The problem with open art competitions

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that entering open-submission art competitions is, on the whole, as pointless as trying to empty the Pacific ocean with a cup.

There are lots of juried art competitions to choose from – The Jerwood, The NOAC, The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition to name but a few. For the lucky ones they can be brilliant but for the rest of us they’re nothing more than depressing popularity contests that drain us of our money and fill us with false hope.

royal academy summer exhibitionProblem One: they can be partly curated before you ever send your work in

One major UK event boasts spaces for 1200 artists’ works from anyone resident in the UK. Sounds great right?

All is not what it seems though. The actual number of slots for people like me is far less than those claimed, partly due to a network of favourites and artists that get to curate their own artists’ works instead.

Those that are left get whisked past a panel of cobweb-ridden philistines who are out of touch with anything but the most shocking or most mundane of art forms and genres.

Your entry fee and transporting costs would be better spent on art materials or a book on social networking than being squandered on the notion that you are going to be the next big fish in the art world.

Problem Two: Who are they to tell me I am not worthy of being shown?

I do not believe anyone has the right to tell me I am not good enough to be put into a public show.

Some crusty fuck-head thinks that what you do is NOT good enough for others to see. This very principle is wrong at the most basic of levels. They ignore what’s going on in the real world and focus on their academic intuition to judge you.

That’s not always a smart move. For me that means it’s pre-judged beforehand and that certain types of work will never get accepted as a result. How can that ever move art forward? If your work doesn’t fit into what they are looking for then you shouldn’t even send it in.

When you last went to one of these exhibitions as a visitor did you think the majority of it was a pile of crap or did you think it was a fantastic standard of work? Did you think you could do a lot better? I suspect you might have done. What does that tell you?

Problem Three: They are a great way to generate money for the organisers

For a competition that attracts 10,000 entries and shows 1200 do the math on the non-refundable entry fees. This is why they are a big deal to many organisers – they are primarily a revenue generator so they must appeal to artists (for their entry fees) and to the public for promoting their perceived value and reputation.

Most open-submission contests and exhibitions are simply shameless popularity contests and a way to generate an income. These have little to do with art and everything to do with money or the number of votes a piece of art can get. That’s like X Factor for art. What a great travesty that we have to reduce aspiring artists of all ages to a procession of wide-eyed wannabe’s because they are hoping to get exposure and sales. studio of art

For a few this will work but for the rest of us it never will. Art should not be a about the number of votes you can win. When was the last time you went out on a sunny day into your local park, dropped a canvas on the grass and started painting? Did you think about getting votes then?

Get real. Success with your art will have little to do with what you get from these competitions. Sure they can provide a platform to showcase your amazing work but they can also be very demotivating too. If you’ve been successful in the past then tell me, how has that changed your career today? Have you won a major prize and has that kick-started your career? I would love to hear from you if it has.

Problem Four: Waiting for the response

Then there’s the stress of waiting for the acceptance or rejection correspondence. Have you experienced that? You sit and hope that you will get accepted and then the envelope or email arrives and it’s a no again. How does that make you feel? Personally it’s a stress I can do without.

You don’t need juried or open submission art competitions. You simply don’t need them. And based on the growth of social media and a creative’s ability to reach their own audience, the people that run art competitions should be worried about artists losing interest. The world is changing and we are changing the way we view and buy art.

So let me give you my tips for selling art and making a career from it. I base this on 10 years of hands-on experience so I can talk openly and with authority as I am going through it all right now and on a daily basis.

Swarez doing a drip paintingThere are no substitutes for effort.

Hard, relentless effort.

I have no magic wand, no secret to selling art and no winning formula to share with you. I just work ridiculously hard seven days a week. I stress about where the next piece will come from, worry that I will never sell another piece and get frustrated when I throw away one canvas for each one that looks good.

I frame and staple until my thumbs bleed, I lie awake at night thinking about new directions and off-shoots for turning what I do into other forms of work. We all have a unique style and there is a market for all art. If you don’t believe that then stop because you are wasting your time.

If you loosen your grip for a second it can all start falling away from you. I sell paintings. I hand deliver most of them. I take art to people and hang it in their own homes. But it’s hard graft. I know a number of full-time artists (without any online presence) who work three hours a day, don’t know their market and don’t do anything to promote themselves and they wonder why they can’t pay their rent. Is it really that difficult?

Be relentless. Be consistent. Do one thing a day that puts you in a better position than the day before.

You do not need to be judged

People like your friends and other artists can do that for you and do it constructively. You just have to believe that what you are doing is right. You don’t need art competitions to do that. They may help if you are one of the lucky ones but pinning your aspirations on the nod of a judge’s head can do more harm than good.

Besides, becoming determined and resilient can make your art turn a corner. It shapes the very creativity that pours from your fingers. It makes your art better.

I will not enter any competitions (ever) or do another fucking Saatchi showdown (don’t even get me started on that one) and I have rebuked approaches from all kinds of people who seem hell bent on judging me without me ever asking for it or even seeing my work for real.

You can imagine the pleasure I have in telling them to fuck right off. I simply couldn’t give less of a shit about anyone’s opinions, least of all a competition judge.


Being scammed, manipulated and bullied by art judges and people who think they know what my work is about fills my heart with great sadness and my head with determination to succeed. I don’t need them and I will never need them. This prehistoric network of Neanderthals is rapidly becoming extinct.

Put your energy into promoting your website and artwork which, after all, is your shop window to the world. Make it work for you.

Establish a body of work, put your name behind it, build a cracking website, promote across the social networks and read every sales book you can find. Sooner or later someone will take notice.

And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not good enough. You can do that for yourself.

If you’ve found this by searching online then you may like to know I have some very strong opinions about other art related matters; head over to the blog and go take a look.


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146 replies
  1. Si Ellis says:

    I’ve just bought two entries to the Royal Academy Summer Show 2024 … I probably should have done more checking to on the type of work that gets exhibited before buying them be honest ha ha! I saw two acquaintances get in (with what I would consider by far their poorest work) so I thought I would give it a go, but alas now I understand WHY those pieces got in.
    The problem is now the whole establishment art world is infected by the disease of post modernism. Post modernism can be best described as a rejection of all the sane criteria for appreciating art : enjoyment of seeing application of learned technique, the capturing beauty and realism in some form where relevant. It implies study and practice are considered elitist because they are incompatible with “marginalised voices” (who are apparently incapable of learning and improving – ironically a prejudiced mindset if ever I heard one). So expect, going forward, the most prestigious shows to be filled with what can only be described as unadulterated crap. I believe that the judges of these art shows are deluded enough actually believe themselves to be anti establishment, and their choice are a rebellion against the establishment even though post modernism has been the prevailing artistic choice of the establishment for over fifty years. Go figure that one out. Either that or they are no talent hacks gatekeeping actual talent from getting in and exposing their own shortcomings. I don’t know which is worse, but it’s clearly a race to the bottom with the Turner Prize leading the way.

  2. Ahmed Khan says:

    You are absolutely right. It is a waste of time and money. Who are those senseless idiot hypocrites who do not even know the meaning of art. How can they decide how good you are as an artist and your art work is? I never ever participate in any juries show or competition. I prefer to die than to beg them.

  3. Paula says:

    I tend to apply for residencies and grants from reputable agencies and stay away from competitions. I have been quite fortunate to show locally over the years. My current challenge is in finding reputable galleries and along with someone to represent my work outside of my area. Being an artist is essentially running a small business, and you are the sole employee.

  4. John Sheridan says:

    I agree it’s ridiculous to enter most competitions. I always check out the JUROR. If none are listed I will not enter. Also my work is about gun violence and I use small model guns which I’m sure bother some hyper-sensitive little souls, so I try to suss out the show.

    The idea of these ahole competitions having already ginned the game is intolerable. I am in the process of creating the San Francisco Bay Area’s first ever regional series of art prizes and I will be sure to tell each of the 10 jurors they must not use their positions to advance their friends who are artists!

  5. Shada says:

    I wish I have read your article sooner. Your perception about art competitions somehow comforted me, because just recently, I have entered an art competition where the results was announce earlier and sadly I failed. A lot of people told me that my work is different because I’m advocating arts and culture which I focused mainly on the theme that is particular for the painting competition. But to my dismay, the piece with the most beautiful, colorful and most heart reacts on social media are winners. My artwork was well balanced, It conveys the theme well, it was visually presented well and has enough heart reacts on social media. But sadly it is not what the judges are looking for. So I was thinking, what happened to the theme, I thought portraying the theme has the highest point but I thought wrong. They only care about the visuals (By the way, the painting once submitted, it will be own by the organisers). If only they made it clear that the theme is of no importance, then I am very much confident that I can do better than the winners. But nevertheles, I always fail on competitions even if I give it my all, I thought this time it would be different. It discouraged me more than encourage me to continue doing art. I might lose commissions because of this failure. I regretted it somehow. I would never join one again and thanks to your article, I learned and strongly proven by my experience that competitions never once brings out the best in me but the opposite. My failure right now is still fresh and is devastating. No one around me can understand. Some urges me to accept the result which is more depressing on my part.

    • Swarez says:

      Hi Shada. Thank you for sharing that experience. Sadly, it’s a very common thing I hear. If you can use your disappointment and turn it into determination that will really help. Wishing you well and thank you again for commenting. You go this!

