Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity?April 27, 2015 2023-06-13 15:43
Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity?
When you start working as a visual artist, it won’t take you long to realize that there is a lot of competition and that selling original Art is not an easy task. You need to get better at making your art but you also need to spend a lot of time marketing your work.
You will also notice that many people are preying on the artist’s frustrations and are making money by selling them false hopes and shortcuts. All of us get solicited on a daily basis with emails that promise very tempting opportunities like an exhibition in Miami Art Basel, Los Angeles, New York, a feature in a book that usually has a grandiose title like “Masters of …” or “best of … worldwide”, “Contemporary Masters”….
Very often you get the promise that the book will go to art dealers and galleries owners and that many Art professionals will visit the exhibition, but there is no way to make sure these statements are actually true. These pay to play schemes are usually easy to spot especially when the fee you have to pay is in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
A reputable commercial gallery won’t make you pay to exhibit your Art, they will make their money from their commission, so they work with the artist as a team to get sales. If you pay thousands of dollars to show in a gallery, they don’t have so much incentive to sell your Art, you are the target market they go after, not the gallery visitors.
Some commonly used practices in the Art world are not so obviously deceptive or unfair to the Artist but might also not be as beneficial as you would think.
For example, I am starting to rethink my participation in juried exhibitions and decided to be way more selective and participate only in a few juried exhibitions every year.
I entered a lot of juried exhibitions in the past 10 years, sometimes I got rejected and many times I got in, I even won a few awards, but if I look back I am not sure all of these competitions were beneficial to me.
They were more important I think when I was just starting to paint as a way to know how I measured up to the other artists, but as I get more confident in my work, I also see a lot of drawbacks in entering too many of these juried competitions:
- It is very costly, you have to pay an entry fee, maybe framing if it is a work on paper, a crate or some packaging if you are shipping the work…
- Your work risk being damaged when you transport it or when you ship it, I had a few frames damaged either in storage or while being handled in such exhibitions.
- Usually, you have a very low chance of selling the work, as you will exhibit with 30 or more other artists. Sales are very low in these kinds of exhibitions and most of the people attending the opening are the artists themselves, family or friends of the artists who came to support them.
- You might have to pay for shipping back the painting if it did not sell.
- Sometimes you know who is on the jury, sometimes you don’t. When you don’t there is a risk of politics and conflicts of interest with members of the jury, so the end result has nothing to do with the Art itself..
- In some cases the jury might be biased towards a certain style, I recommend looking at past exhibitions to see if you Art fits into the style.
- At the end of the day, you basically end up paying a few tens or hundreds of dollars for a line on your resume but will that help your career? I am not sure… The real good opportunities are usually free or very affordable for the Artist
I am not saying that all exhibitions with entry fees are a bad thing, as I previously mentioned I did enter many of them especially when I was just starting to exhibit. I understand that Artists organizations need to make money in order to operate but in a perfect world that income would come more from sales commissions than from entry fees and memberships. I am now becoming more selective, participating only if the price is reasonable and if I am very interested in the exhibition theme or location. I will definitely have a preference for Art organizations that are making public the names of the jurors and also Arts organizations that show a genuine interest in helping the Artists in their community by keeping participating fees reasonably low.