Are art competitions worth your time?

Are art competitions worth your time?

In an age where artists are also their own managers and marketers, is there any point in adding art competitions to the list of things to do?

By Lusy Koror

Not only do they have to make art, but they also have to apply for grants, write proposals to festivals, manage their own sales, market themselves and always be checking at least 5 different messaging platforms. There is no time for the myth of the scattered genius artist, as people are digesting content too rapidly for us to keep up. So are art competitions worth the time? To find out we asked some of the finalists of the 2018 Spotlight Competition by Penang Art District to see their thoughts.

The Snowball Effect

Tang Tze Lye submitted one of my favourite pieces to the competition. It was a stylised piece reminiscent of the sumptuous simplicity of Matisse’s later cutouts. It sold quickly at the exhibition and in doing so, confirmed to him that his move from KL to Penang to establish himself as a full-time artist, was indeed a good one.

Mystery behind desire, 2018 by Tang Tze Lye

Since then, Tze Lye has used this achievement as a building block to develop his connections with George Town Festival and local galleries. For him, each small achievement has led towards the next bigger achievement, snowballing into better opportunities each time. He has also been a finalist in the Malaysia Emerging Artist Award, another national competition, gaining him more recognition for his work.

He knows it is essential to build upon the contacts that he makes, and as a result, is always fast and polite when responding to inquiries. Tze Lye says that there is no good reason to not apply for a high profile competition, as it will not only boost your confidence but also give you more credibility as an artist as well. For a beginner, each competition is a chance to learn about the art world as well as get valuable feedback on your own work.

Affirming the Full-Time Dream

Hana Tan entered the Spotlight competition to challenge herself, and to see if she could do it. Since then she has entered the Nandos Art Initiative, the Winsor and Newton portrait competition, and many more as a way of challenging herself to create different types of art. As a portrait artist, she tries to mix the portraits with objects that demonstrate a theme or narrative, as well as playing with composition.

Untitled, 2018 by Hana Tan

24 and about to graduate from USM Penang, Hana knows that with every national competition, she establishes not only useful connections but also a reputable portfolio. Originally from Sabah, Hana has made the move to Kuala Lumpur successful thanks to those connections. In fact, her piece from the Spotlight Competition was sold and now hangs in the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture’s office.

Being a Spotlight finalist has given her the opportunity to gain experience with galleries and collectors firsthand, which has been vital to her recent successes. Hana says she now feels that her ambition of becoming a full-time artist is more tangible than ever, thanks to the exposure she has gained from national competitions.

Access to Galleries and Collectors

Yap Ley Min’s work was my absolute favourite in the Spotlight Finalists Group Exhibition last year, so I was very pleased when she won. Bold, fresh, and colourful, her playful lines express emotion rather than strict reality.

Scene on a ferry, 2018 by Yap Ley Min

The image here is from her solo exhibition, “The Human Form” at Hin Bus Depot, which was part of the grand prize along with mentoring and RM5000 in cash. As a 22-year-old from Butterworth, winning this competition gave her great access to the arts scene in Penang, introducing her to both gallery owners and collectors. Ley Min says that winning the competition has really affirmed her dream of becoming a full-time artist, as well as helping her network in the field. It can be difficult for her, however, as she still has to work a full-time job teaching art.

She continues to find time for entering competitions such as the Tanjung Heritage Competition, UOB Artist of the Year, and Nando’s Art Initiative. Ley Min recognises that each of these provides her with additional opportunity to upgrade her skills, whether it is the ability to paint, or to explain her work in an “elevator pitch” situation, or making sure that she is accessible for galleries and press to contact her.

So there you have it: entering high profile national competitions can help with exposure, networking and sales. They can also give new artists vital experience of how the art world actually works as well as act as a building block on which to develop future success. It is difficult to say which competitions are more beneficial than others, but each of these artists agrees that any opportunity for a challenge, and any chance to learn something new, is always incredibly valuable.

To quote actor William Shatner (because everyone should listen to Captain Kirk): “No” closes doors. “Yes” kicks them wide open… As long as you’re able to say “yes”, the opportunities keep coming, and with them, the adventures.

Images courtesy of artists.

 Apply to Spotlight by Penang Art District and stand a chance to showcase your artwork, have a portfolio review and undergo a mentorship programme. Application for the 2019 art competition closes on 1 October 2019. Learn more about the competition here.

Lusy Koror is a teacher, artist, writer, comedienne, and curator for LAH Studios. A British Bermudian, she first came to Penang in 2013 and has never really left since.