  6. Charles says:

    I’m an amateur, a graduate from a university that’s been ranked in the top 3 nationally for my specific medium for the last 40 years (the graduate program is top tier, I got a bachelor’s and moved on). I’ve entered and gotten into juried shows at the local arts society. I even won a ribbon and $150 once. It’s $25 to enter, $20 for members, but it’s hard, and increasingly harder, to get accepted. I used to get aggravated when I didn’t make the cut, but they get 100’s of entries for 20 spots and my $25 can go to maintenance of their 1910 arts and crafts building designed by a member.

    I once entered a national competition sponsored by an internationally known and respected journal. Never expected to even place, I just wanted to get their eyes on my work. You never know what someone will like. That got ne on the CAFE Call for Entry mailing list.

    Call for Entry. Every month or so, there’s hundreds of opportunities. Public works and sculptures are usually free. Anything else, exhibitions, applications for fellowships and whatever else, will cost at least $35 and more often $40-45…all for the opportunity to be rejected by a nothing gallery in a nothing town. This has to be a huge moneymaker for these nothing in nowhere galleries. And now, with COVID, if you’re lucky enough to get in, the few people who might have seen it are staying home. View by appointment my ass.

    I’ll continue to enter the local shows, even though it’s increasingly hard to get in, but anything else, forget it. Oh, and after 40 years I dropped my subscription to the journal: not because I was rejected but because I never read the articles, reading about this particular medium is like going to the dentist only difference being your teeth still hurt when you’re done and, more than that it just got increasingly political to the point that, well, enough already.

    • Charles says:

      Replying to myself…remembering my school days, there was a woman I shared two classes with who went on to grad school and a career. Eventually a professor at the School of the Art Institute before an illness and relatively young death. Anyway, she got an NEA grant. Do you know how impossible that is? But the best part is they pulled it. Took the money back. F them. You can get $10K anywhere, but that kind of endorsement is priceless. I still haven’t figured out what specifically tweaked them to do that (in the days of Mapplethorpe and Piss Christ).

    • Daniel Nichols says:

      I have just been accepted to compete in a TV show “landscape artist of the year on Sky Arts after working out travel and accommodation costs I decided to give it the elbow.
      Would rather spend my money on new materials.

      • Swarez says:

        I feel your pain Daniel! I did two series of Home is Where The Art Is for the BBC and spent a fortune for ZERO return!!! Power to you for doing this and thanks for the comment!

      • Kieran says:

        Artist of the year was sickening.Two great Artists lost out to a very wish washy unfinished blobs of over diluted oil painting that could be done in 15 minutes. I am sure any good artist would be put of entering into the competition. Does anyone agree that the other 2 Artist should have won especially the younger man who put his heart and soul in all his prices was excellent What a shock for him to see what he was beaten by.

        • Vincent Edmunds says:

          I gave up watching this programme a couple of seasons ago, I think my shouting at the TV annoyed the rest of my street. The “judges” are useless and change their mind on what’s good and what’s not each week, they hardly ever pick the most talented artist, usually the pick people who don’t finish their work, or just paint crap, and if I ever hear Tai say that he loves the way the artist puts paint down again i may throw something at the telly, it’s called painting you muppet….and relax, yep don’t watch it any more, too frustrating.

  7. Ian Mackenzie says:

    The irony of competition rejection. I swore that I had the perfect winner for a gallery competition titled category of “Welsh Heroes” in 2017, when, following the previous summers success of the Welsh National Football Team, the first million euro player in the world and captain, Gareth Bale, could not put a foot wrong. He was my subject for a certain victory in this prestigious Welsh art challenge.
    So, my task was set, my aim was clear. I was going for it. Everybody who visited the studio loved this new piece of work and could not wait to see it in person.
    Competition entry date arrived, and the image was duly submitted. I felt elated and could not wait for the reply confirming my acceptance to the next round.
    In waiting, I had built my hopes up so much that when I read it, I could not work out the rejection. It did not make sense and felt like it was a misprint, an admin error and a total wrongdoing.
    I had been rejected at the first hurdle. I admit that the painting was not the best I had ever created. That was down to the limited detailed imagery I had to work from. But it was good, it was current and above all, it represented the largest sporting icon the nation had ever had.
    The gallery had accepted artwork from me in the previous years, so why not this one?
    Feeling beleaguered, I withdrew back to my studio, perplexed and uncertain, the painting being placed back inside the art cupboard alongside the other attempts.
    However, that is not the end of the story by far. That actual painting has now been signed by the one and only Gareth Bale himself and will never be sold by me. And to boot, he owns a print of the painting of him, painted by me and signed by me!
    The full story of this turn around, I felt I needed to include in a chapter in my forthcoming book called “The Storytelling Artist – The Road to Controversial Art” by Ian Mackenzie, as there are many times in life when your enthusiasm for a talent can be hit hard and dented so much that some people don’t come back from them. And so much of the creative aspect of art is reflected by the problems in life and very much out of our hands as artists.
    But there are always positives. And this one proved a very enjoyable one, to paint an icon and have that person recognize your work by asking about it and signing it. Who needs the judges of a competition to create the measure of recognition when with a little guidance, you can achieve this from others?
    Ian Mackenzie

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you so much Ian – what a great story! Just goes to show that you achieve so many things without the need to follow a set course or an established routine. Kudos to you. Thank you for sharing that with us. Cheers. Ed

  8. Peter Richard Giles says:

    You said it Bro- I now swear on a book of Munsell chips I’ll never enter an Art competition again.
    Three portraits submitted to one comp – busted my ass in every direction and nothing- despite all the political correct moves/back up from an institution/ etc etc and nothing – and the crap they selected out of 30 works, 20 are entirely laughable. I won’t say which contest but this has made my mind up.
    Thank you for the honesty.
    email coming soon

  9. Jackie says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m in my 30s and make art when I’m not at work. Most of my pieces are digital art which I feel isn’t really respected by most “official” institutions. I often struggle with feeling like I shouldn’t continue, and that the most “successful” artists are a mixture between salesmen and conmen with mediocre talent.

    • Swarez says:

      Thanks for the feedback Jackie. For me I think the most important thing is being confident in yourself with what you do. If that is present then you’ll be surprised how others feel about it too. That will attract the audience that enjoys what you do which always means that your creativity reached authentic and genuine people. I do wholly agree with what you say though but I do believe we can all move away from the conman side of the scale and into a more comfortable place!

  10. Farja says:

    Hi Swarez,

    Thank you for your article. Very valid & sensible points there. One of the reasons I came across it, was that I was about to enter a competition, until I saw the entry fees. And this wasn’t the first time. It has been happening over the years and just got me more and more frustrated. Why do many of us need to enter such competitions? With the ideology : To win, publicity and eventually to get exposure. I am an artist myself and I felt that my work was only appreciated when I was happy with my own art and the process of creating it. And not by having to please others or have them judged when each one of us has our own unique journey and story to tell. I do look forward to more of your articles as this one I found very empowering and motivating. Thank you and best wishes for your journey.

  11. Brian LaSaga says:

    Hi Ed. Although I have won grand prize in two different art competitions over the years, I’ve also placed second and third and I have been a finalist numerous times. I’ve had best in show as well. Artist’s magazines also contacted me and did articles on me and it didn’t cost me a dime (that was a nice thing). That being said, I do agree with you about the money situation and it really doesn’t do much for one’s career. I know since I’ve been painting professionally for 40 years. I no longer enter art competitions. I mostly did it for the exposure and I did get that but it really does not do much to pay the bills like you said. It’s a nice feeling to win but like you said, I don’t need anyone to tell me that my work is good or bad. I only paint to please myself and if I can stir emotions in people and make them happy and at the same time my paintings find a new home, then I’ve succeeded.

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you very much for that Brian – it’s very interesting to learn about your experiences and how it has helped (or not) in shaping your career and income. Very much appreciate your feedback, thank you!

  12. Lara van Oudenaarde says:

    I totally agree! I am an arr historian and have applied in curator competitions 3 times. The worst was the Sharjah Art open call in the Emirates. I spent about a week researching and writing my proposal while on a busy schedule already. I have my own art business and a good CV. However, I NEVER even received feedback from the application eventhough receipt was confirmed (after sending 5 emails to different staff members). I recently applied for a Finncult open call spending about 5 full days on the application together with an artist and from their response it was clear they didn’t even read the summary! Let alone give some feedback. Seeing the immense amount of reactions here I appeal for an international request for regulations and at least a demand for feedback and response. The way the artworld is handling this is respectless and a show of utter arrogance. Any suggestions how we could make this noticed?

    • Swarez says:

      Sadly I don’t see how this can be enforced even if a standard was set. Your thoughts are spot on Lara and I wish there would be some kind of mechanism to protect artists but, like so many aspects of this business, it is unregulated and controlled by a select few. So we must change that. Every artist should be vocal and if we can all do this we may begin to force change. If creatives boycotted competitions then organisers would HAVE to change. Thanks for adding to the debate. Have a great day!

