Deep Thought Thursday: The role of competition

How do you view competition? Is it healthy or helpful? Does it get in the way? Is it a sideshow?

WindingChannel Today’s DTT was inspired by this quote from Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton.

Competition between artists is almost taboo in the art world . . . Artists are meant to find their own path, make their own rules, and compete with themselves. If they develop a habit of looking over their shoulders, they risk being derivative. But if they are completely ignorant of the hierarchical world in which they operate, then they’re in danger of being outsider artists, caught in the bog of their own consciousness, too preciously idiosyncratic to be taken seriously. (page 118)

Image ©Katherine Kean, Winding Channel

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15 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: The role of competition”

  1. Been thinking about this topic a lot lately…
    Sometimes, competition forces me to get to the next level of expertise in my painting.

    Other times, I feel insecure – won’t go into why I feel that way coz I’ve never figured it out. However, on those days I need to guard against putting myself in competitive situations.

    All in all, I think competition is a good thing, for business, for artists.. because it makes us all strive to “beat the competition” and we get better.

  2. OH, Alyson, this is the thing I struggle with the most when I “leave” my studio to take my art to the marketplace: Competition!

    With your help over the past six months, (Yay, ABP and Blast Off online classes, Hollister Workshop, the Getting Organized class, my ArtBizConnection Salon colleagues and your book!) I am beginning to meet the world a bit more realistically and yet still on my terms.

    BUT……and this is huge and I don’t think I am alone, my greatest vulnerability is existential meaning-making (a la Eric Maisel)…does the world need another ceramic veeblefetzer, no matter how lovely? Perceived competition absolutely rubs this wound raw.

    When I feel this way it is also emotional and physical and very incapacitating. It just might come with an artistic temperament, but it does need to be coddled and jollied and ironed out.

    Two things are balm to my soul: Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on “having a genius instead of being a genius” and a recent comment on Britain’s Got Talent by the dance group Flawless: “Chase the dream, not the competition.”

    A former instructor of mine also used to say often, “When you feel yourself envying anything or anybody, know that that’s where you want to be….”

    I will be completely fascinated to see all the comments to your blog query today!

  3. I feel threatened by competition at first, until I come to my senses and realize that any particular artist can never be me exactly. Additionally I’ve got way more to offer that is uniquely in line with my particular style, vision and process. Competition knocks me off my feet for a bit, but ultimately forces me to dig deeper, carefully consider my direction, resulting in my clients getting a much better painting.

    Of course, I’m using the word “competition” to refer to artists at similar points in their careers/talents as myself. There are mentor artists far better than myself, who I suppose could be viewed in the traditional sense as competition (for exhibitions and sales both), but I look to them more as mentors and guideposts for what will happen when I do things right.

  4. Competition seems to be at two levels in art and most everything else. First is the competition to be “best” or at least better than the next one, then comes the competition to be recognized.

    The one is ‘art’ and the other ‘commerce,’ and they form a strange and wondrous symbiosis.

  5. I don’t think of what other artists are doing as competition, even though it technically is. I admire and respect others who excel and seek inspiration in their work — what are they doing that I can learn from? I know “hate” is a strong word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind when artists take the notion of competition to the point of copying work.

  6. I have an initial gut reaction to the idea of competition. And it’s not positive. But when I think more carefully about it, I realize that it is something I can modulate by putting it in perspective. It can be useful in pushing me to learn more, to think more clearly, to extend myself. Or it could become an excuse to succumb to the negative messages I run – “I’m not good enough, I don’t know enough, etc.” Except when I ENTER a competition and am hoping to gain some recognition in that event I don’t see myself in competition with other artists. I can appreciate what they do (or not), but feel like this is a more personal journey. My work is to do the best I can with the tools and vision that I have.

  7. Huh? How is observing other artist’s work competition? Are we, perhaps defining this word differently? Ok, I AM an outsider artist but I think most artists are, otherwise we are in danger of becoming a market oriented commodity rather than an art prodcing creator.

