Main image credit: France Bizot 'Madame Bovary' (First Prize, Derwent Art Prize 2018)
As we wake from the last night of the old year and sit down with the first cup of tea of a new one it is hard not to reflect on what the coming twelve months might hold. I've always been cynical about firm resolutions myself - they are made on the Sunday of the year, that festive lull when we can fantasise that on our return to work next week we will receive fewer emails to answer and that the post-Christmas clean of the house will be the last house-clean we ever need to endure. In this obligation- and chore-free utopia we will be able to better ourselves in every way, and all from a standing start - from no yoga to stretches every morning; from only reading Facebook feeds to finishing two books a week. Although not unachievable, it's a fragile intention that often shatters as soon as the first cracks appear in a new schedule. One January morning my friend Emma showed me a new-years list of the things she did each week with arrows by some of them - up (more of it), down (less of it), or a dot (about the same), and since then I've made an annual list myself - doing less of one thing may allow time to do more of another and you start to see the shape of balance in your life; what your days are weighted towards and where there might be room to add a little more of something in.
Most people I meet in January are planning to do a little more drawing - be that *no drawing* to *some drawing* or bumping a monthly life class up to a weekly one. There are plenty of books, online courses and workshops to help beginners get started, but what about somebody with a bit of experience, who wants to get more from their drawing? How about the professional who wants to make new drawings that push the boundaries of their work? Practice might make for improvement but more of the same gradually leads to diminishing returns. The aspirational drawer often needs two things - boundaries and a deadline. Whether you aim to test them, or use them to channel your drawing nothing promotes creative development like a set of boundaries; a deadline puts a timescale to your development and both are provided by open submission exhibitions.
So what is an open submission exhibition and how do you enter? Although there may be benefits for members of the organisation running the exhibition entry is OPEN to any members of the public who fit the entry requirements. You are required to SUBMIT one or more pieces of artwork that fit the submission criteria and if selected your work is EXHIBITED in the advertised show. You will need to look out for Calls for Entries on the social media and websites of organisations linked to the exhibitions like the Mall Galleries or Parker Harris, or paid-for opportunities boards like Axis Web. Once you know what you're interested in entering you need to go through the following steps:
Top tips for entering:
Drawing-focused Open Submission exhibitions coming up:
Image credit: Jovanka Stanojevic 'Hair' (Second Prize, Derwent Art Prize 2018)
In a talk here at Draw the landscape painter Hester Berry told a class of aspiring artists that she entered around 10 open submission competitions a year, expecting to get work into around 2 of the 10 - they were carefully chosen to suit the work she submitted and she only put in work she thought was good enough to be in with a chance. That might mean that in a year she could enter eight exhibitions and getting rejected for *all eight* before getting accepted for a single one. Then she'd enter another. And another. My own teacher John T. Freeman once told me at 16 years old that "All artists need to learn two things: how to draw, and how to deal with rejection - not necessarily in that order". Conversely I once met a couple attending a drawing class together - the wife of the couple told me she had always wanted to enter the RA Summer Exhibition and eventually her husband, who didn't draw himself, had encouraged her to finally give it a go, promising to enter a drawing himself if she put her her own work forward. Like most of the thousands who enter she did not get her work in but was pleased to have put it forward - he on the other hand had his naive self-portait drawing accepted and to his utter amazement even won a prize for the drawing. They had started drawing after his win and she planned to enter again the following year.
The reality is that you shouldn't enter an open submission competition exhibition just to get your work shown and win a prize - neither is there any point entering if you expect to fail. Art-making is not a sport and your own will to win does not motivate you over the last hurdle to victory -making good art is an ongoing process of engagement and exploration set within the context of a community of other makers. By entering these kinds of open exhibitions you are stepping forward as a member of that community and saying to yourself "I am taking my work seriously enough that I think it has value and I want to see it on the wall alongside the work of my peers". Your work may be selected because it is very good, or like the husband who submitted his first ever portait, because some quality in it appealed to the judges at the time. Equally it may be rejected because it is not to the taste of that years judging panel, or because enough eligible work had already been chosen. The outcome doesn't matter as much as the intention behind entering and the engagement that it catalyses - enter all of the open exhibitions that suit your work and whether they get in or not, enter them again next year. If you work hard and make good art, you might eventually get work into 2 in every 10 shows. Despite the prize money and a prestigious exhibitions, the real value is in taking your work seriously enough to decide you can enter and feeling part of the community of other artists who have done the same - the accepted and the rejected.
Happy New Year.