  13. pessimistrealist says:

    it seems to me like getting exposure and recognition, sales is just a big pipe dream. for years I laboured under the incredibly ignorant assumption that producing quality art was all I needed to do to get sales and recognition, haha the joke was on me alright. now I have since found out that I could post my art on all the online art sites in the world and nobody will buy my art simply because I am unknown, so how do I get known, apparently I have to be business minded as well as producing artworks, I need to have a marketing strategy, I wouldn’t even know how to start developing a strategy, sorry but it is just not that easy for an introverted artist to develop a mindset that is the domain of the extrovert, utterly ludicrous, so the insult for me is that someone with barely any talent can make big bucks from art simply because they know how to market themselves. One blog has suggested art competitions and for a brief moment I felt a febrile optimism until I started to explore art comps, (OPTIMISM SOON STARTED TO DISSIPATE RAPIDLY! now reading this blog I will not waste my time on it, why put myself on the line when I know some pretentious prick judge will reject my entry, history has shown I am not one of the lucky ones. So where does all this leave me, answer is in the art void, no where to be precise, I have enough anger left over to be pissed at all the well meaning dickheads who told me I should get my art out there, people will buy it they all told me, yeagh right. I make Vincent van Gogh look incredibly successful, now I don’t even show my art to friends who ask to see them, I don’t want to hear their meaningless compliments and platitudes, get fucked!!

    • Tanya Sara Estelle Fillbrook says:

      I completely agree. First, the artists submitting are already professional to some degree; they have money, they are able to format their work and produce it to a higher standard.
      Second, much of the time only works that depict the ”now” get chosen.
      Third, Whilst some critique is normal and fine, who is to say what’s good enough to exhibit?
      We have seen so much crap in exhibitions liking to a toddlers doodle.
      Fourth, normal sketches on any type of paper should be acceptable as long as it isn’t marked or damaged.
      Most of these art contests are for greedy bastards.

  14. George Georgiou says:

    After reading your experience I feel I have to tell you how I started.
    My name is George Georgiou, One day over 28 years ago I started to paint my children, am not a good artist but i just felt like painting.
    I finished 4 small paintings just of the family and my kids. A friend of mine came o interview me and my partner for a magazine regarding my smoking and the bad effect it had in our family, the paintings I did were on the side of the cupboard, as my friend walked into out Kitchen she commented on how nice they were. Everyone else that have seen them told me I need to go to art school. When we finished the interview and photos taken for the magazin she asked me if she can enter my paintings in the Royal academy, I gave them to her and when she left everyone was have a laugh at my expense.
    weeks went by months went by and forgot all about my painting as far as i was concerned they were still at my friends house,then one day I got a letter from my friend and two of the paintings were shortlisted. I just did not expect this I was over the moon and my family could not believe it. even our Grimsby Telegraph put this in the paper with my holding my paintings. I felt so good. this inspired me to paint. and one day when I had my first exception. the organiser told me something I will never forget keep painting the way you feel and never go to an art school because it would take away what you are as a painter. I put one of my painting in the Walker gallery in Liverpool that was shortlisted/ although I have never had one excepertid to me shortlisting was just as good, just having the documentation that my paintings where shortlisted opened the door in many ways. so in one way I have to agree with you but in another I have to disagree. My friend also started to paint and she has had success. only recently she did a sketch sent to the USA from the London Group. and she was the only one that had her sketch sold. besides for the sake of £50 to £80 for entry fee, even if you don’t get anywhere it inspires one to try and paint a good painting. its not the money its the inspiration to paint.

  15. Jill says:

    Hi there. I’m a bit late to this discussion but was really interested in your observations though did find your tone very angry. I’m always in a quandary about doing these open submissions as they have been a very mixed bag… some successes and a number of failures which are a bit gutting but getting better at shrugging them off. As has been said, they are highly subjectively and statistically loaded against the entrant. I would just like to say that although the RA Summer show is one the most difficult to get into as most of the space is already taken up by the RA artists themselves, the entry fees do go to the RA school and gives free tuition to the students there. I did get a piece in once and sold every edition so that’s kind of subsidised all the rest of the failed efforts. It’s hard not to be lured in by the appeal of mentoring packages that go alongside the cash prizes . There seems to be a vogue at the moment for rather naive painting, very present at the last summer show, and rather a lot of paintings on the subject of Grayson P the head honcho at that! Hmmm…
    One annual I’ve had fairly regular successes at is the Discerning Eye so that might be of interest to any of you still prepared to throw yourselves at them. 6 different judges from different walks of life, with resulting 6 shows comprising the whole exhibittion.
    Think the bottom line is to check the back catalogue to try and judge suitability and have a budget and a thick skin.
    Really admire your obvious total dedication to your work. we all just need to stay true to our own visions, as its some times the most unexpected pieces that sell.

    • Swarez says:

      Fantastic observations and a thoroughly great read too Jill! Thank you for taking the time to educate us all! Many thanks and greatly appreciated :)

  16. FC says:

    I wish I’d read this 35 years ago. I might still be a practicing artist now if I had rather than someone bitter and angry about the clear nepotism in the art world, even now. After working at a national arts institution for mant years my suspicions were confirmed. The favourites are promoted regardless of the quality of their work and little regard is given to broaden the pool or promote others. Never a truer word was said and I applaud your boldness and resolve.

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you so much for such a kind observation; I hear and feel your pain! Thank you for taking the time to drop by. Much appreciated. Ed

  17. Maria Cristiana says:

    I think those people who host an art contest on Instagram or on a website and they not choose the best people ( a lot of people told me im really good at drawing at 15 years old) I posted some drawing to the art contest and that boy who is the same age as me but draws incorrectly ( the colors are good mixed and stuff but just the constructions) didnt choose me to win. I asked him if something was wrong about my drawings and he said nothing was wrong. Ok do I understand any of this? because it doesnt make sense? Nothing was wrong but he didnt choose me as a winner.

  18. Uyi says:

    I’m not happy reading through this. For every discipline, there is a crowd. You just need to stand out because art is not a commodity, but a luxury entertainment. I think that what you are doing with this website is wrong, ridiculous on artists, and you’re encouraging artists to be lazy cowards. When you were in art school, your professors judged your work based on what they expect from you and what other artists are doing. What happened to the real world? Pay your dues, you’ll get noticed. Look at other disciplines and learn- sports, science, etc. If no one can judge and qualify your work, then commission and buy from yourself

    • Sarah says:

      Lazy…cowards? Lazy. Cowards.

      Reusing to play a rigged game is not cowardly. Refusing to through hundreds of dollars you may not even have into a system that will turn around and screw you is not cowardly. Refusing to jump aboard a sinking ship, seeking alternative paths to success in the arts, and going directly to the people rather than through a nepotistic and obsolete medium is not cowardly. And the work it takes to set up a website, keep up social media, network, and market oneself is DEFINITELY not lazy, or cowardly.

      I tend to think you are either from the system or are among the one percent for whom it consistently works. If you are, understand that those of us who don’t find immediate success have a right to leave and seek it elsewhere. If not, I strongly encourage you to open your eyes to our rapidly-changing digital world and see what the rest of us saw a long time ago.

  19. No one says:

    Thank God I found this. I entered a small juried show and didn’t win anything. It is like the judges just stuck ribbons on things haphazardly. There were some truly beautiful pieces with no accolades while a strange wet paper substance that was pasted on a black background received a ribbon. I can’t wrap my head around this. I feel so bad about myself, and I wish I wouldn’t have entered. Everyone around me is telling me it was a great experience for me, but my Friday night is ruined, my money was wasted, and my confidence is broken. I’d hardly call that “good”.

    • Swarez says:

      I feel your pain and am sorry to hear of you having such a poor experience. Keep your chin up, keep creating and don’t let this drag you down. Do what you love and to hell with everyone else. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Ed

  20. Maria ball says:

    Hi Swarez,
    I love you honesty, you made me laugh crusty Fuck head, I will use that at some point! I have been applying for stuff and I have not done any work, as I don’t have the space at home. I recognise I will make stuff with what I have and exhibit, without relying on being recognised. I recntly got ”shortlisted” apparently, the only catch was, that I would need to pay them £275.00 for showing in their gallery for one week! I eclined their ”offer”. I aint got any money anyway and I ain’t making work to sell I know it sounds stupid, its more about the message and to be able to keep making work. I will ignore these open calls and comps and do my own thing as of now.

  21. Bee says:

    Oh how timely the discovery of this post is for me. As a full time painter having survived seven years of stress with a capricious and paranoid gallery owner, open competitions are the only thing open to me for progress without losing my current position in said gallery.
    Every word you have written is true, just wish I’d read it before saying farewell to another £70 to the RA summer scam.
    It’s utterly crushing every year, leaving me, an otherwise competent and professional painter doubting my abilities on an annual basis.
    I’m loving your attitude, work ethic and philosophy, thanks.

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you so much for your comments Bee – couldn’t agree more! Thank you for stopping by – have a great day. Best. Ed.

  22. Trill says:

    Thank you so much for this. It’s like you’ve refreshed my spirit. Your rant is like cool, fresh water.

    My first art contest, unofficially, was my freshmen year in college. I did a hyper detailed, realism, from-the-bones-up-accurate-zoological-anatomy 3×5 foot poster/portrait of the main characters from Journey to the West. For the mythical, I designed their skeletons as anatomically and evolutionarily proper before muscle-and-skinning them up. I did this by pencil, then ink, then charcoal and shading. I worked with our professor to have no problems with her.

