A Day at the Fair

It’s been an exciting week here. For the first time since October 2019, I’ve had my work exhibited in an art show. The Cass County Fair show opened yesterday afternoon as soon as the two judges had awarded prizes. Alas, my paintings were not winners in this show. In addition to a “Best of Show” award, the judges gave out first, second, and third place ribbons in each category. No “honorable mention” or “judge merit” awards were presented.

Sure, it’s a bit disappointing not to be among the winners, but many of my art club friends received ribbons. It’s always exciting to participate in a show, and while I’ve come to be hopeful, I’m never expecting to win. When I do walk into a show and find ribbons hanging on my paintings, it’s a lovely surprise.

Some artists — especially newer artists like me — often shy away from art competitions. “Why bother?” I’ve heard some say. “I’m not going to win anything, so why set myself up for disappointment?”

Again, I’ll admit to feeling a little disappointed. I’d been hoping for a merit award not realizing that none would be handed out. For me, the merit awards I’ve won in the past have helped re-affirm my belief in myself as an artist. Yet even without bringing home another ribbon or collecting any cash prizes, just the act of participating in an art show can be a confidence booster.



Here are the positives I’ve taken away from this show:

  • Getting art pieces ready for a show is exciting in itself. It’s fun to choose the works I’ll enter and do all the prep work — varnishing, matting and framing, attaching information cards. For nearly a week ahead of the drop-off day, I had my two entries — The Creek in Autumn and Flowers by the Sea — sitting on display in our living room. Friends, family, and neighbors all enjoyed seeing these paintings. Of course, I enjoyed hearing their compliments and receiving all their good wishes for success in the show.
  • Art shows are ways of connecting with other artists – ones we know and ones we’re meeting for the first time. Every time I enter a show and take my paintings to check-in, I always see friends from various art clubs. Those associations are important. I am truly “part of a club” — not just in the sense of having my name on a membership roster but in the sense of being recognized and accepted as an artist in our area. I can’t emphasize how important that really is. Of course I also get acquainted with other artists — those who are working the shows and those who are entering. Expanding our connections in the art world reinforces our role as an artist.
  • It’s a good feeling to see work hanging on display. Even from my first art show, I was pleased when I looked at the paintings I’d entered and saw them not merely as my artwork, but as part of a show. They didn’t stick out like proverbial sore thumbs. I didn’t win anything at that very first show, but I had the joy of realizing that my art was good enough to show, that my paintings looked good hanging there.
  • We can learn a lot about art by taking part in shows. It’s inspiring to see what other artists are doing — if we allow it to be. Instead of comparing ourselves to other artists, it’s more satisfying to look at their work with eager eyes, asking “How did they do that?” Just as if I were in a museum or gallery, I love strolling through the aisles at an art show and making note of different techniques, looking at color palettes, getting up close to see brushstrokes. And, because I know many of the artists, I can later go to them and ask more about their techniques or methods.
  • Another benefit comes from the judging process, even when our work falls short. First, as I noted in my very first show, there will always be more losers than winnersThat’s a simple fact. Another fact to always keep in mind was pointed out by a speaker at another art show where I exhibited, and it’s that we never know how close our entries came to winning. Think about that for a moment. Always keep in mind that different judges have different ways of choosing winners in art. One judge in the area looks primarily for emotional impact while another focuses on academics. Different judges have different subject preferences. If we know ahead of time who will be judging the show, we can choose paintings we think might appeal to them. But even if we don’t have that advance information on who the judges will be, it’s still good to keep in mind that what one judge likes, another will pass by. Art is subjective, even among judges. Our paintings can be overlooked in judging for any number of reasons that actually have little — if anything — to do with art. Maybe the judge just didn’t like the colors. Maybe the judge simply doesn’t care for the subject. Or maybe the judge was just having a bad day, had something on his or her mind, or… or, well, it’s art, not science, and there is no “winning formula” that always works.

Overall, I find far more advantages than disadvantages in entering art shows. We can’t win them all, but we can gain new awareness of art techniques and styles, make new friends, and find recognition within the art world. And then when we do win a ribbon or cash prize, that’s just icing on the cake, as the saying goes. But, hey, even without icing, cake is still delicious, and even without winning, art shows are worth taking part in.


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