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.

    7 comments:

    Haidee-Jo Summers said...

    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."

    Katherine Tyrrell said...

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

    Studio Maywyn said...

    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.

    Anne Blankson-Hemans said...

    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?

    Katherine Tyrrell said...

    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?

    Unknown said...

    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!

    Katherine Tyrrell said...

    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.