Rant 96: Prizes and competitions: should artists pay to apply for the ’privilege’ of being considered?

Rant 96: Prizes and competitions: should artists pay to apply for the ’privilege’ of being considered? Helen Dryden, Me, 2013. Pencil, oil pastel and watercolour on pink card.

Helen Dryden has something to say about competitions that just want your money!

Artists are paying up to £30 for submissions to galleries that advertise prizes, in most cases an exhibition and/or cash. Not everyone can be selected, so the applicants are betting their money on the chance of selection.

Galleries argue that entry fees pay for the costs of the competition, but why does this need to be the case? Surely, if galleries thought highly enough of the artists who win, they would be confident that they would bring prestige to the gallery, and sales/visitors (depending on what avenue they are trying to get their cash from). And maybe even a little of this cash could filter down to pay the artist too!

When a commercial gallery wants to charge for wall space I am immediately suspicious that they have no confidence that the work will sell. If a gallery has genuine costs to cover such as flyer printing or opening night drinks, then the artist and gallery may negotiate these costs. What I object to is gambling my money in a competition for a piece of wall space.

The problem with paying-to-display is that you are likely to find yourself in a non-curated environment, where anyone who can afford it can stick their stuff on the walls. This could impact on your work and reputation, since you may end up next to dreadful art that drags you down to the same level!

If you run a gallery, pick art that you think is brilliant. Don't scam artists with your pay-to-enter competitions. Don't advertise 'the chance to exhibit in London' when what you mean is 'rent my wall'.

And artists: choose your opportunities carefully. Is it really benefiting you, or just funding the people you are paying?

Contributed by Helen Dryden,  November 2013

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