It’s Not a Competition

I had a very interesting conversation last month with two aspiring artists, still in high school. Both were concerned about competing in an art world where, to their young eyes, all the art had already been made. Why try to make a Mona Lisa when ‘its been done’? Michelangelo defined Renaissance painting and sculpture, Brancusi modern sculpture, Picasso modern art, Weston and Adams twentieth century photography. The students wanted to know how they could possibly compete in a world where it’s all been done, and done to perfection?

That concern might be valid if art were a competition. But if we treat art as a competition then few of us would ever have the courage to add our voices and vision to the world. Just think of all the incredible work that’s been done since Michelangelo. If art were a competition, we might not have Rembrandt or Vermeer, no Rodin or Giacometti. And while Beethoven’s 5th and Handel’s Messiah rock my world, so do Elton John and Paul Simon. Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” may cover everything from soup to nuts, but I want more than just that one perspective. I need more variety, alternative voices, and points of view. The same subject in a painting is not only made new by the medium and the brush strokes, but also by the back story, the moment in our cultural timeline, and the voice of the individual artist. So perhaps we should see art not as a competition, but as a contribution to the long history of human experience.

Here are four paintings of a goldfinch. Each one expresses something totally different about the bird and our relationship to it. We wouldn’t have three of these if we believed that Fabritius had done the definitive “best” Goldfinch back in 1654.

It’s easy to get caught up in the competitiveness of winning: a gallery, a show, an award. In part, winning translates into money, and we do like to eat. And, as we work mostly alone, we appreciate the validation and accolades that competitions bring. It is my belief, though, that if I don’t try to compete with other artists I will have greater success. Finding my own path and doing what I love helps me to create my best art. Not The best art, but My best art. When I put my work out in the world I’m not saying that my work is better than another artist; I’m saying “Here. This is how I see a rabbit – or person, or landscape. I hope it gives you a different way to see it too.”

Art isn’t a competition: it’s a contribution to the collective experience of humanity. Please contribute yours.

Upcoming OPA Events

OPA 2019 Western Regional Exhibition 29th Annual National Juried Exhibition
The Twenty-Ninth National Exhibition and Convention will be hosted by RS Hanna Gallery, located in Fredericksburg, Texas, from October 16 - November 28, 2020. Learn More!
OPA Spring 2020 Online Showcase OPA Spring 2020 Online Showcase
The Spring 2020 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2020 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!
Salon Show 2020 Salon Show
The Salon Show will be held August 13 - October 3, 2020 at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, GA. Canvas Size: not to exceed 864 square inches. More details to be announced as they become available.
Western Regional Exhibition 2020 Western Regional Exhibition
The Western Regional Exhibition will be held September 4 – October 2, 2020 at the Montgomery Lee Fine Art in Park City, UT. More details to be announced as they become available.
Eastern Regional Exhibition 2020 Eastern Regional Exhibition
The Eastern Regional Exhibition will be November 20 - December 19, 2020 at the Reinert Fine Art Gallery in Charleston, SC. Canvas Size: not to exceed 1,200 square inches. More details to be announced as they become available.