Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Art Blog: Art as COMPETITION

When I started to do research for my Ph.D., I quickly learned the difference between quantitative and qualitative research. To explain this in the simplest terms, quantitative research is the kind that deals with numerical data. There is no emotion or opinion involved. Just like Jack Webb would say in the old TV show Dragnet, “I want only the facts, Maam!” Ok. So it is. Then there is qualitative research. This is when data is collected through observation and experience. This data is subjectively interpreted by a trained scholar. In essence, the outcome is revealed in the form of her/his opinion.

Hold on here…I AM getting to the point.

I do 5K runs. Every time I do a 5K, the race results are posted on the internet. There is a long database type list which includes runners names and times they ran the race. This is an example of quantitative data. When it comes to things like this, there isn’t any source of qualitative data posted. It just lists runner’s times. That is it. Qualitative information could be posted like this: “She did well in the race because her form was great. She ran slower, but she smiled the entire 3+ miles. She is a really great, happy runner. I like her!” Of course, I am being facetious here. However, I am trying to make a point. Personally in this kind of situation, I want to see the race time spreadsheet. Who cares what anyone things about how somebody runs. Did they make the time?

Then there is ART. How can you judge the performance of artists? How can we compete with each other? Do I get more points for using more colors? Do you get more points for making your art trendier? Do we all get more points for sticking with it? Huh? Tell me, please? Explain this to me.

In my life, I have been included in many shows which had the prize money thing. I have steered clear of any with the “popular vote” feature. That is just too weird for me. Besides I know for sure, I am not a popular vote kind of human being (Thank GOD!), let alone popular vote kind of artist. The strangest thing is when I have been involved in exhibitions with prizes or honors; I have never entered them with the intent of winning diddley squat. I just wanted to be in the show. I have won BEST of this and FIRST PLACE in that quite a few times. In fact, I have won BIG time on a few occasions. It was always a surprise. I am happy it happened for the simple reason I needed the money! However, I don’t believe in the whole idea. I realize that it is all about smoke and mirrors. I am not the best at anything at least compared to any other artist. I just happened to be there when the right juror liked my work and in their qualitative opinion, they honored me with a prize. I understand this. I accept it. However, I am not going to get my panties in a wad promoting this kind of practice in regard to artists. I just can’t because I think it is idiotic!

I mean, if I said “Jaf, Deb, Nancy, Eero, Eva, Gilda, (and all the other artists who comment here), I CHALLENGE you to an artist duel! I want to prove I am the BEST artist!” Doesn’t this sound ridiculous????
YES, it sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous.

So would I beat you or would you beat me in the ART race?
Art is not a competition.


namastenancy said...

Art is not a competition! What, no dueling pistols at dawn? LOL! Seriously, I wish these words would be inscribed in letters 20 feet high over the door of every art school in the country. BUT - and you knew that there would be a but - the whole field is set up as a competition. The model is similar to that in business; you win when you clobber your "opponents." And, alas, in our society, winner takes all. The cooperative model where we all win is not the popular model. Also, IMHO, the art world has taken male behavior of the last several decades as its operating premise - get what you want at all costs because there is only so much money, fame, benefits to go around and to the winner go all the spoils. I'm not saying that all men behave this way; I'm just saying that, for a significant portion of the art world/business, that's the operating model. If you get caught up in that mentality, it's difficult to disengage and realize that making art for the love of art has benefits beyond money in the bank. BUT if you are trying to survive on your work as an artist, you are almost forced to play the competition game because those who don't win the prizes, get the awards, get the reviews, don't sell, don't get into galleries and have to keep the day job. We've decided that the rat race is not worth it and prefer to live in harmony with other artists but a heck of a lot of artists don't have that belief.

gilda said...

I believe its getting much better because of the internet and any other device for connecting directly. Writers can forgo big publishing houses and self publish, printing copies as needed. Prince is doing it on his own too, by taking his new CD directly to Target. There are artists who are pulling out of galleries and marketing themselves directly online. If all one wants to do is make money and reach an audience it is entirely doable, as long as one has the time to devote to this aspect of their business.

Sheree Rensel said...

You wrote:
"The model is similar to that in business; you win when you clobber your "opponents."

Yeah. OK. However, I don't think of art that way. Yes, I understand everything you mention. I totally get it. However, just because that is the way it is, it doesn't make it right.
I am not judging those who chose to play the (your words) "competition game". In fact, I say if that is your thing, have at it. I just can't do it because I know it is wrong and it reeks of B.S. It goes against my soul, intuition, and everything I know to be true.
I have never honed the skill to play the BULLSHIT game. This is why I am not a celebrated artist.
That is OK with me because I know I am being true to my convictions and honest with myself.

Sheree Rensel said...

Gilda, The new wave of the internet has changed things for artists. There is no denying that! However, I wasn't talking about this. I was talking about how artists are forced into a competition with each other.

You know what I am talking about. I know you do.

Gilda said...