    I lost to a girl who painted a cartoonish whale by pencil with minimal shading and cartoon-style u^u waves. I said “fuck this” and never wanted to enter again. I’m sensitive about my art. I do realism, zoological, medical, paleo and scientifically accurate styles. I dont mind losing to a toon, but at least put equal or more obvious effort. It looked like something a 9 year old who had access to a shading stick could’ve done.

    What that, and several other contests, had taught me was that the “contest” is a sham. The thing being judged is just a excuse to do the contest in itself. The judges pick who they like and that’s who wins. It’s a game of politics, and nothing else.

    I love art, art is my drive and my passion. It keeps me sane, helps my health and makes me excited to live. Your rants are gorgeous.

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you so much for your awesome thoughts – as you can imagine, I agree with you and sympathise with you enormously! Good luck Trill!

  23. John Raines says:

    This is going to seem like a criticism and just me being very rude but I wanted to know why you only do abstract paintings. I feel that you admire the New York School from the 1940s and 1950s and that your whole work ethic is inspired by that. Is this a wrong or simplistic point of view of your work? Do you plan a work or do you just start painting? Obviously that doesn’t apply to your copy of the Blue Poles but most of those guys put on paint then stood back trying to work out what to do next, very different from the pop artists who planned everything out. So I just wondered what your work approach was. Do you do notepads full of ideas or just go for it and see what the paint does. The titles to your paintings refer to real things, even though the paintings are abstract. Do you look at the painting afterwards and say, I get this kind of feeling from it. If so I suppose there is no such thing as complete abstraction.

    • Swarez says:

      Hi John
      Thanks for getting in touch. I agree that I do enjoy the work from the 40’s and 50’s and particularly resonate with colour and shape. In fact this is the driving force behind what I do – purely the simplicity of colour and shape.
      I always plan a painting and very often this starts with an idea about how I can manipulate the materials into something I see in my head. These images and thoughts are very often determined by external stimulus like places, people, objects and nature. By the way I only do abstracts because I find them very liberating and the processes fascinate me (I am a wannbe physicist really!!)
      I process these things and compose them in my brain until I form an idea I’d like to see on canvas. At this point I normally head for my Smartphone app to make a quick finger doodle with my ideas – just to give me a nudge for when I need to use it.
      So I do always make reference to real things because all of it is actually related to real things, no matter how distant or diluted. I don’t have the skill base to show up, throw paint and hope for the best – particularly with enamel paints as they are so unforgiving.
      There is always a period of reflection after the painting is complete to asses if the goal of translation has been archived to a level I am happy with. Sometimes that results in a ‘no’ and I have to move on.
      I have done pure abstractions before but I’ve always felt like they were missing something? Maybe a little substance. I’ve done a few that were really strong but felt a little hollow – like I was taking an easy route to an end result. I don’t like to cheapen my experiences as it doesn’t help me grow or get better. I am very aware of being genuine and authentic and hope I can stick to that path.
      Really great thoughts John and I am grateful to you, thank you

  24. Anna O'Doherty says:

    I agree with everything you said. I takes away the pretence ,which puts so many off art in the first place.
    These competitions gives “judges” a self inflated view of themselves and has nothing what so ever to do with
    the emotive value of art.
    Thank you or you words , they speak the truth.

    • Swarez says:

      Thank you so much Anna – I’m glad the post resonated with you for the right reasons! Power to you; keep being awesome! Cheers Ed :)

  25. Fiona Stanbury says:

    Hi Swarez, I just came across your website yesterday and I am enjoying reading through it. I agree with all your comments on these ‘Open’ exhibitions because through speaking to artists who have been accepted, and hearing things on the grapevine I learned just how few places are available for outsiders or newcomers. I have shown in London but never got into any of the major open prize/exhibitions/events. I spent a lot of money trying. The only benefit was that my work improved as I pushed at it harder and harder, because doubt about my work fuels the work! Any of my major exhibition opportunities (in China, Cyprus, Latvia, to name a few) were all free and there was no set style required or looking for ‘names.’ The art was the criteria. I used to feel that my work was just very bad or did not fit the market here, but gradually I have seen the light, that most of these major exhibitions are money-makers and mostly already pre-selected long before the poor unknowns send their work in for the random chance of selection by selectors who often have fixed ideas about what art is or should be.

    Thank you for taking the time to write the sections on art and art business, they are very helpful.

    Best from Fiona.

    • Swarez says:

      Thanks for the feedback Fiona and I am so glad the article has been useful to you! keep being awesome and thanks for stopping by! Ed ;)

  26. Adam Walker says:

    Hi Swarez,
    I was looking for open art exhibitions to enter and I came across this epic discussion of your’s.

    I recently graduated from uni in BA hons Fine Art and I found this post to be very uplifting.

    I always felt that the tutors pushed our year group to make certain or rather “successful” artwork. It really aggravated me and started making me believe that my work was no good.

    I saw some of my classmates receive higher grades for artwork that they put no effort into whatsoever and just because it was classed as “the successful way of creating art”, then there were others like me working our asses off and for what? Just to be told that it doesn’t have the ” right stuff”.

    You’re post has helped to remind me why I wanted to create art in the first place. I have remembered that my art should be something that I enjoy creating and not because some snobby cunt on their high horse says that it should be created a certain way.

    I’m glad that I found this post and thank you for telling it how it is.

    • Swarez says:

      Well said Adam and surprising for a non-academic like me to hear about what goes on in some of the lecture rooms and art classes that students are part of. Stay genuine and authentic my friend. Thanks for stopping by. Ed.

  27. Laura says:

    Thank you – this is just what i needed to read today. You’re right, it’s about having faith in your own work, and not letting someone who probably has no real idea judge your work and deem it to be ‘acceptable’ for them or not.

  28. Jill Hillman says:

    I agree – it’s a win for the organisers and possibly their contacts! I’m never doing another!
    It would be better to have an organised theme – a well balanced curated exhibition of works which nurtures talent is more encouraging. Art is too subjective for competitions.

  29. ChrisD says:

    I see people still contributing to this post after several years, so you’ve obviously hit a chord. I’ve been painting since my twenties….I’m now in my sixties. Self-taught, no degree, no training, like many others. I have entered a few juried shows in the past but have rarely been successful. I think the big ones like London RA, etc are a lottery, never bothered with it and never will. Mind you, there are many people who prefer to see artwork “in the flesh” before purchasing, so I do still have a stab at annual shows that are local to me. I use a few Internet galleries plus my own website to show work; the Internet has really opened up a whole new way to get work “out there”. I don’t sell a shed-load of work by any means, but it’s a real buzz to get an email that says “congratulations you have a buyer for your artwork X”….means more to me than any “status-show” certificate.

  30. CatCawl says:

    I came across your blog whilst researching art competitions. I was thinking of entering one but I had niggling suspicions and doubts about galleries’ integrity and I have always thought that the art establishment is filled with elitist snobbery and is solely about money rather than actual talent and skill. I’m am artist without a degree and I have definitely never felt a part of that scene. I’ve got fb, instagram, twitter and a website is in the pipeline but it does seem really difficult to get my work seen. Art needs to be seen to be appreciated. I’m going down the prints route as I want my art to grace as many walls as possible! I think your art is beautiful, I love to use bright colours too. Your outlook is refreshing as well, if a little angry sounding lol. I understand your anger though as I feel it too, it just comes out a little differently in me .I’ve bookmarked your page and I will visit again. I think you may have lots of valuable info on here, as well as some great artwork.

    • swarez says:

      That’s so kind of you to drop by and give me such amazing feedback. I guess we are all frustrated with the establishment that creates a global standard of elitism. I hope that changes and becomes fairer one day. Let’s all keep pushing and keep breaking down those walls! I wish you luck and thanks for stopping by.

      • Nicky says:

        I love this article. I shared it with my artist friends. I believe when us creatives take up and take back our power, by promoting our art and learning how to market ourselves and sell our art then the establishment must change. They will have no choice.

    • Geoff says:

      I entered two paintings for the RA many years ago when I was a part time artist, and not flush with money. I paid the entrance fee, caught the train to London from the North of England, walked all the way to deliver and save costs. I got a letter stating I didn’t get in – another train journey! When I got home and checked the paintings, both had “A” chalked on the back and they were not hung. I was livid. I’ve never entered the RA since and never will. I totally agree with all you say. I make a living from painting in spite of the RA.

  31. Viktor Tilson says:

    I don’t bother with these competition things and rarely have I done so in my 35 year career. I agree with your words, the final straw was when The RA decided to judge the first rounds on JPEG images of work by e-mail……. totally pointless in my opinion and on the verge of laughable. At the end of the day it boils down to money, it is an easy way to make money and gain PR with so many eager artists out there, a nice endless pool of people willing to chuck money at galleries for little or in most cases nothing in return. I don’t do galleries, found out many years ago it’s a closed circuit run by a few organisations / people with a healthy dose of British snobbery, totally unnecessary dated attitude and it kills off originality. Direct sales and cut out the middle man, we have the technology and ability to do it ourselves these days and so we do. Wishing you all the best. Vik

    • swarez says:

      Oh Viktor – how true your words are. My exact sentiments on all points. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to get in touch; I am so grateful. Good luck to you and best wishes, Ed.

