Let’s get our work out there! One way of doing this is by submitting work to open exhibitions. And there are plenty open exhibitions about! Still many artists feel open exhibitions are not out to support artists but just to take their money. Others submit their work and find success! If you approach it sensibly submitting your work to open exhibitions can be a wonderful way of getting your work out there, seen by galleries and potential clients, fellow artists and publishers. So if you haven’t dared to take the plunge, why not organise yourself and see if submitting to open exhibitions is right for you.
Why Enter Open Exhibitions?
There are plenty of reasons not to enter open exhibitions and these reasons are very easy to find online. Many artists share their dislike of open exhibitions in groups and social media. There are even articles why not to enter open exhibitions. The reasons for the aversion are clear: open exhibitions cost money and the chance of getting selected (let alone win an award) is slim. On top of that, the judges’ expertise as well as taste can vary enormously. Put all of these factors together and you might end up with a very uncertain money-eating plan.
So why bother? Lots of artists clearly do bother as many open exhibitions get thousands of entries every year. And their popularity is not waning as many seem to hit new entry records each time. I am often amongst those artists trying their luck.
How I Started with Open Exhibitions
When I was just starting out and building up my painting skills (mm, suppose that bit never ends) and body of work, I got to a point where I wanted to get my work ‘out there’. I researched some open exhibitions and thought my work could perhaps, possibly maybe, measure up with the works in some of those shows. I chose some open exhibitions that showed similar work to mine and where I thought my paintings would not look too out of place. And I hit the jackpot!
In my first year of trying, I think it was 2011, my work got selected into various open exhibitions at the prestigious Mall Galleries in London. You can imagine how amazing that felt. Over the years I kept at it and had a few sales, but more importantly, what these open exhibitions delivered was a step up the ladder; I got my name out, my work out and it felt good.
Maybe I wasn’t such a bad artist after all.
Now that last thought is the trap we could so easily fall into, but shouldn’t.
A few years later I had a less successful year (a bit like this year, actually, ahem) where the open exhibitions were not working out as well for me. My work did not get selected anywhere. And that felt bad. It is all too easy to get really angry, disappointed and depressed about it.
But I try and put myself in the shoes of the judges. We all know how hard it is to agree with our partners on what to hang on the living room wall (or is that just me?), so we can imagine how difficult it must be for a bunch of judges to agree on anything. Getting a painting selected is dependent on so many factors! Not being selected means very little. It means nothing. It does not mean I am a bad artist. It does not mean my work is rubbish. The judges just didn’t fancy it for lots and lots of reasons I can only guess at. There are still lots of other ways to get my work out there!
On the other hand, if you do get work selected, it DOES mean something. Then, I think, we are allowed to celebrate, be proud and do a little fist pump (my 11-year old son would ‘dab’ I think). You can allow yourself to feel like your work is good and worth wile. For some it means just that: a confirmation and a pat on the back. For others it means exposure or sales, or another entry on the curriculum.
Open exhibitions are a gamble. The chances of getting your work selected are always small. But you can reduce the risk by doing your research. Don’t submit a watercolour pet portrait to the BP Portrait Awards as they don’t allow watercolour nor pet portraits. Obvious one, I know, but you know what I am trying to say. Figure out if your work would fit in the show. Or whether your work would stand out for all the wrong reasons. Research medium, prices, style and subject matter and see where you could come in. You can reduce the potential number of open exhibitions to submit to (and the rejections!) dramatically in this way.
Finally, there is cost. I recently read an article head line somewhere from someone who said she had spent $10,000 in open exhibition costs and it had gotten her nowhere. I did not read the article but it is telling enough. Just be sensible and do not spend money if you cannot afford it. The higher priced open exhibitions are often the ones with high value prizes and they attract high value artists. If you are not selling for thousands then perhaps you need not bother.
If you are not sure then set yourself a budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend in a year on open exhibitions. Then go over the listings and choose which ones are worth submitting to. When you spent the budget you are done for the year.
Or work the other way round: choose some open exhibitions where you think you might stand a chance. Figure out if you can afford to submit to those and cut some out if you cannot.
For many artists open exhibitions are great, good fun, could mean a potential sale, and are great places to socialise; but for many it isn’t a money spinner. Chances of selection are small (just compare the number of entries versus the number of selected non-member works) and so you should really weigh up whether it is worth it for you.
I love open exhibitions. I love the gamble. I enjoy the debate over the award winning paintings (who ever agrees with the judges?!) and I love finding my favourites (as well as the shock-horror over those really bad ones). It is all part of the fun and part of the game. I’ll be submitting work to loads of open exhibitions in the coming year! And I will probably be refused to most. But you might just never know…..
So why not show them what you got?!
- Do you have a competitive side? Find out the 5 reasons I would enter a competition: My blog article about entering competitions.
- My review of the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition.
- Review of the RWA Open Exhibition 2016 (with video)
- For open exhibition listings, use my Useful Open Exhibitions listings, Google, art magazines and and websites. Keep an eye out for calls for entries on social media and in magazine ads. There are also many listing sites although none list them all.