  8. What a sticky wicket!!
    I think competition is necessary for artistic growth whether it’s a juried show competion or as Lori suggests.. the marketplace.
    I remember going to training wearing my other hat as an educator and hearing the phrase “they didn’t know what they didn’t know”. How do we know what will “grow” us without seeing other work and by seeing aren’t we in a way, evalutating, etc.??

    Unless we put our work out there for others to see (thus judge, either overtly or silently) we have no idea whether the visual reaction we were hoping for is conveyed. Of course in the case of juried shows… What one juror accepts or honors isn’t necessarily what another will.

    I do admit that sometimes it can be debilitating when the rejection letter comes.
    Somehow, however, I think just cranking out paintings and lining them up against the wall doesn’t provide as fertile a field for growth as allowing others to see them and comment/judge/purchase AND going to SEE other people’s art to see how other people see and interpret their world.

  9. None of us sit in our studios thinking, “time to make the donuts”, or “I think I’ll do another run-of-the-mill landscape today”…. We are, I think, always trying to excel … either making our next piece better than our last one, or at least better than “ordinary” – that’s the nature of ART! To that extent, competition is not only desirable, but necessary!

    Our competition isn’t the same as a horse-race. We don’t look over our shoulders at the competition, we look ahead at the next idea, which is built on the past idea or observation. I sit in my studio and make This, you sit in your studio and make That, then we do a show together … you see my This, I see your That, and I think “Wow – so THAT’s what is possible! Maybe the boundaries lie even further out???” We amaze each other, or bore each other – that is what causes growth! So I say it’s a good thing.

  10. I dread competition and at the same time seek it out. I realize that it helps growth. Seeing what everyone else is up to is both eye and mind opening. The part of competition I don’t like is when winning becomes the focus and the reward. I can’t help but feel that when judging art it’s always comparing apples to oranges. Who can ever judge whether one person’s expression is “better” than another’s?

    And last, thanks so much for featuring my artwork here.

  11. For me, it’s not how I view competition, it’s how competition views me…I was with a brand new gallery, helping to bartend for their grand opening…An art teacher also with the gallery was introduced to me, & was shockingly rude in the first 5 seconds of conversation…Another lady artist treated me like a servant, though she knew my work was featured in the window…A much older society type artist flipped from nice to the owner to completely deaf to conversation with anybody else…The owner himself was showing some of his own photography, which meant he kept doing that silent thing when people looked at his work, pretending it was not his, to gauge their response…
    Too bad for me, it was a great location, beautiful aesthetics, close to home, but the vibe was so competitive that it was like entering hostility class…
    Goodbye…(closed March…)

  12. Love it or hate it, competition is everywhere. Whether it is a formal competition in a juried show or if you are competing for the attention and dollars of the general viewing public. Unless you are the only artist in town, you are always competing.

  13. I’ve participated in many juried shows, but I have always chosen to side-step “competition.” I prefer to take the attitude that a rising tide raises all ships. In my newsletters and blog I always mention other artists showing with me, pay them a *sincere* compliment, and provide a link to their website.

    This feels good and makes friends. It’s also very good business practice. Increasing awareness of and interest in local art helps all local artists. And when opportunities come up, these artists with whom I “competed”–for a spot in the show, or for a sale–remember me as not just a colleague but someone with whom it’s pleasant to work.

  14. I’ve never felt competitive in the sense of “I’ve got to do better than the other guy”. There are times, however, where I may see another artist reach a certain pinnacle, and I realize that I also would very much like to attain that peak, but I never feel that it has to be at the expense of others trying to do the same thing.

    If I ever start to hear that little voice whispering that my work isn’t as good as so and so, or that I should have had more shows on my resume at this point, or any other creeping doubt, I just ask myself one simple question:

    Would I still do this, even if I wasn’t trying to do it professionally?

    And the answer is always yes, and I realize those doubts, while always lurking in the background, really hold little power over me.

    Competition in the sense of succeeding over those around me never has become a driving force in my career. But, seeing others achieve milestones in their careers often acts as a catalyst to get me putting in that extra hour in the studio so that I might achieve the same level of success in my career.

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