  32. Catherine Meyers says:

    Great post! Contests generally make me sick to my stomach and always have. Art competitions are on par with colouring contests, nothing creative about them.

    Ann Rea from Artists Who Thrive has figured this out and here’s to all of us that have also!

    Catherine Meyers

    • swarez says:

      Surely you mean ‘How can I do that?”…If you’re prepared to pay my day rate then yes, of course I can help you, but not with your grammar.

  33. Mark Elliott Smith says:

    Excellent discussion going on here, Swarez. It’s great to hear so many words of truth coming from a such range of artists. I don’t think there’s any harm in entering an art competition once in a while, but perhaps not the bigger ones, such as the RA Summer show. I have wasted over £100 in submission fees on them instead of spending the money wisely on new materials. I love painting in a contemporary, colourful, engaging style also, but I just can’t get my head round the selling bit. I have a print on demand service for giclee prints on my website. If you know how to sell your work, or don’t mind the whole selling part, I would recommend other artists could try this. I for one, hate the selling part. I literally despise it. If I really pushed myself, perhaps I could make a sale via on online presence, but it would crush my creative mind in the process and depress me beyond hope, so for me that’s the problem. For me, having faith has a big part to play in this mad game. Trust the universe. One day someone will realise your efforts. In the meantime, keep an open eye for like minded artists who’s work compliments your own, if possible try and put on a group show or something. Above all, try and enjoy being a creative genius and be thankful for your unique and powerful gift.

  34. Mel says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs. Very informative and lots of good ideas I can personally take away with me. Always nice when you’re starting out on a new adventure to have someone with some experience to learn from. Thank you.

    Just a question regarding reading – can you recommend any good sales books? (is there such a thing?!)
    If there’s one thing I will fall flat on my face trying to do it will be selling my work! And you seem like the person to ask at the mo…..I apologise if this question has been answered but it’s 00:40 hrs and I have 3 hrs to try and sleep before getting up for the job-that-pays-the-bills!!

    Many thanks and all the best with your future endeavors.


    • swarez says:

      Thanks for the amazing comments Mel; alas I have never picked up a sales book in my life so I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one. It’s the one thing that cripples many artists – reaching an audience and getting them to part with their money. It’s an art form in its own right… Good luck and keep at it.

  35. Julie says:

    Hi, I totally agree with you swarez I am so glad I came across your views and suggestions its very informative and I like your ‘say it as it is’ style. I am an artist whos taking steps to have her own website I do believe in ‘what will be will be’ and I believe its my turn to shine now. Ive never won in a competition (only entered a few) and ive never entered my work in high rise places, because aswell as the very high expense of entering and exhibiting, like you, I find the people that run them very stuffy and if you havent got a degree then they definately arent interested. I do sell my work on fb and Im on instagram but I am hoping my work now on my website gets the proper credit it deserves and no stuffy organiser will tell me otherwise. Happy painting my friend ?

    • swarez says:

      Thanks for a great comment Julie! Naturally I’m with you on all points. Good luck in your endeavours and let’s see what happens. Maybe i should get your autograph now before you get famous! Thanks. Ed.

  36. Suzy says:

    Hi, love what you say. I’m a pretty successful artist, have no problem selling at decent prices… Recently entered a competition and failed to place anywhere. Feeling quite dejected now which I guess I shouldn’t as its one person’s subjective opinion. Oh well I guess I will drag myself back to the easel and try to muster up some enthusiasm again. Curse you, art comps!

    • swarez says:

      Thanks for the feedback Suzy; it’s an interesting view and one shared by many! It’s OK for the lucky few but for the rest of us it just sucks ass… Thanks for dropping by!

  37. Frank says:

    When I first saw the tag-line in the searches that were thrown up I thought, “clearly someone who has not had success in competitions.” (Forgive me, but Mr Cynic is never far away and always peering over my left shoulder).

    But I clicked anyway and read your post. Initially with doubt, then with interest, and finally with the realisation that my initial thoughts on the subject were slowly being confirmed.

    I have ‘done’ art in my own way for a number of years and recently rediscovered my interest. I’m self taught – mainly. I had never considered trying to sell anything, or even entering any sort of competition, but the internet has a habit of building a wave with every button pushed and every tile clicked. By the end I had convinced myself that my work would sell everywhere and I would be scooping up 1st prize wherever my work was hung.

    This is where the ‘thanks’ comes in, for your post has brought me back down to the spec we call earth, and has recalibrated both my expecations and – now – my ambitions. I’ll enjoy what I do for its own sake, and if I sell a painting or two, all the better. What I won’t do is try to decipher how I can make a short-list: what size canvas do I think will do it, should I do something like this?, or like this? maybe they want something like this?

    Sod it. I’ll put my creative efforts into what I enjoy and what I want to do. Competitions seem to have a habit of shaping your work rather than you directing it. To me it seems thus, at least.

    Your post was compelling and certainly offered much to think about. (45% commision + VAT before I’ve even finished the final brush-stroke; I’ll hang it on my own wall thanks).

    P.s – Like the website; your work is pretty good too!

    • swarez says:

      What can I say Frank? Thank you sincerely for the humbling feedback. I am overjoyed that you got something from the post. May I wish you happiness in your work and thank you so so much for taking the time and trouble to get in touch.. Cheers

  38. Adam says:


    I just saw your website after seeing an advert for an art competition and searching “art competitions are a waste of money” and came across your website :-) Your work is inspirational by the way :-)

    The real ones benefitting from art competitions are those running them, as they inevitably charge for the privilege. Why people feel the need to pay to be judged by “experts” I don’t understand?! Even national newspapers do art competitions where each entry is say £15 with a top prize of say £1000. Are they really doing it to benefit the art community/society or just for personal gain?!

    In monetary terms I have “failed” at my attempt at art. In my limited time my costs have outweighed my sales.

    Unfortunately too many people in the industry (and the public) see art as a way of generating money and nothing more than that. Consequently when you are judged on success, it seems to be determined just on monetary success.

    Success should be personal and not judged in monetary terms. Just because a gallery doesn’t like a picture or a picture doesn’t sell, it doesn’t make that picture a failure, although talking to Joe public success or failure seems to depend purely on making money. I judge success on the skill or originality of the artist, but really what I think is not important. Really if an artist is having fun making art, that is always success in my view.


  39. Medena says:

    I’m painting as a hobby and relaxation mode after some hard shifts and bussy days at job.
    I’m a “self taught artist”…. I love painting ,
    I’m painting for more than 25 years ,but recently I’ve got a big satisfaction,I’ve received a custom of three medium size paintings in palette knife….my art is now on the walls of a private holistic medical clinic …Nice feeling…really…..I don’t know to promovate my art….but painting in my spare time is a cause for joy…..Life is sometimes hard ,but allways art will make it easy and beautify it….
    But….after I discovered your art (searching more about Pollock),definetly my artistic style will change….First …..I looked for an excuse to paint on larger canvases …I don’t have enough place to paint……we build a new house with a large open attic…so…..I was little bit scared about large painting….but I’ve done the first one 70/100 cm-large for me… …..really the feeling is great,you can express yourself on larger canvases,better than on tiny one…..
    Your art is really impressive…smart,colored,vivid,shinny,moving….Keep it going,you are really talented an gifted….
    My best wishes,
    From Romania,

  40. greg noble says:

    Any art competition that charges a fee is a scam, see their accounts all available online, NOA being the worst, they pocket the entrance, no charity involved dispite being of charitable status ie no tax paid!! Do not be drawn by famous faces – they are paid, you too can hire them if you had enough money, philanthropy for the arts is good but rich people buying their way into the art world to scam innocent aspirational artists is NOT!

  41. Jan Rasiewicz says:

    Dear Swarez,

    This was great reading, usefull, inspirational. What I have learned in my (until now) quite short art career is that in any field anything can be done. You just have to believe your dream, set goals and work hard for it. Being successfull in art business is hard, really hard. But nothing is done without hard work and bloody thumbs as you stated :) Everything from ideas, to organizing your workflow, investing in art materials, studio, website, social media and so on. It is time consuming and can get demotivational fast if one isn’t stubborn and persistent.

    I have also learned that working through galleries is actually about nothing else but money. High commissions, lobbies. Hard to get through. Whou are they to tell your work is not good enough for someone’s wall? What is art? Art makes us feel good. You are art, I am art. Kids are art. We are all art. Art is for everyone and everyone is art. I strongly believe that every human being is capable to do artwork. Anykind. All of us can do great art with practice and finding your own stile. But only a few of us simply do it. It is way way harder to sell it than do it. And this is the step where the majority fail. Couse it’s damn hard!

    I am mostly self-taught also, and the journey is long. You have to invest tons of time (and money) first into getting to know all the mediums, techniques, stiles that you comply with, learning through youtube videos, online art lessons, in person art lessons if possible – and afterwards also invest another bunch of time into reading sales books, learn to use proper marketing tools, read stuff on web, learn to make a webpage, use facebook, twitter and all of that stuff… So it is really a process that’s not easy and it takes a lot of energy and time. But it can be done. It is possible to do it alone. Even if you are a father of 2 like me.

