Why don’t you enter more shows? Pencils and paper are cheap, so why is art expensive?

I’m occasionally asked why, since many art competitions offer prize money, I don’t enter more of them.  The implication seems to be that it must be like playing the lottery, where the more one enters, the greater one’s chances of winning something.  So I’d like to answer by way of illustration with real personal examples from this year.  It’s worth raising awareness about the realities of art competitions and sales, for the benefit of artists who are just starting to think about entering more in hopes of selling their work.

First example:  I submitted six pieces in one nationwide competition sponsored by a well-known art magazine.  That cost $150, and not a single one of them was accepted.

Second example:  I submitted two pieces for the CPSA International Exhibition.  The entry fee was $25.  I was fortunate that one was selected.  I had already paid $90 to frame it with museum glass, so I had to have it re-framed with plexiglass ($98) to meet the exhibition requirements.  I also had to buy an Airfloat shipping box ($80), and pay for shipping via UPS round-trip to the gallery ($55).  That all sums to $348.  I had priced the piece at $750.  I was fortunate again that it sold at the gallery.  The gallery took a 35% commission, so I actually received $487.50.  My net:  $139.50.  The piece took about 40 hours to complete, so that comes to $3.48 per hour for my studio time–that’s not counting the cost of the materials or the time involved preparing the entry, going to the frame shop, preparing the shipment, and going to the UPS store, just for this one exhibit.

You can start to see that the more shows a particular piece is entered in, the further in the hole it goes, especially since different venues have different framing requirements.  You have to accept that you might not make any money at all from a piece and will be doing good just to break even.  At least until your work commands thousands of dollars per piece.

So if the financial aspect of exhibiting is really that bad, why do it?  Because I love creating the art and sharing my vision.  I’m fortunate to also have a full-time job that subsidizes my art.  For many, the old cliche of the starving artist is as relevant and real now as it was a hundred years ago.  Perhaps even more so, since the cost of everything…except original art…has skyrocketed.

One thought on “Why don’t you enter more shows? Pencils and paper are cheap, so why is art expensive?

  1. AMEN, fellow artist! Well said and accounted for. As if you used my own experiences! I know that cmpetition too that you spoke fo in the beginning! I also entered 5 pieces, loosing all that entry fee and feelign rejected. Good thing Art friends, Galleries that represent my work, along with past and present customers lift my spirits enough to carry on. Well, those PLUS, the God given (and appreciated by me, for sure) DRIVE to continue to create! I am grateful to be an artist. For me, thank goodness for ym husband makign enough for me to live on! Otherwise, as you correctly observe, I would indeed be another modern day “Starving Artist”!
    I do a lot of “Gallery Sitting” locally (in OH) for Shows at two places (Gallery’s) I also often display in. It helps them for artists to mind the show, talk to customers, help with sales, as well as it helps me with exposure. (I like being able to work there behind the desk on my own art, as well as talk with people coming through if they have questions about the shows or artists.)
    Well, I hope lots of people read what you wrote, Denise, because you are right on the mark. I, too, seldome even make minimum wage, once all he expences are totaled up for my sales.
    Congratulations on that National show acceptance and subsequent sale! I happened to see you piece there and it was excellent, as was the venue!

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