Fantasy Art

Friday, August 26, 2016

Racial Bias in Art Contests?

The Muse
Oil Paint on recycled panel
2 foot X 6 foot

This painting fills me with a bizarre mixture of bitterness and pride.

It was for a contest hosted by a website devoted to fantasy illustration.  (wait have we been here before?)
A wonderful and generous supermodel who owns a prestigious art gallery gave us permission to use photographs of herself to be transformed into a piece of fantasy art.
Then the art work was to be be displayed in her gallery and sold to raise money for a charity.

Now think about this.  The gallery has to be emptied out, the walls prepared and new art hung up all at the owner's expense.
Then she would host an "opening" at the gallery, a party with wine and cheese celebrity guests etc. and leave all of the art on display for enough time to give it a chance to sell.  This is a very expensive thing to do, all at her own expense, no profit.
So logically what you want is as much art as possible and as high a quality as possible so that serious collectors would want to buy it and you'd raise a worthwhile amount of cash.

What did the website deliver?  First they culled the list of entries according to some undefined criteria.   Then they got some illustrators and art directors to judge the rest of the art on it's merits as a book illustration.  In this way they culled the pile down to a half dozen finalists.
Finalists for what?
The point was to fill a room not to select a winner or to hire an illustrator.  Granted there needed to be some vetting to keep amateur work out of the show, but other than that you want as many items to sell as possible.

Now I'm not the best artist who participated, and far from the best illustrator, so I'm not hurt to lose a contest.  If you enter contests you need to be ready to lose most of them.

    But almost all of the other entries were digital, they didn't even have a print made, how are you going to sell that?  And of the handful who actually painted something most of them were on paper and only 81/2 by 11"  Mine was an oil painting Six Feet Tall!  It would have dominated the room, it would been the focal point of the show.  In fact out of 70 or so entries it was the solitary entry that was appropriate for a gallery show.

...Well... I didn't even make the first cut, disqualified on the basis of...who knows?

So you know what happened?  NOTHING!  The show never took place.  How could it?  There was nothing to show.

But later I sold my painting for more money than I'd ever made on a single painting before and I've been selling book marks and prints ever since then so I'm making out OK on it.
But the biggest boost was when the model contacted me some time later to see if I still had it and said it was her favorite entry and she would have bought it if it were not already sold.  That was a huge compliment and it made me feel much better about everything.
I know I sound bitter when I talk about contests.   I'm really not bitter, I like all of the people involved and the website in question has done a lot of very cool things.

So the lesson?
There is no lesson, stuff happens, life isn't here to teach us lesson, but I don't think I'll be entering anymore contests if it's just  going to upset me.  I really shouldn't enter contests.

Many years before any of this happened I used to submit art for a lot of juried shows.  I was never chosen to be in a show and they never told us why.  If you were selected you got a letter if not you didn't.  Looking back I realize that my art wasn't very good back then and probably didn't compare well with the ones who were selected.  At the time I thought I was as good as anyone else, but that's typical of the young.
On one occasion I went to the show that I'd been rejected from just to see what made those guys better than me.  While I was there I met another young guy who was doing the same.  But the difference between him and me was that he had an ethnicity whereas I have none whatsoever.  So he maintained that he was rejected on the basis of his skin color.   I didn't recall being asked my skin color on the entry form, but I pointed out that I had also been rejected and I'm as white as they make 'em. He didn't actually use the expression "white privilege" I don't think that was in circulation at the time, but the gist was the same.  Basically I being white had the option of seeing things as having been fairly judged on the basis of some criteria, but he had no such option.  Everything that happened to him HAD to be on a racial basis there could never be another explanation.   And this is what makes me more privileged than him not what happens to us, our money or success  (I could tell by his clothes that he had more money than me) but the fact that I could experience fairness even in loss whereas he was denied that right.  He could knowingly experience exactly what I did at the same time for the same reason, but I was treated fair and he was abused.

I told all of the previous stories to make this one point.  Life is rarely fair, but it's also rarely personal, and even on the rare occasion that it is personal it's an individual who's being personal not society at large.  Society at large doesn't know you and doesn't care about you and this is a blessing.  If society cared about you it probably means you're a wanted felon in a nationwide manhunt or you have a bunch of money that every one wants a piece of.  Otherwise everyone is just getting through life doing what they do for their own reasons and sometimes that works out well for you and sometimes it doesn't but it's not personal.
So enter contests if you want to, but remember that the judges aren't thinking about you, your race, your career, your hopes and dreams, your gender, your orientation, or what a nice person you are.  They're thinking about what the art does for them personally and if that doesn't work out well for you or even if it does, it's still not about you it's about them.
  If you can handle that you can handle contests and if you can handle contests then maybe you can handle life.

Or maybe I'm all wrong.  Feel free to tell me so.

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