    When I get demotivational for any reason, I love to put headphones on and roll “Metallica’s” “Broken, Beat and Scared” :D
    This verse fills me with new energy and so I go on:

    “You rise, you fall, your down and you rise again,
    What don’t Kill you Makes you more strong!”…

    I love your work, I deeply respect you as an artist and as a person, eventhough I haven’t met you. You are inspiration. The inspiration.
    Keep it up soulmate.

    Kind regards from Slovenia.

    • Swarez says:

      Hey Jan
      What a fantastic set of thoughts – and I agree with them all. You sound like you’re already well on your journey and I wish you luck with it. We all inspire each other I guess and your reply has done just that, giving light on a cloudy day. Thanks my friend and keep the faith. You WILL shine. PS – LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Metallica!!!!

      • Jan Rasiewicz says:

        I’m still away from my longterm goals, but that’s why I call them longterm. I have a ton of work with my website, SEO as priority No. 1. Your guide for setting up webpages and optimize them is awsome and motivational. So thanks for that mate.

        Sometimes we have to set easier goals, so when we achieve them it drives us to set harder ones and gives us energy. In my case I only have time at late evenings and nights, since I’m emploied full time and I have a family, great, understanding wife and two adorable kids. I’m use to swapping my sleep for my art business, my passion. Like you said, you work your ass 7 days a week – and that’s why it got you where you are now. Inspiration, will, goals, hard work, bloody thumbs. And the result will come over time…

        Kindest regards,

      • Geoff. says:

        What a terrible thing to say – it might not not be his thing but it wouldn’t do if we all painted the same. Lets hope someone calls his work crud and see how he feels.

  42. aldo says:

    Hey Swarez, this is such a good discussion you have going here and long-lived too. It is obviously coming up a lot in people’s search strings.
    My observations:
    Never, ever pay to have your work exhibited.
    But if you do, avoid the $1 per image for pre-selection–just think how many of these will get preselected.
    Beware the ‘juried’ art competition with one person for a jury. Jury, judger and executioner?
    Come to think of it, it’s a horrible word anyway.
    However, despite all the above, a confession here: I found your site while researching a conceptual art project for my MA. I want to run an open art exhibition where the entry fee is paid in unscratched lottery scratch cards and the judges and prize winners are paid off in the said unplayed cards. Just to realise the lottery a bit more evenly…
    It may not happen but no harm in thinking it through

    • Swarez says:

      Hey Aldo; thanks for commenting – people have strong opinions on art competitions because they have been let down so many times before. Your idea with Lottery Cards is excellent and I wish you luck with it! Thanks for stopping by… Swarez

  43. Ally Allan says:

    Hi Swarez, I was looking for a competition to enter when I came across your large colourful paintings that drew my attention and motivated me to read what you had to say. I hear exactly what you’re saying. When things are going good and you have a direction and a goal you pour all your energies into whatever you’re doing with great feelings of satisfaction and joy… even when your fingers are bleeding. But when you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and the goalposts have moved outwith your line of vision, you feel lost, like you’re wandering around in the darkness, afraid and full of dismay. Then destiny introduced me to you! You don’t NEED a gallery to exhibit your work. You are doing just fine on the internet. Really read the comments that people have left you! You are reaching people. You are moving and inspiring people through your art. Isn’t that the whole point? The amount of responses that you have received indicates that your work is being admired by so many. Not everyone writes a comment. In fact a very small percentage leaves a comment… I believe. Your work on the internet will reach people that would not enter a gallery for love nor money. That’s important to me because I believe that everyone has artistic qualities within them… they just aren’t lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to discover the artistic inner self like you and I. Showing your art to all walks of life instead of just displaying it for visitors to galleries (who already have an interest in art) is what makes your work valuable and meaningful. Local council galleries charge a very small fee to exhibit in their galleries and if you don’t mind exhibiting your work in small towns instead of large cities, then apply to them. The good thing about exhibiting in local council galleries is that you will reach people within local communities that would not normally visit galleries. These people will appreciate your art and leave comments for you. Check it out. Swarez, as you know, art comes from the soul which I believe is made up of the characters within you. My artistic character is called Art d’Ally. She’s wonderful, and her work is great. Most people go through life, not only oblivious to the fact that they have artistic qualities waiting to be discovered, but they don’t realise that they have these inner characters that can communicate with each other and can help you sort out your head. If everyone were given the opportunity to discover him/herself then the world would be a much better place in which to live. Your work is inspirational. You are a breath of fresh air. Thanks for helping me find my way again! God bless! Ally

    • Swarez says:

      Wow! Ally, what can I say to that? Amazing feedback – I had no idea I could reach people in this way. Totally agree about the inner artist – we all have it somewhere, I’m sure of that. Some-days it’s hard going but we have to soldier on. I work 7 days a week every week. I never give up and I never lose sight of the goal despite the problems that arise (and there are many I assure you|).

      So glad and grateful to you for stopping by – it means the world to me. Hope I can keep pushing onwards and upwards… Thankyou again my friend :)

  44. Jane Andreoli says:

    Hi there! I love what you’ve said and completely agree with you! What really bugs me is that decent people with artistic talent seem to think they’ve got to wait for someone in “authority” to tell them that they are artists, instead of grabbing any opportunity that comes your way and running with it.

    I’m the lowest of the low, because I’m a textile artist. We’re not taken seriously and we’re dismissed as “craft” – – – – though I’d like to see some of the people that dismiss us actually ply the crafts that they are so contemptuous of. I don’t care. Periodically I rent a small gallery and do a solo show. The feedback I get is terrific and I always sell enough to cover my costs and make a profit. People wouldn’t buy unless they wanted to, so I reckon this is a better way of gauging success than entering competitions. As soon as any judge hears the word “textile” he glazes over, so what’s the point anyway!

    Good luck to you – I admire your work and your work ethic.

  45. Sue Munson says:

    Hi Graham, I just read your latest rant. I loved it and endorse what you say. It’s tough. I was shortlisted for a recent comp, I am exhibiting in a gallery in Richmond Surrey until 31st October, I am the only artist showing, yet I feel so flat. In fact I haven’t even listed any of my accomplishments which is really childish. I’ll get over it. I have worked so very hard this last few months. It just doesn’t stop with painting. If I had time I would study the psychology of art from the both the artists view and that of the buyer. Competition judges are like immigration officers, you are either in or out.

  46. Kai says:

    Thats totally correct, what a pathetic age we live in. Keep your cash they are thieves, Yes they dont like normal well crafted paintings or drawings anyway etc or anything with a good degree of draftmanship or anything that resembles true art, take the shite turner prize for example they would rather display an unmade bed or a fucking patchwork tent for GODS sakes??? Yes im not going to pretentious and a an utter twat and say i actually like to see an unmade bed or a lump of bricks on a gallery floor, far from it. Its an insult to Turner to use a his great name for this pile of pretentious artless wank, so turner prize here i present my middle finger to you – FUCK YOU, and your pile of toss you label “art” Joseph Turner would turn in his grave if he saw what shit they display in his name.

  47. ilsa says:

    Yes i agree with you yet cant stop entering the things. Even in our local art competitions i have come to expect rejection. Some times i have gone to see the exhabitions that i have been rejected from and come out feel both better and worse because being judged as not worthy, makes you in turn judge others which is a ugly thing. I have just had yet another rejection only yesterday and all feels hopeless today. It is like a fame acadamy. Yes i believe in my own paintings. Yes i know there are plenty of people who really like my work too, but we are in a minority and all poor as church mice. Also working class girls like me have endless presure from the community around them to get a job and pay your taxes. what makes you so special, scrounger, even from my partner where support is very much given out for sucksess. Still cant stop painting and refuse to give up

  48. polly says:

    Hi , me again the ageing hippy. Try galleries that sell your work for almost no fee…yes they exist ! We have one in Telford Shroshire. I am ever the optimist and still enter the open shows. And yes guys it does cost to rent space at a big gallery, it always has. You have to plan in advance, I am saving for an exhibition in Birmingham, (not a holiday or a car) but room in the main gallery in Birmingham City art gallery. (Yes really0 If no one comes, at least I can say I did that, those are my paintings and I will drink alot of free cheap wine ! Keep the faith fellow artists and feel free to hate ever hopeful hippys like me xx ps when I set the date, your all welcome, there will be booze. x

  49. Sue says:

    One thing which has really surprized and disappointed me as an artist is that exhibiting is ALL about the money, not talent, nothing to do with talent.

    I’ve been approached by various galleries, one or two which are major Capital city galleries with great reputations for contemporary art and very good press exposure. These galleries tell me how much they love my work and how they’d love to include it in X, Y or Z exhibition that they are putting on.

    I write back after having a look at the gallery and checking it’s somewhere I’d feel comfortable having my work displayed and then they tell you how much it’s going to cost you.

    In the UK, you can wave goodbye to best part of £2,000 for a two week exhibition in ANY London gallery, more for most, this is the lowest price you can expect to pay …

    Rough breakdown is :

    Minimum of £ 4-600 for space in the gallery (plus 20% VAT), then you’ve got to get your pieces in hanging condition, framed or matted and backed, then you have to transport them there. Some galleries do their own publicity, others expect you to drum up interest.