I just finished a 25K fellowship application; 18 will be given out in June to artists who live in either Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb counties here in Michigan. I heard that in excess of 400 applications were made. The talk that was going around early on was about trying to figure out who the jurors were going to be, especially since its only in these three counties. It turns out that the whole process was configured so everyone is anonymous, both artists and jurors, and even though each artist had to submit a narrative, bio, and statement, these documents are looked at only after the work is examined. The granting organization tried to create a process that was totally fair, cutting out the competitive aspect as much as they could. The jurors will be made up of people not from this area.

When I enter things like this that I am competing against my self and my own history. I dont consider other artists as being rivals or competitors, and i hope the other applicants feel the same...

namastenancy said...

I get the feeling that we are "talking" at cross-purposes but really have the same belief system - but sometimes that's the downside of the Internet when we can't talk face to face. In response to your post, I was just commenting on the business of art, not that I agreed with it. In fact, I wrote: "We've decided that the rat race is not worth it and prefer to live in harmony with other artists." However, we are "lucky" in that we don't have to or have decided not to try to make our living from art. I learned that the hard way myself. Many years ago, I tried to support myself through my calligraphy. Well, first of all I was a lousy businesswoman and secondly, there was no way I could do the calligraphy, sell it to enough people, keep the books and make enough money to pay the rent, much less buy food. I learned through my experience how competitive the art world is just here in SF and I decided right then that I didn't want to participate in that type of rat race. Once I went back to making my art for the love of art, I was a much happier person.

gilda said...

Fortunately, there are so many art worlds, so many avenues to explore, so many aspects of art to enter into that any artist who takes the time can find a comfortable home. That may sound naive, but that is what I believe. It doesn't do any good to rail against the powers that be, just start your own thing. I was influenced to do this right after I got out of school when I made the acquaintance of a bunch of artists who decided to band together and create their own network. When things get slow, they ratchet up the energy and create their own excitement.

I make art to satisfy a need, say something personal, to leave a piece of me around. I have sold art, but never altered the work to suit the marketplace. As I mentioned in my other post, I entered a "competition" for a fellowship. I dont know what the jurors criterions will be and that is great. It is a "competition' only in the sense that 400 applicants are vying for 18 spots. There will never be, at least in the forseeable future, a situation in this country where 400 applicants can line up for a goal and they all get it. Not here. I think when we use the word 'competition' we need to be very specific about the context.

I refuse to 'compete' by changing what it is that I do. Like I said, I make art to satisfy a very personal need. I agree with you, Nancy, that those who dont have to live off of the sales of their art are very lucky; my teaching gig enables me to live in an okay manner. Freedom to make choices in my studio based on whatever my 'druthers' are that day!

Maybe it is all of the grey on my head and the general sense of happiness I feel when I am ALONE in my studio, but I'm just not interested in racing against anyone but myself and my muse. That woman in the lead is racing more against a clock than anyone else.

Eva said...

When I was only an artist (or at least saw myself that way), I never thought of it as a competition. And that could be why I didn’t show very much and almost ran from curators, critics or people in “the system.”

But things changed for me when I opened a little gallery and then started a radio show about art and artists. Both were very low profile and what you call DIY, but the press releases and postcards and emails rolled in, all vying for attention. I liked it all but I wasn’t really prepared for the rush.

One thing which immediately grabbed me was that I could never cover it all. Once a week I interview someone on the radio – that’s only 4 shows a month and doesn’t begin to cover what is out there and what deserves to be covered. So it is a competition of sorts, no matter how you look at it. There’s only so much real estate, there’s only so much ink split over art. And there are thousands of artists in this town alone who want it.

We as artists do not directly compete - one artist doesn’t have to feel “better” than another. But the system of galleries and press and even blogs do like some things over others. And they competed to get into that radar. You may not be aware of it, but they might even compete to get into yours.

gilda said...

Eva, I have a similar thing going on here. I am the gallery director of a small space in a local theater. They have been showing visual art as well as stage plays for many years now. Since they put on only 4 plays a year, I can only do 4 art shows. I am booked up for two years in advance! I put artists on the list, but tell them not to wait, that they should show in other venues while until their slot comes up. As an added benefit, I list the space in the ART IN AMERICA GUIDE TO MUSEUMS, GALLERIES, AND ARTISTS so they have a presence there. But still it is rough to have to limit, choose. I make it plain that only local artists can show in my space because they are responsible for installing their work and taking it down. Invariably, I get packets from around the country, artists who see my listing who are so eager for a show that they dont notice the "local" aspect. I feel really bad when I have to send back the packet; I try to explain, but am sure that they only see another rejection.

David C said...

Interesting post (and looks like I've missed many good posts since I've not visited in awhile!). You might have a thought on my recent post about Rejection and transparency into juried results at my blog!

Take care - David.

Sheree Rensel said...

David, Thanks for coming back! I will check out your post too! I wrote another post about all this stuff today. You are welcome to read the most current blah blah about being in an art life! :-)