted.
It’s not a prize that individuals chose to enter, as everyone in the degree show is eligible. Anyone who has been through art college knows that this is often the first major opportunity to be exposed to collectors, gallerists, critics, professional artists and others. Some artists get ‘picked up’ by dealers and agents, and others win awards that give them opportunities to kick-start a career in the arts.
For this particular award, there was to be one prize. The lucky individual would receive a free studio residency in London for half a year, £1,000 budget to make a challenging new piece or series of work to be displayed on the university grounds during Frieze Art Week (London), and four hours’ mentoring with yours truly.
Having been shortlisted, the six graduates were asked to submit proposals that detailed the new work of art they proposed to make, if they were successful in winning the award. Candidates whose proposals passed that second stage were to be interviewed, and the winner selected.
By the time the deadline hit, three of the shortlisted graduates had submitted proposals. We never heard a peep from the others, despite sending reminders. By not applying, they guaranteed that they wouldn’t win. And thus, the three who at least tried in effect doubled the likelihood of winning.
This is a common scenario. Individuals who win prizes do so because they dare to put themselves forward, either in the first instance, or go forward to be considered for the next stage. Such people take a risk, knowing that in trying, they also risk not winning.
I’ve come across a number of artists who were genuinely surprised when they won prizes as they “almost didn’t enter in the first place”. Those who dare to put themselves forward self-generate more good luck, and thus, success.
Like a ship venturing from a harbour out to sea, how about daring to get your art out of the studio, and at least giving it a chance to take fascinating voyages beyond? The same principle applies to art fairs, corporate commission pitches, you name it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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Photographs © Chris King.