    Many city galleries charge up to 95% commission (sure, their rents are expensive but come on…) , provincial galleries usually take between 45 and 50% – the entire thing is about money.

    I was very fortunate in having a friend have a major exhibition of new artists at a major UK gallery (I’m talking a non-commercial gallery, one of the five or six state-funded galleries) and was therefore offered the chance to exhibit for free (mostly) but, apart from that, you have to be some kind of millionaire to exhibit on any regular basis.

    I am inordinately disappointed to know that, if you have the cash, you can have your work exhibited pretty much anywhere in the world with no problem whatsoever, galleries will fall over themselves to exhibit your work. I have another family member who is an artist and he exhibits regularly in capital cities all over the world, paying extraordinary amounts for the privilege. This doesn’t get him ‘noticed’ or make him any more popular than me, but I guess it gives him a prettier CV and back story.

    In short, if you are not independently wealthy, you are going to have to work, work, work – I sometimes work nearly 24 hours a day (seriously!) and I market constantly, not in an aggressive way, but trying to raise interest in my work in those who might actually BUY it. I’ve tried selling online – Etsy and such places are a total waste of time unless you paint cartoon rabbits or greetings cards – the ONLY way to do it is to work, work, and then work some more. The days of the artist getting up at noon and getting drunk are long gone!

    I would give one tip though – a cheap way to exhibit your work is to trawl around local coffee shops and such places – many will take work for their walls and offer to sell it for you if anyone is interested – kind of a nice bargaining way of getting your work seen without it costing you a fortune.

    Good luck folks – it’s a sharks business out there and remember – NEVER bleed with sharks, they will eat you up whole!

  50. Jessica says:

    Awesome shit!! I totally agree with what you have said here…I am in the process of redesigning my entire website and I am determined to learn it and do it myself…its not easy but the feeling you get from accomplishing something difficult is amazing and uplifting. Thanks man, I think you rock!!

  51. Sean K says:

    Great blog post and thanks for sharing your experiences! I enjoy entering local competitions as a motivation to produce work and also as a test of my own confidence in my art. But like most things in life, the art world is dominated by wealthy organisations and vested interests. It pays to be wary!!

  52. Sally says:

    I agree with you…..but….how do you find the buyers? I am trying to promote my partner, e-mailing submissions to galleries, hotels, interior designers, putting up ads for portraits all the normal things…with no sucess! help?? what do I do?
    I agree that the galleries get in the way of people seeing art, they only put up whats ‘hot’ and ‘in’…how do I get people to see and want Andrew’s paintings without galleries?

    • Swarez says:

      Very simple – via my website. That’s it. You need to learn about visibility on Search Engines like Google to start with. Search for the Google starter guide to SEO and download the PDF (written by Google); we’re in a global community and this is the absolute first stop to get the biggest gains. Hard work but it’s the only way forward if you’re trying to get on without a gallery behind you. Hope that helps.

  53. Fiona says:

    Wow!! Well said! As an artist myself I was offered to sell my work in an art shop, however they wanted 40% of the sale, no chance, before I knew it the words ‘f off’ rolled off my tongue before walking out. I care not for the completions either, wouldn’t even enter one. It’s cheaper to set up a website and self promote your work on line. Art is for everyone and not just for the upper stiff lips, about time we artists took back control of what art is.

  54. polly says:

    Hi. I am a 51 year old ageing hippy and self employed artist. I have been painting , etc etc since before Noah needed his wood primed. Anyway with my flack hat firmly in place I will admit to having won several prizes in the last two years,( my first go at competitions for 25 years) oops sorry I am not famous, dont know anyone and the mouse who steals my home grown veg shoots has a bigger bank balance. Sorry guys but you can win sometimes. All the best and yes I do agree with what you say. Polly. .

    • Swarez says:

      Hey Polly; glad you’ve had some success in the past – it can work for sure – but in my own experience it has been nothing more than a lottery. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – have a great day!

  55. Margaret says:

    Love your website Swarez and I have great respect for your business acumen. Could you share what program you are using to show your art in scale on your pop-ups windows? Did you program this or is it a plug-in or do you have a website designer that added this? It’s really nice.

  56. Gary Perkins says:

    Hi Swarez (great name!)
    What a refreshing find this was after initialling searching for comps. I agree with your views and feel hard graft together with finding your own avenues for selling your work are paramount. I’m convinced a ‘local’ gallery/exhibition/studio space is what I need to get involved on a street level and also use this space as a community gallery/drop in place and avoiding all the pretentiousness usually associated with ‘high end’ galleries.
    I’m just setting off in my career as it were so trawling all potentials although I do have a few pieces of work on the Saatchi site (if you care to have a quick peek ;0)) – sounds like you have some ‘history’ there (I won’t ask!)…I’ve just joined the site in effect. (please ignore the stupid prices, most are to be amended!- although saying that, after commision and conversion you’re left with half the $ price in £’s – before tax!!!! argghhhh!!!)
    A personal website is next on my agenda! Your work looks amazing and inspirational!
    All the best,

  57. Justin B says:

    Dude, Your work has truly inspired me to start back painting harder than ever!!! Art and Music are the way to go in my life!!!! God bless you sir!

  58. Toulla says:

    Hi Swarez
    Just stumbled across your site and I agree with what you say. The problem with ‘open art competitions’ is that there is no organisation out there to keep a check on them, so they are left to scam struggling artists.

    I have been a professional artist for nearly 20 years and have shown my work in solo exhibitions and accepted a number of commissions, however, there is no way I can say I make a decent living from this. When people pay to buy my work or commission me I know my work is good enough and don’t need some old school boy at the Mall Galleries to confirm that.

    I am convinced that open art competitions are a money making scam and artists should be warned. I was under the impression that if my work was accepted in one of these open art competitions, it would be a brilliant break for me. What a load of rubbish. I allowed myself to be deceived and ripped off hundreds of pounds. When you consider that entering work costs from £12 – £20 for each work entered, it’s extortionate.

    In September 2011 I entered three works for the Bath Prize. This meant having to visit the city to take photographs to work from. They contacted me asking if they could use one of my entered works for their publicity material. I agreed and thought that I had a pretty good chance in the competition if they liked the image enough to use for their publicity. They also show all entered works online and on looking at all the works entered, I honestly thought I had a very good chance. Total entries were not even that high at well under 400 nationally. This meant that the chance of selection was high, higher than most open art competitions. Imagine my surprise when I was notified that not even one of my works were selected.

    Interestingly, the image they had asked to use for their publicity leaflet was featured on a whole page by Artists and Illustrators magazine, December 2011. Was also highly commended by The Artist and SAA open art competitions which attract thousands of entries from artists not just in the UK.

    What can I say about the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour and Royal Society of Oil Painters, both at Mall Galleries. Now they have the online submission, I have had every work entered in these competitions pass the online selection process, (pre-selection). Initially, I felt this was good, but unfortunately, it is false hope. It seems to me that what they are doing is pre-selecting most, if not all artists work. This means travelling to central London to deliver work only to be notified a week later that none have been selected for exhibition so have to travel back again to pick paintings up. Frames have always come back damaged from Mall Galleries. I have also noticed that when handing in paintings to Mall Galleries after passing the pre-selection stage, my paintings were given numbers in the 700’s and I know that total entries are not more than 800 so how can it be that such a high number of works have passed the pre-selection process. Could it be that by pre-selecting works like this gives the artist the impression that their work ‘nearly got in’ or that ‘so close, may be next time’ thus encouraging them to enter again next time. This is a scam and is so clear that our money is funding ‘their’ select few.

    Have anybody else out there had similar experiences?

    Thanks for your views, carry on creating beautiful colourful work. Take care.

  59. emma horsfield says:

    Your words completely echo my thoughts. I am totally worn down with the art system but keep fighting on as l have a complete conviction that l am a good artist with a lot to offer. The art scene is fake, shallow and absolutely nothing to do with talent. I have lost count of the number of competitions and exhibitions l have applied for and not heard anything back. I realised it was a waste of my time and money quite a while ago and now don’t even bother. The open Art Competition for one, don’t get me started. Unless you have come out of their top university educated clique you don’t stand a chance. Anyone who thinks talent will get noticed in these types of scams, which is what they are, are naive or deluded. I never go near anything that asks for a C.V either. What do they need to see my c.V for? Either they want my art for what it is or they don’t. My intention is to set up my own gallery at some point but that may be in the distant future looking at the state of the economy. Keep in touch, always good to speak to like minded artists. Are you on fb? Regards, A Self taught OUTSIDER (apparantly thats what l am!!) artist ;-)

    • Swarez says:

      Hi Emma; yeah I’m on FB – click the icon at the top of the page on the right :) You are so right in every single point. Well said indeed. and a CV? WTF? who the hell do these people think they are? Elitist, toffee nosed shitheads. More power to us!

  60. Tony says:

    Hi Swarez, your art is awesome and your website is excellent too.

    However, it is spoilt by very slow loading times, I think you do with a hosting upgrade.

    That is all!

    Take care.

