'THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG' - THE POWER OF AN ART PRIZE

2018 is on the horizon, and in the tradition of the good old New Year’s resolution, I am suggesting you make a commitment: to participating in an art prize!

Involvement is not limited to artists, as any art enthusiast can enjoy the opinions of others on cutting edge and thought-provoking contemporary art.

For artists, whether you are well-established or rising through the circles, merely entering a competition can be hugely rewarding. There is also the potential for gaining the prize to look forward to.

Global art prizes create big business, in Australia specifically the industry is worth around AUD$4 million. As some in the field would be aware, there can often be some questionable bureaucracy within the funding and judging processes.

However, when regarding an artistic career through the lens of a business, which we cannot deny is an important aspect, the rewards can definitely outweigh the risks.

Mitch Cairns, ‘Agatha Gothe-Snape’, 2017 (Archibald 2017 winner)

Mitch Cairns, ‘Agatha Gothe-Snape’, 2017 (Archibald 2017 winner)

The more high-profile institutional prizes are often well recognised and garner great exposure for finalists and winner (the Archibald Prize immediately comes to mind).

The subject matter in the prize is full of famous faces, from portrait subjects to artists and even the judging panel. The Art Gallery of New South Wales stands by the 96 year old competition, although the quick judgment calls at the beginning of the process have come into question.

Not everyone is suited to these competitions, and if the big leagues aren’t your style, then there are plenty of small prizes to fill the gaps for a wide range of practices.

The Stencil Art Prize is an example of a small-scale award that seeks to recognise the exceptional works of artists working with stencils in their practice. It includes a major prize of $5000, which was presented this year to winners Jana & JS.

Jana & JS, ‘I wish everybody knew’, 2017.

Jana & JS, ‘I wish everybody knew’, 2017.

However, artists should not be scared off by the sheer size of the art prize industry. So here are a few benefits to help convince you of the merits of this New Year’s resolution.

  1. Back yourself

Get involved in some healthy competition and back your skills and message. It may be daunting placing your work in an arena to be judged, but this is the same as any time a piece enters the public arena through an exhibition with anyone open to make similar judgements.

  1. Exposure is everything

In order to make a living off your work, building a profile is essential. Art prizes are a way of self-curating your brand through entering yourself into particular circles that suit your message and practice.

Just think of it as another exhibition - finalists are often shown publicly and through the guise of an art prize.

  1. Friends in high places

Judges can arrange an invested party with academic experts or a fellow artists and if your work is memorable or even one of the winners you can grow a very influential network. Even if you don’t win the award this time, your new-found network is sure to play a role for you in the future.

  1. Did I mentioned the cash?

Aussies love competition so you can bet that the prize pool for a winner can often be a substantial amount of cash to give you a well-deserved boost. The romanticised idea of the struggling artist isn’t quite such a romantic reality, so the money can not only help your practice but support a full-time career.

  1. Don’t change, don’t give up

The golden rule for these competitions is not to back down from what you know and what you want your work to represent. Many artists say there is pressure to change your work to suit the prize or its judges, but don’t compromise.

As I mentioned before, there are so many prizes out there so it is possible to find one that already subscribes to what you represent.

If all this has convinced you of the merits of art prizes, then the next step is finding one to get involved in. There are heaps of websites and apps such as Art Prizes that keep a very detailed system of both national and international prizes for you to engage with.

For emerging artists, the John Fries award is the perfect platform, with applications closing mid-January. A bigger option for 2018 is the National Works on Paper Prize, which closes in April and has a prize pool of $50,000 (an amount that’s hard to pass up).

So, make your new year’s resolution to enter the next step in your career through one of the hundreds of art prizes in our country.