    • Swarez says:

      Thanks for that! In fact I have an issue with my caching plugin as of 5am this morning! Not good. However, you’re right about the hosting; that is a long story and one I won’t bore you with! Let’s say it’s on the list; thanks for the valued feedback; a big thankyou to you ;)

  61. Emma says:

    Hello Swarez,
    I found this site looking for competitions. I thought maybe a way to generate more business and it would be nice to see my work alongside others. You were a breath of fresh air after what I had discovered. For a group who claim to be inclusive, immediately I found the door closed to me. Bad enough I pay them to tell me I’m not good enough (for them), I then can’t use a picture where the original photograph was not my own. I understand how copyright works and this isn’t it. If I wanted to be a photographer I would have chosen that path. Since I like to do wildlife as well as domestic, the chances of a rhino or gorilla in the park slim, I’ll knock that one on the head. When art is supposed to be for all, why syphon off those who can afford to win and create a bottleneck of repeating talent at the top. I shall plough on with my own work and find other avenues. So good to hear from someone who is doing it and not part of the pack. Love the vibrancy and energy of your work.

  62. Samuel says:

    Hey Swarez, just read your article since I am considering entering a few competitions in 2013 (BBC wildlife, National Open and Royal Academy). But my reason for entering is slightly different from most – my concept (in the non-wildlife ones) is a critique of the system itself – a mirror for the judges and commercial art world to see themselves (almost literally, in one of my planned pieces). This is fun and artistic fulfilment for me – recognition and exposure is a bonus (albeit one which I would look forward to, since I want what I have to say to be heard.) I was just curious as to what your opinion of this objective is, since I think it sits awkwardly in-between the commercial and artistic coin. I’m curious myself as to whether they will appreciate the purpose of the pieces or if they will even notice it.
    Cheers, Samuel

    • ADMIN says:

      Hey Samuel. Personally I think that’s not only a brilliant concept but also something that will most likely disappear over the top of their heads completely. Anything that poses a critique of the very thing that allows for that to happen is a wonderful juxtaposition to hold; oh how I wish you luck with that one! The thought of putting the onus back on the adjudicating panel should promote a real gravitas within the work you submit; I can only hope that it gains approval for its own artistic integrity as well as the rather playful subject matter! Thanks for stopping by and commenting Samuel; really appreciate that!

  63. Paul Chenoweth says:

    In the last year I read a similar commentary directed to clay/ceramic artists here in the states. Your comments about wasting time on open calls for submissions rings true. I would go as far to say that many of these long-standing, annual, open-calls for entries are no more than a scam to bring in fees to support a core of legacy artists. That behavior is shameful.

    Thanks for the post! See you an Twitter!!

  64. Kay Dyde says:

    Unfortunately, this seems to be the problem with any form of artwork, images, words, sounds. It’s no longer about expression or even impression, it’s all about commercialism. It’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it is. As an artist, an author, a poet or a musician, you no longer count for anything unless your work sells. People no longer value the effort and work it takes to pull a piece of art from the darkest corner of your mind, something original, that’s never been seen before. Now, people will only call you an artist if you make enough money to live off.
    Art should never be about money. Artists of all forms throughout time have lived in poverty because the world didn’t judge their work to be ‘good enough’ until it was too late to effect their lives. I don’t blame you for being angry about this, because so am I, and anybody else who considers themselves an artist and has done any amount of research on the history of their art.
    So, that revolution mentioned above? Where do I sign up?

  65. Lucy says:

    I am so glad I read this! I have a real bit between my teeth when it comes to judging art. It’s subjective, so how can someone say what’s better than the next? Personally, I would also love it if kid didn’t have art competitions in their schools (I think a terrible way to start a kid off in life!)
    Loving your work, it’s really great – and the advice you have given people on here.

    • ADMIN says:

      Thankyou so much for the great comment Lucy; I agree – this kind of competition for kids can be very counter-productive. The very fact they have done something from nothing should be celebrated, not turned into a popularity contest. Thanks for stopping by!

  66. Netster says:

    Hi, I found your views helpful but im disappointed that competitions are such a lottery. Thats how it seems anyway, im planning to enter the wildlife artist of the year in jan 2013 and whilst your comments havent put me off doing that ,they have made me at the whole thing differently. I will use it as a means to improve and if I get something out of it thats a bonus, if not I will have improved and will have work which will go to a good home, mine :-) thankyou for the boost.Www

  67. Ben says:


    Mate i don;t knwo what to say, reading this is everything I’m arguing with in my head, on paper. You’re bang on. I’m so glad I stumbled across this page.

    I’m a digital artist and got mad into the deviantArt scene back along. I was kind of obsessed with creating stuff for other people and trying to get exposure and attention for further pursuing the medium through people liking my artwork.

    I gave up, I realised f*** that. I do it for me.

    Thanks man

  68. M.Daly says:

    I dont really care what anybody thinks about my Art. Its the only thing keeping me sane at this point in my Life……[^_^]……

  69. junO says:

    Just an addition after reading El’s response; I just HATE art councils and societies: how dare they take over the art world! It really turns my stomach just thinking of them and how they’ve taken over and organised it into some kind of institution where if you don’t were the uniform you don’t get in; it’s so dull and boring. Whatever happened to the hermit artist who just wants to produce artworks and sell them?

    • ADMIN says:

      Ah yes, the elusive hermit? That’s a utopian ideal that we all work towards in the midst of marketing, promotion, public interactions… I guess we have to keep believing that we can get to this point sometime. We can beat the system and make art more accessible and free for everyone; just gonna be a tough revolution that’s all…. :)

  70. junO says:

    Hi Swarez – thank you for inspiring me to just get on with my art; I too am just so sick and tired of the total commercialism of Art and fed up of Galleries and Auctioneers and Art Societies passing judgement on my precious babies (my creations!). I love my own art and would buy it all if it wasn’t my own. Like you I don’t need amateur judgements on my works or to be told they’ve ‘never heard of me’ – they never heard of Van Goch either and his brother Leo was an art dealer! Your works and website are amazing – If art was all about hard work – you and I would be millionaires. I nearly starved at Art College as it was either a case of buying materials to continue the course or buy food. I fully agree with you that our art should be judged on merit alone and not on popularity or any other criteria. I think we are real artists. All the best!

    • ADMIN says:

      You said it all so beautifully; we can never give up and stay focused on our own journey. We can do this; we can make it and we don’t anything but a splash of commitment and unwavering belief. Thanks for your comments, they really lifted my day :)

  71. EL says:

    Art competitions are a way of showing your work to the general public, getting critical review , getting eye up by fellow artist, the possibility of selling work or invited to show work in a known gallery etc.

    When I go to an art open competition say the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition I go to see what’s new, original, craftsmanship and quality , but I end up looking at majority of pointless works with no inspiration for artist or collectors of which you give some reason

    ” due to the usual stagnation of a network of favorites and names that get curate their own artist’s work instead ” and judge by those who are out of touch.

    But I generally find most major art gallery exhibitions just, deadpan, bland, boring and pointless just showing non art works or anti art works sponsored by the art council etc.

    • ADMIN says:

      Couldn’t agree more! thanks so much for your valued opinion; it’s greatly appreciated. It’s for the reasons you mention that I haven’t been to the RA Summer Exhibition for years. Everything starts to look the same doesn’t it?

  72. Little Leigh says:

    Hey man,

    I am a chronically ill 24 y/o with Fibromyalgia (I look well enough to do a ‘proper job’ but actually am not. My painting, poetry and music are the only things that keep me sane. I have no income and my housemate who pays foe everything for me is moving out soon and I am going to have to find some way to survive. I started looking at entering art competitions recently as I have little money to get off of the ground with prints etc and don’t really know where else to turn. I read this post and am a little disappointed to hear that these competitions are really as elitist as I figured they might be. If that’s not the right way to go to get my art out there and make a living.. what is..?! Thanks for your time and thanks for the great rant! :D

  73. ADMIN says:

    Ah yes, the artists’ eternal conundrum. Let me say first that I have had NO lucky breaks. Truth. All I am is persistent. I work long, long hours, I re-invest every penny into what I am developing, I have taught myself about web design and Search Engine Optimization and I never, but never, give up. I f I have a problem I find a solution; I don’t sit around waiting for someone to solve it for me. I started with one canvas, one paint brush and three colours of cheap paint and no idea what to do yet I kept going and going because I loved it. In all that time I have never once walked through a Gallery doorway. I have never held a show of any kind though I would like to one day. Get a website you can sell from, learn to do it yourself, control it yourself. This is good. Get social, on as many networks as you can handle – see what everyone else is up to. This is time sapping and hard work but persistence is key.

    You can’t rely on the establishment to get you noticed, it has to come from within. Believe in all that you do and think of ways you can take your art where people will notice it. Develop ideas on a blank sheet of paper, abandon traditions if you have to but stick with the core of things – that you are an artist, your work is fantastic and that your day will come. If you can’t convince yourself of any of those three things then achieving what you desire will be all the more difficult.

    Keep going, live for your passion, create beautiful work that you enjoy and engage with. Learn all the difficult stuff, make mistakes, work hard, paint hard. Get in people’s faces wherever you can. Be true and courteous and it will translate into your work. You have some fabulous pieces Moira so dig deep, breathe in and decide to take on the world – you may just be surprised at what happens. Hope that helps. BTW – Hawthorn Bay is BEAUTIFUL!!!


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